Sharing knowledge with the community – the Styx Living Laboratory Trust

This article was prepared by postgraduate student Megan Oliver as part of the ECOL 608 Research Methods in Ecology course.

Communities around New Zealand are becoming more aware of the state of natural areas in their community and how they are becoming degraded from pollution. This awareness has resulted in restoration projects that begin with good intentions and enthusiasm but come to a halt because of a lack of understanding of ecological knowledge about the ecosystem that is being restored.

The Styx River originates in the suburb of Harewood, Christchurch. Springs feed the river as it moves north-eastwards through residential, horticultural, agricultural, and lifestyle developments as well as conservation reserves before it empties into the Brookland Lagon. The Styx River has two main tributaries, Smacks Creek and Kaputone Stream. The Styx Living Laboratory is a community restoration project that has a mixed board of scientists that help the community to keep going in their restoration project. Kelly Walker, senior tutor in biology at Lincoln University, is one of the scientists working on the Styx Living Laboratory Trust restoration project by contributing her knowledge of fresh water invertebrates to the community and is on the board of management.


The aim of the trust is to restore the Styx river catchment in 40 years to an urban nature reserve by creating a living green corridor from the top of the Styx river catchment to where the river empties into the Brookland lagoon. Restoring the Styx river catchment includes both riparian plantings and in-stream restoration. A living green corridor is the area surrounding a focal feature, e.g. river, track etc; that is planted in native plant species which allows wildlife to either live in or pass through it.

The Styx River is a spring feed water system that is suffering from a sedimentation issue. The springs are drying up due to urban development which is increasing the amount of sedimentation in the river and then causes problems for fresh water invertebrate’s living in the river. There has been no indication that the recent earthquakes have caused the springs to dry up, as the springs had started drying up before the earthquakes occurred. There are six monthly samplings in the Styx River and its tributary waterways, collecting data on water quality, invertebrate species and spring status.

Kelly helps the community members when they survey the Styx River and its tributary waterways in identifying the invertebrates that have been collected. This work keeps the community involved in the restoration project by up-skilling the community group, which keeps them interested and makes them feel that their work is valuable to the restoration project. This enables there to be a closer relationship between the scientists and the community members which helps everyone keep the restoration project going.

Kelly also looks after the summer studies conducted by Lincoln University students on different topics in the catchment area. Previous studies have been on fresh water invertebrates, assessing the restoration of Radcliffe Drain which was a box drain, terrestrial arthropod abundance and diversity, lizard abundance and diversity of algae in the Styx River. These studies have produced interesting and useful results, including a new species of algae. The work done by the Styx Living Laboratory trust, community and the summer students has produced data that can be used as an indicator of how healthy the Styx River catchment is and shows how communities working with scientists can increase their knowledge and skills to take on a major urban restoration project.

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