Helping regenerate the ngahere (forest) while gaining tickets that will allow him to work all around Aotearoa are some of the reasons why 21-year-old Tama left full-time employment to study conservation UCOL Wairarapa.
Growing up, Tama who is of Ngāti Kahungunu Ki Wairoa and Rongowhakaata descent lived in various places around the mid and lower North Island – from Upper Hutt to Waitārere Beach to Waipukurau and then boarding school in Whakaoriori | Masterton.
After Tama finished school, he headed to Wellington before moving back to Wairarapa to be closer to his mates and for work.
“I was doing 50 to 60 hour weeks as a lumber processing assistant. It was draining, and after a year, I moved on to the produce department in a supermarket.”
Tama said he signed up for the programme because of the balance between being outdoors and paperwork and because he’d get to learn about our environment and the significance of conservation.
“I could see myself out there doing it. There’s quite a bit of variety – the theoretical and practical sides. One day, we’re at Mahunga Golf Course; the next, we’re at Pūkaha. We go all over Wairarapa to learn about Te Taio (the environment) and and help to regenerate the ngahere.”
“We could be learning about Mātauranga Māori, principles of kaupapa and how good a hangi is, then clearing a trap line at Pūkaha or learning about different plant species.”
Tama said the course is a welcome change compared to working full-time. However, he’s pleased he worked before he started the programme, as it’s helped him to work out what he is passionate about.
“My ultimate goal is to work in the environmental sector and be a Kaitiaki [guardian] and advocate for our nature.”
He’s keen to work in the Ruahine and Rimataka Ranges in the North Island to conservation land in Canterbury and Otago around the South Island – “See what Aoteaora has to offer,” he said.
The New Zealand Certificate in Conservation (Operations) Level 4 is unique: Graduates learn to assess an environment, whether a wetland, forest or dune area, identify native weeds and pests, and create a plan to remove them. They learn mātauranga Māori, weed identification and removal, pest control, construction of fences, traps, chainsaw use and maintenance, and LUV (light utility vehicle) handling. Ākonga spend two days at UCOL Wairarapa and the rest at either Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre, farmland, or reserves.