RMIT students are helping support "Noah's Ark" sites for rare and threatened species through a partnership with Banyule City Council.
The partnership between RMIT University and Banyule has provided students with valuable hands-on experience in environmental preservation.
For 11 years, Diploma of Conservation and Land Management students have undertaken regular field trips to the north-east of Melbourne to explore Banyule's 380 hectares of natural bushland.
The students collect and classify many of the area's 400 species of indigenous plants, as well as undertake restoration projects where rare or threatened species are managed and maintained.
Council rangers guide students to areas where maintenance and protective practices are in place for vulnerable indigenous plant complexes.
Lecturer Nevil Schultz describes these areas as "Noah's Ark" sites where native insect, bird, mammal and reptile diversity is high.
At these sites, students can learn about current best practice in high-value conservation for a large range of plants that are classified as rare or threatened by Victoria's Department of Environment and Primary Industries.
Mr Schultz said the partnership with Banyule not only offered students a variety of sites to visit, but also helped shape the curriculum by incorporating the council's ongoing development and new land management systems.
"Under the management charter of the Banyule City Council, there have been a variety of field opportunities in the urban managed natural environment; in particular, the north-east corridor along the Plenty River and the more southerly linear parks," he said.
"These areas have presented themselves with some great opportunities for my students in weed management, ecology and plant identification, where in an outdoor classroom situation, students monitor weed invasions and gather data on highly protected and bio-diverse sites."
Council rangers will often discuss ongoing challenges to land management and share techniques for minimising environmental disturbance or implementing long-term innovative weed strategies, providing a specialised area of learning for the students.
"In recent years we have mapped weed invasions and covered critical occupational health and safety components of controlling weeds on site," Mr Schultz said.
"The rangers often go above and beyond their job specifications, and their passion and enthusiasm for managing their sites is always infectious."
David Legat, from Banyule's Bushland Management Unit, said students gained valuable experience in some of the most significant ecological areas within metropolitan Melbourne.
"Sites like this provide students with vegetation communities in which they can exercise and hone their skills in a practical manner, which no classroom can replicate," he said.
"Harold Pottage Reserve in Macleod is species rich and Banyule has more than 30 reserves containing species that are regionally threatened.
"By maintaining these bushland reserves we are in effect creating a sanctuary where remnants of species can survive."
Through the program, the students also realise the importance of community involvement, with key leaders and members of local conservation and park groups participating in discussions on site.
"Our students tend to ask lots of questions which are always generously addressed by the council employees," Mr Schultz said.
"In turn, the students are able to play a key role in Banyule's environmental preservation; whether they are identifying a particular plant or simply sharing their knowledge about best-practice."
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