We’re guessing you’ve noticed by now the funky little habitat garden at the front of Frankston High School. It’s called an Arthro-POD, and it was created by students for our beneficial bugs as part of a Natured Kids project to identify the important role insects such as bees, beetles, butterflies, moths, flies, wasps and ants play in our world. It’s also designed to increase the students’ knowledge of these handy helpers and the ecosystem services they provide.
Natured Kids is a Junior Landcare group run by Frankston freelance teacher Narelle Debenham, who managed the Arthro-POD project with the support of the school’s sustainability teacher, Brendan McKinnon, as well as other organisations including Frankston City Council, Port Phillip & Westernport CMA, and Flora Victoria. “We hope that young people’s observations of the insectary garden will help them to witness first-hand the important roles that insects play in nature as predators for pest control, as pollinators and pollution controllers while discovering the complex symbiotic relationships needed for a healthy natural ecosystem,” Narelle said.
“Certain plants attract particular butterflies. For example, common grass blue butterflies love native lilac and the common imperial blue lives only on saplings of acacias, while the larvae of skipper butterflies feed on lomandra leaves. Other native grasses like saw-sedges provide the first food for the sword grass brown butterfly.”
Before the garden was planted, students took part in the 2019 Australian Wild Pollinator Count to survey the presence of important insects. Disturbingly, only a few ants and one fly were observed. A further survey will be conducted once the garden grows in spring to assess any increase in the prevalence of insects and compare results pointing to a potential change in species and numbers. The beneficial bugs that move in will be regularly monitored by students as part of future Wild Pollinator Counts. It’s also hoped students will witness much about the lifecycle of both insects and plants via seed-saving and observing the regeneration of native grasses in their garden throughout the seasons.
“You might ask why we need to create habitat for many of our beneficial insects,” Narelle said. “As humans, we are really good at raking up and placing in the green bin the habitat they require to survive. Scientific reports also evidence a catastrophic collapse of insects over the past decades, with dire consequences for crop pollination and our natural food chains. Forty-one per cent of our insects are declining; among those, a third are heading to extinction due to habitat loss, pollution, pesticides and fertilisers, introduced species and climate change.
“Insects play important roles, and their loss threatens an imbalanced natural ecosystem. It is anticipated that the students’ actions to create this garden will impact local insect species, increase their numbers and (chances of) survival, and in doing so support our food system and human health.
“Our young Frankston High School people have been empowered to help create environmental change for good. This project is amazing because it has provided the forum to turn intent into action and is a very positive way our students have contributed to providing healthy environments for arthropods. Eco students from Frankston High School encourage the whole school, wider community and all residents on the Mornington Peninsula to learn about how they can implement small changes in their home and gardens to boost and support our beneficial insects. Creating such insectaries will multiply suitable habitat on a large scale locally and positively increase provision of green urban corridors for our littlest wildlife.”
The Arthro-POD project had many players. The construction and delivery of a wicking garden bed for the insectary was paid for by the council as part of its Love Where You Live projects. Flora Victoria supplied the grasses and wildflowers for the insects. Karen Thomas, the regional agricultural facilitator for the Port Phillip & Westernport CMA, shared her extensive knowledge of the roles of beneficial insects and advised how the project could assist them. For those interested, Karen is running upcoming Bees in the Burbs workshops in her role at PPWCMA.
Karen Retra is a native bee naturalist and works with Dr Manu Saunders to determine the native insects that contribute to pollinating crops and gardens around the country. “She says we still need to do a lot of research to identify all of the pollinator insect species, understand their ecology and how they are affected by human activities,” Narelle said. “They invite all Australians to be citizen scientists and count the wild pollinators in their local environment to help build an accurate database on wild pollinator activity.” Narelle and her Junior Landcare students encourage you all to send photos of any insects you find in your garden to the Wild Pollinator Count.
Other examples of past collaborative intergenerational Arthro-POD projects can be found in the Balcombe Creek estuary in Mount Martha, along the Kananook Creek reserve in Frankston, at Mount Eliza Secondary School, and at the Joy of the Earth community garden in Frankston.