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Experienced bushman appointed Eastern Whio Link’s project manager

Eastern Whio Link has welcomed a knowledgeable hunter, fisherman and bushman on board as its project manager.

With a background in conservation and strong management skills, Geoff McLaughlan is committed to making a difference in the region.

Mr McLaughlan, along with Hamiora Gibson, co-founded the hunter-led conservation project in 2019 when a group of hunters and back-country enthusiasts banded together to bring whio back to local waterways through stoat trapping.

The project covers 25,000 hectares, secures the services of 100 volunteers and plans to expand its operations to intensify trapping on a 4000ha block for kiwi protection.

“When you are trying to control a project on such a large scale you need a project manager and Geoff fits the bill,” Mr Gibson said.

He said Mr McLaughlan had the experience of being a hunter and fisherman, coupled with people management skills and field experience.

The role would involve overseeing thousands of hectares of land, deciding on the traps to lay out for pest control and employing part-time volunteers.

“Sometimes you have to teach them (volunteers), especially the younger ones, if they haven't got the necessary skills. But having them around has been good for us as the project wouldn't have reached the heights it has without them,” Mr McLaughlan said.

The conservation group was setting up 570 DOC 200 and about 600 A24 traps throughout the Waioeka area — 25,000ha — to catch pests such as stoats, rats, cats and hedgehogs.

While the big and heavy DOC 200 traps would be used on wider farmlands, the small, lighter and more robust A24 traps would be placed in bush areas that are not easily accessible.

The bigger traps were usually placed along the river system which ran through the area to capture predators such as stoats, which tend to travel along a linear path.

“Part of my role is walking and counting the birds. When we find them it gives us an idea of what is in the area,” Mr McLaughlan said.

A survey carried out by students from Tauranga's Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology for their course on environmental management last year found the area was inhabited by a small population of kiwi and bats.

With as few as 12 kiwi found, the trapping project would intensify their protection in the 4000ha block by placing about 500 traps with the hope of increasing the kiwi population to about 60. The remaining 700 traps would be laid out in the wider farmlands, Mr McLaughlan said.

The trapping was expected to be completed by March.

Besides the trap layout, staff and volunteer management, the responsibility of the project manager would also involve gathering kai for Matawai Marae, especially during events, Mr Gibson said.

The conservation group works in partnership with the marae.

Mr McLaughlan's role and the trapping project was part of the Jobs for Nature funding the organisation applied for last year.

“Since the intention of the funding was to provide jobs for unemployed or underdeveloped people, we asked whether it was possible to employ Geoff because we would need the skillset for a project manager,” Mr Gibson said.

As a kid, Mr McLaughlan was interested in the natural world.

“I was always out there digging things up and looking at stuff.”

Although he does not come from a hunting family, as a child he went on a hunting trip with a family friend and fished with his dad, which sparked his interest in nature.

Over the years he has been involved in possum trapping on a farm in the Kaimai Ranges, has done horticultural work and carried out conservation work for the Department of Conservation.

“If we can help other kids who are yet to find their interest, we can take them out and teach them what we know. Maybe we can set a spark for nature like I got as a kid.”

MAC THE TRAPPER: The new project manager for Eastern Whio Link, Geoff McLaughlan, is a keen fisherman. Picture supplied
NATURE ENTHUSIASTS: Keen hunter and fisherman Geoff McLaughlan has been appointed project manager for Eastern Whio Link, which he co-founded with Hamiora Gibson (right). Picture supplied
BACKGROUND IN CONSERVATION: Geoff McLaughlan's interest in hunting was sparked when he was a child. Picture supplied