Sandra Groves recently stopped by the Tairawhiti Environment Centre to catch up with the Centre Manager Rena Kohere to learn about Te Rea, the Tairāwhiti Agroecology Recovery Programme, funded through The Ministry for the Environment and Department of Conservation’s Jobs for Nature.

The idea behind Jobs for Nature is to help revitalise communities through nature-based employment and stimulate the economy post-COVID-19 on both private and public conservation land. Here in the Tairāwhiti local kaimahi are restoring their whenua, waterways and protecting native species through Te Rea. 

The programme is a collaborative venture of whānau, hapu and iwi, the Department of Conservation, Ministry for the Environment and Tairāwhiti Environment Centre and is supported by a range of government agencies, working towards catchment restoration.

Te Rea came about after an eight-week pilot funded by the COVID-19 redeployment Provincial Development Fund, with two whanau groups working in Mangatu and Ruatorea. Since October Te Rea has grown to 8 whānau/hapu teams and 62 kaimahi (workers).

Talking to Rena, the focus is on supporting whānau to undertake kaitiakitanga on their whenua and encouraging an ongoing commitment to Taiao, the environment, in our rohe. 

Many of the kaimahi are already used to working on the land, having come from other fields like forestry or farming. With the support of various specialists, kaimahi are gaining new practical skills and qualifications and increasing their knowledge of other environmental areas through a mix of both theory and hands-on experience. 

While The Environment Centre is the hub for business development support for Te Rea, ensuring funding best practice and safety, whānau set their own work plan and focus, depending on whānau and hapu aspirations for their whenua. 

The team in Ruatorea for example have a strong background in fencing, and have added pest monitoring and control to their skillset. Te Wairoa at Te Araroa started by maintaining the Project Crimson plantings at Matahi Marae and protecting a pingao population that was at risk from stock and invasive weeds. The Uawa team came with the skills and passion for water monitoring and their taonga species, the tuna, and have shared these skills with the other teams through wananga.  

Kaimahi benefit from regular wananga with each other and local experts as well as formal training and qualifications through EIT. Skill sharing is crucial and the teams have learnt from Dr Wayne Ngata about matauranga Māori and Taiao, Tina Ngata on freshwater monitoring and have had Graeme Atkins, Joe Waikari and Trudi Ngawhare from the Department of Conservation sharing knowledge about their work in the region.

Ripeka Irwin, Team Lead for the Te Wairoa Team in Te Araroa, is a big advocate for Jobs For Nature. She says that joining the programme was a far cry from working as a subcontractor for the Council doing amenity maintenance. 

She has enjoyed the variety of work and focusing on ‘what needs help’, whether it is the land, river or sea. Her introduction to Taiao mahi, or environmental work, was at Matahi Marae on the East Cape, maintaining Project Crimson plantings, shelter windbreaks of native trees, pest control and monitoring. Right now, she is at the Peka Block Awatere building a native nursery and vegetable garden which will bring an abundance of food for the community and security of supply of native species for further restoration work. 

Ripeka says it was while in lockdown last year that she realised the value of these kinds of resources and since doing this mahi her biggest learning has been to slow down, to care about the environment and appreciate what is around her. Ripeka is hoping the Jobs For Nature funding will continue, as her dream is to carry on doing this mahi and involve even more people in the community. 

Te Rea reflects the region’s demographics, with many young people getting the opportunity to work for the environment and gain skills and knowledge at the same time. 95% of the 62 kaimahi are Māori, 37 were previously unemployed, and 17 are under the age of 25. 35 of the kaimahi are completely new to this kind of work but have quickly become some of the strongest advocates for the protection and restoration of our environment. 

Rena says this is one of the reasons Te Rea pushed to get funding throughout the coast. This work is important in a region such as ours, which is so dependent on primary industry and therefore our environment. In order to grow as a region and achieve our environmental restoration goals we also need to invest in growing our people as well. Te Rea has the potential to be transformational for mana whenua as well as our Taiao and we’re looking forward to seeing the impact this incredible initiative will have well into the future. 

The 8 teams are: 

Te Wairoa at Te Araroa

 Ruatorea with Hikurangi Enterprises

Taniwha Connections at Uawa

Whaia Titirangi at Titirangi Maunga with Ngati Oneone

Te Ao Tipu at Tarere Marae, Makauri

Maungarongo at Matawhero with Nga Uri o Te Kooti

Mangatu with Nga Ariki Kaiputahi 

Te Mahia with Rongomaiwahine Iwi Trust

Story by Sandra Groves

Images Supplied by Te Rea

Plastics & Bags

Last week I walked into the Tairāwhiti Environment Centre and had barely greeted the two women present when one of them asked me if I would like a bag. If there is one thing I have plenty of, it is bags and so I gracefully declined.

Not to be deterred, the woman who I now know to be a wonderful person called Glenda, pulled out a pile of bags that she had recently whipped up out of a pile of curtain samples donated to Plastic Bag Free Tairāwhiti. As soon as I saw the bags in question I briskly reneged on my previous answer, and without a hint of grace grasped in my clutches the beauty of a bag you see in the photo.

There are so many words that can be written in a month we now know as Plastic Free July. We can localise our sentiments as much as we like but they will hold true for nearly every other community around the planet, because whatever way we look at it, it’s been a bad few years for plastic.

This July we can give a little fist pump for the banning of single-use plastic bags, a small but significant regulatory victory in the very big fight that we face. Yay! We can talk about the recent changes in our recycling regime – hasn’t that been a bitter pill to swallow team? Would you like an extra helping of guilt with your yoghurt/hummus/ice cream/mayonnaise today Madam? We can commiserate over what a fruitless exercise banning single use plastic bags can seem when every single thing you think about buying from the supermarket comes packaged up in the stuff (and unlike ‘single use’ plastic bags it’s hard to find a second use for it).

As Nicky Solomon one of the founders of Plastic Bag Free Tairāwhiti (PBFT) agrees, it’s very easy to be paralysed by the magnitude of the issue.

‘Plastic Free July’ provides us with the motivation to make small manageable changes to the way we live, in the quest to leave an inhabitable planet for our children and grandchildren. In Plastic Free Julys of the past I have often found myself dwelling on all the stuff I’m NOT doing on the minimising waste front and have wasted a lot of time feeling pretty stink about it too. But as time has gone on and I’ve plodded away at making one small change, and then another, I’ve noticed how my feelings toward the issue has changed.

I’ve noticed how empowered I feel every time I give something new a go, however basic or rudimentary that thing may be. It can be downright exhilarating to return to that resourcefulness that is so deeply embedded in my – in our – DNA.  Moreover, I can’t think of a ‘cooler’ opportunity for communities to come together, on both a local and global scale, than in a bid to save our planet for future generations. All of a sudden we have a very pressing need to try and achieve the very thing that thousands of fictional super heroes before us have aspired to, but in Real Life.

It can be a very motivating thought if we let it be, if we can resist allowing it to be the toxic fuel that could just as easily propel us into an inescapable pit of despair.

Initially Nicky Solomon and Jess Jacobs had ideas of PBFT enabling a plastic-free region by working with one business at a time to kick their reliance on plastics, whilst chipping away at the low-lying fruit of the ubiquitous plastic bag; these things that were everywhere but which they knew we could easily do without, once we’d got our heads around that possibility.

Nicky talks about the unforeseen ‘lovely second layer’ to the group’s activities; activities which didn’t initially seem like ‘core business’ as such, like the Beach Clean ups, and the regular reusable bag sewing bees and the two slightly mad and truly wonderful 24 Hour Bag-a-thons;  in which people from all corners of our community came together to collaborate, create and just spend time in each other’s space. Those connections and that collaboration can be viewed as lovely by-products of community initiatives which bring people together to work toward a common good, but they are really in the end what will see us succeeding rather than failing in that quest to create a bright future for the generations that will follow us.

Glenda put it well to me that day she gave me a bag ‘If you want a caring world then you have to care’. Glenda cares by stitching together reusable bags – objects of beauty as it turns out – and sending them out into the community, for whoever comes across them to enjoy. Using this aspiration of a plastic bag-free Tairāwhiti to connect, to collaborate and heal.

Thanks Glenda and Plastic Bag Free Tairāwhiti for caring x

Story by Sarah Cleave

Photograph by Tom Teutenberg

* If you feel like communing, connecting, collaborating over a common good with a bunch of other peeps this weekend, get yourself along to the Mega Sewing Bee at the Tairāwhiti Environment Centre this Saturday 6 July 1pm.

* For more information about Plastic Bag Free Tairāwhiti check them out on