Glenwood’s Glorious Wetland

“There is clear water up to your ankles; tadpoles swim by your toes. Frogs chirp in the mud. A dragonfly zips past your head as you watch a pair of Spotted Dikkop strutting between the reeds. Welcome to the beautiful and diverse world of the Glenwood House Wetland. This is our outdoor classroom.”

Syndey-Paige Barske, Grade 10 student at Glenwood House School.

The students of the Glenwood House Environment Society created this diverse ecosystem on an area of muddy grass on their school grounds in 2009. In the last four years, our soggy world has flourished and attracted tens of species of insect, six species of frog and many indigenous birds. Our school wetland is fed by rainwater and fills and empties with the seasons. It holds back huge volumes of water from flooding our rugby pitch, during heavy rains and stores this water during dry periods. Wetland plants filter the water, trap sediment and add oxygen. This wonderful wetland also offers a place of shelter for a huge community of organisms.

succulent-bank-2011Our tireless eco-warriors began the Glenwood House Wetland project in 2009 as an Eco-Schools Project. Students from grade one to matric helped to dig a huge L-shaped trench over seven metres long and seven metres wide. Indigenous wetland plants like sedges, grasses, reeds, bulrushes, palmiet and Arum Lillies were donated by our parents and the wetland began to take shape. Watsonias, Red Hot Pokers, Sand Lillies and other bulbs were planted in the area surrounding the wetland. Soon, insects flocked to the marshy ground.

During an invertebrate survey conducted by our Grade 8 class in 2013, over 30 different insect species were seen. Tiny wriggling mosquito larvae and pond skaters were collected from the standing water using hand nets; the carnivorous dragonfly and damselfly were observed sunning their wings at the water’s edge. Students watched a water scorpion use its tail as a snorkel to suck in air from above the water’s surface. A Giant Waterbug was observed preying upon other tiny invertebrates. These members of the family Belostomatidae lay their eggs on the males back. They can grow up to four inches and even catch small fish! A fishing spider was seen lying in wait by the edge of the water and then sprinting across the surface of the wetland to catch its prey. Fishing spiders can even slide under the surface of the water encasing their bodies in a slivery film of air to breathe while diving.

sugerbushOur students spent many hours over the last four years planting four separate biomes surrounding the wetland to encourage further biodiversity. A fynbos biome was planted north of the wetland and includes members of the Erica, Protea and Restio plant families. A succulent bank was planted to represent the plants of the Succulent Karoo Biome. The bank contains many aloe species, spekboom, sour fig, vygies, Pig’s Ear and the rare Haworthia. A forest biome to the north and east of the wetland was planted with Yellowwood, Stinkwood, Ironwood, Keurboom, River Bushwillow, Karee and Cape Fig trees during our annual Arbour Weeks. Collectively, our biomes now occupy an area the size of a hockey pitch.

Many terrestrial invertebrates have also been noted in these biomes including several colourful ladybird beetles, elegant praying mantis, crane flies, grasshoppers, stinkbugs, crickets, butterflies, earthworms, centipedes, cockroaches and snails. Bees swarm around the Red Hot Pokers in June and July. These insect species are act as valuable pollinators, decomposers, predators of smaller species and prey for the mammals, birds and reptiles that have occupied our wetland ecosystem. The Environment Society is currently constructing an ‘Insect Hotel’ from natural materials. The bricks, dry grass, pine cones, clay and old carpet will provide nesting sites for breeding insects and to encourage further diversity.

Jared-PrinslooThe wetland has become an essential foraging and breeding habitat for six species of frog. Raucous Toads are commonly found along the bank of the wetland or in between the reeds. Cape Stream Frogs were noted in the water in 2012 and the eggs of the Clicking Steam Frogs seem to have withstood the drought this year. A brightly coloured Painted Reed Frog was noted in 2013. This year Jared Prinsloo, in Grade 8, discovered a Forest Rain Frog which had buried itself in the mud at the edge of the wetland. These round-bodied frogs have a small head and short legs. They have stubby toes with no webbing and digging tubercles on their heels. Unlike other species of frog which lay eggs in water, rain frogs lay their eggs in burrows on the forest floor. The Rain Frogs are so-called for the soft chirruping call they make during soft rain.

Our wetland is often visited by birds including the Hadeda Ibis, Red Knobbed Coot, Grey Heron and Spotted Dikkop. Tiny sunbirds visit the Ericas to drink nectar from these tubular fynbos flowers. The wetland offers abundant nesting sites for Four Striped Mice which can be seen scurrying through the dried grass. An exciting discovery was made in March 2013 when students were working close to the wetland, a green and yellow boomslang slithered past!

In an effort to protect our beautiful wetland biome, we avoid all chemical herbicides and pesticides. We pull weeds by hand and use bark mulch between the plants to keep weeds down. We don’t allow the removal of any wildlife from the area and avoid disturbing birds’ nests. The society does a regular litter pick and we have removed all the alien Black Wattle trees surrounding the biome. We use our wetland as an outdoor classroom and we have even had other schools visit us for fieldwork excursions! Our wetland work helped the Glenwood House Environmental Society snag the prestigious ‘2013 WESSA National Award for a Group’. We hope that it will help us to gain our Diamond Status as an Eco-School in 2014. Hold thumbs for us!