In March 2020, Mike Walker lost his job because of Covid. These days, he works in conservation … also because of Covid.

Since its inception in response to the global COVID-19 crisis, the Jobs for Nature programme has provided employment for New Zealanders from all walks of life and from all corners of Aotearoa.

Mike Walker hails from the Hawke’s Bay. When COVID-19 thrust the country into level 4 lockdown in March 2020, Mike was one of thousands of people who lost their jobs.

The Jobs for Nature programme was a lifeline for Mike.

“Before Covid, I managed the Napier and Gisborne service departments for a construction equipment dealer,” says Mike. “When my position was made redundant during lockdown, the Jobs for Nature programme allowed me to transition into the conservation sector.”

Previously a volunteer, Mike is now a contract trapper for Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust, funded by Jobs for Nature via Save the Kiwi. Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust is a prolific contributor to Operation Nest Egg in the Hawke’s Bay; in 2019 the trust celebrated the release of the 300th kiwi back into the forest as part of their conservation work.

Mike’s role is as vast and varied as the terrain he treks every day. His primary responsibility has been to establish and maintain a trapping network across approximately 6,300ha of land that is currently being converted from a commercial pine plantation back into a native forest. His main focus is to create kiwi-safe habitat and ensure the birds that roam Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust’s forests can live without fear of being attacked by predators. The flow-on effects of Mike’s work will not only improve the lives of future kiwi that are released into or hatch within the project, it’ll also support other native wildlife that lives in the forest.

18 months on, Mike thinks the Jobs for Nature scheme has been successful.

“The economy didn’t suffer as badly as was expected, but it could be debated that this was due to the certainty provided to industry by the stimulus package which included the Jobs for Nature initiative,” says Mike. “This targeted funding has provided a boost for many conservation projects nationwide which can only have a positive outcome for our environment.”

For Mike, his job is so much more than a means to pay the bills.

“My favourite part of my job is the satisfaction that comes with knowing that I’m making a measurable difference to such a threatened New Zealand species,” he says. “The kiwi is one of New Zealand’s most iconic species and many people have no idea that it’s under theat.

“Working to help save this special bird – it’s a privilege.”