General Manager Emily Court says it is the second year in a row that UCOL ākonga | students have studied at Pūkaha.
“We’re chuffed that we’re helping develop skilled people with hands-on experience because the sector is crying out for them. Ākonga spend between two to three days a week with us, from predator trapping and trap line development and maintenance, to wetland restoration, and weeding.
“It’s a win-win. We’re getting the mahi done while the students are learning. Nearly everyone from the first group is employed in the sector, including one here at Pūkaha who is now a full-time ranger in our captive breeding programme.”
UCOL Conservation Tutor, Jim Flack, who has worked in conservation from Great Barrier Island to Rakiura | Stewart Island, says the courses are a mix of classroom study and action in the field - from the mountains to the sea.
“They will leave here with sound knowledge. They will be able to walk into an environment and come up with an assessment of how well it is fairing and what improvements could be made,” says Flack.
“The work is physical and carried out in all types of weather. Ākonga need to be confident using tools, vehicles and poisons, navigating in the bush, crossing rivers, trapping, building fences, bridges and turnstiles, and identifying problems and how to fix them.
“They learn about mātauranga Māori, how to assess an environment and plan improvements, and educate and supervise others.
“It’s not just about being a labourer, checking traps, maintaining tracks and spraying and removing weeds. It’s about discerning the environment with a mātauranga Māori lens
and being able to supervise others and themselves.
UCOL Mātauranga Māori Tutor, Warren Chase, grew up around Pūkaha.
“I grew up with mātauranga Māori - I didn’t know it then, but I did. Part of my childhood was spent around Pūkaha, eeling and fishing. We’d always go home with a cool feed. Pūkaha is special - it is the remnant of Te Tapere nui o Whātonga, a great forest that sustained our people.”
“My role is to support students with mātauranga Māori. “They’re brave. We challenge them. My job is to encourage them to develop their own beliefs about who they are, and then encourage them to stand up in front of people and share who they are,” says Chase.
Bob Stewart, UCOL Academic Portfolio Manager Wairarapa - Trades, Conservation and Primary, says there are two conservation courses offered.
“Our first is
Te Kura Tapere: Certificate in Introductory Conservation Level 3.
This course is based at Pūkaha, where the ākonga learn at the Pūkaha Ngahere edu-tourism as one of their assessments is based on a walking tour through the reserve. Graduates work at places like Pūkaha or Zealandia in Wellington or eco-tourist sites across the country. This course can be delivered as part of our In-School programme,” says Stewart.
“The next one up from this is our
New Zealand Certificate in Conservation (Operations) Level 4.
At the end of this course graduates can view an environment, be it 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. Throughout this course ākonga spend two days at UCOL Wairarapa and the rest at either Pūkaha, farmland or reserves.
“Ākonga should expect to find themselves in a wide range of locations from the bottom of Te Ika a Maui to the northern parts of Tararua.”
“It’s physical. Sometimes you walk for hours just to get there. Some days ākonga spend five hours navigating in the bush, crossing creeks, checking and rebaiting traps and recording their catch,” says Stewart.
“Graduates go on to conservation roles with environmental contractors, wildlife centres like Pūkaha, at councils, and with iwi.”
From 2023, UCOL | Te Pūkenga Conservation course ākonga will learn from a new purpose-built facility at Pūkaha. The 916sqm education centre will have a wharenui and 40 beds - in total, allowing space for 90 to 100 people to stay overnight. UCOL ākonga will use the facility to study mātauranga Māori and have noho wānanga - made all the more special by having nocturnal native bird species outside. From next year, Pūkaha will also offer educational resources for tamariki and rangatahi aligned with their curriculum.