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It’s about people, more than wilding pines

A report from the Contractor forum in Twizel, October 2022 by Haeleigh Turner

In October, the National Programme Operations team – Alan Tinnelly (national operations lead), Adam Ross (southern operations) and Jonathan Tunnell (health and safety) – hosted around 40 people in Twizel, for a full day contractor-lead forum. The day was all about the people doing the hard work of wilding control, doing the mahi on the ground and in the air, and a chance to share their thoughts and experiences around the Programme.

The group heard from a varied programme of speakers on equally varied topics: training, mechanised harvesting, bioenergy, ground-based crews, contract managers, and the National Programme were all covered.   

Discussions were robust and open, and travelled the many positives and challenges of wilding control work.

Most presentation topics centred around wellbeing, safety, and mental health of staff both during and outside work. These led to important conversations on team culture, women in the wilding control industry, attitudes around alcohol use, working away from home and getting support when facing challenges.

There was interesting chat around social license and the complexities of working with landowners, particularly in the rural/urban fringe, where wilding infestations often cross multiple property boundaries. Successful control operations require buy-in from all parties, who may have varying perspectives and varying degrees of understanding about the reasons to remove wildings.

Practical skills and development were discussed too, including investing in worker competency, safe chainsaw use, and training opportunities.

Phil Williams from Competenz talking about training opportunities at the contractor's forum held in Twizel

The future for the contracting sector was also discussed, with its challenges and opportunities. With the ever-present unpredictability of long-term funding for any one programme, business owners talked about the importance having diverse streams of work for their teams and planning for potential changes in demands. 

As the group reflected on achievements, it was inspiring to realise how far wilding pine control has come since the inception of the National Wilding Conifer Control Programme in 2016. A whole industry has been created and the tools, methods, and capacity for landscape scale control operations are now in full force. All agreed there is still plenty of work to be done.

Overall, a positive and enjoyable day was had, and the Programme team rated the event a success.

“Everyone there appreciated the opportunity to come together, meet other contractors face to face, share experiences, have a laugh and learn from each other" said Johno.

 “Everyone heard some good ideas, and we gained some great feedback that will inform our future planning. We are looking forward to hosting a similar event with our contractors in the North Island early in 2023”.