Paulo Fuiono is a man on a mission
The Wellington City Council manages and maintains over 4,000 hectares of parks, reserves, and open space including the Town Belt, and Paulo and the rest of the Park Rangers are charged with keeping it in tip top condition – with a lot of help from you.
“We’ve got plenty of volunteers, some permanent, some one-offs, but we also have plenty of work to do – especially at the moment as we have over 25,000 plants to plant,” says Paulo.
“There are over 100 volunteer groups in Wellington ranging in all sizes, all areas, and roles, so our job could be anything from monitoring trapping at Trelissick Park which is done by the 30-40 Friends Of Trelissick Park, or coordinating weeding in an area with a Wellington Rotary group which has up to 60 volunteers.”
Groups do everything from restore streams, concentrate on the bio-diversity of the area, build tracks, set traps, re-vegetate a neighbourhood, restore sand dunes, weed, mulch, or pick up litter.
A lot of schools and corporate volunteers get involved and get their hands dirty too, including BNZ’s well-known Closed For Good campaign which sees the banks close nationwide one day a year so staff can do volunteer work, and many are managed by the WCC rangers.
“We’re a bit like a dating agency,” laughs Paulo. “We work hard to match the corporate and other one off volunteers to assist our groups with the right jobs and the right areas, and we have a 99.9% success rate!”
They also work closely with Corrections, and have well managed working bees where people doing their community services do some of the pretty tough jobs like clearing gorse, cutting down blackberry bushes, and some heavy lifting.
The Town Belt has more events than most people would be aware of, but Paulo and the team make sure they all run safely and smoothly.
“Events are always happening around here, from mountain biking to cross country races, and we even had a unicycle cross country event a few years ago, which was pretty crazy.
“I needed to sign off the tracks for the event to make sure they were all safe, and suddenly this German woman went flying by on her unicycle like it was a mountain bike, the Kiwis were a bit more restrained in that case!”
All the Park Rangers work a week on call each month, and are available 24/7.
“We get calls about everything from dead animals on the beach, fires in restricted areas, motorbikes on reserves, and I even got a call out once to go to the Te Aro Park water fountain because someone had poured washing liquid in it and it was a two-metre high bubble dome – so there’s always lots of variety!”
The key to the job is also one of the highlights according to Paulo.
“Our main aim is to build relationships with the community and volunteers, as we want the community to take ownership of their neighbourhood, so we work on constantly growing those partnerships. – and we’re seeing amazing results.
“It’s always so rewarding, especially when you get school kids giving up their time to volunteer – so we want Wellingtonians to support our volunteers because they keep your neighbourhood looking great, green, and they maintain our unique surroundings.”
Paulo initially did Business Studies at Massey, but when he had a semester off helping a ‘mate’ plant trees he fell in love with the job, and headed in to horticulture and started planting trees with the WCC Horticulture team – which led to his role as a Council Park Ranger for the past six years.
“I eat my lunch on Mt Vic, I have meetings there, and there are so many tracks to discover, it’s also such a significant part of Wellington – it’s the first thing you see when you come down the Ngauranga Gorge.”
Paulo loves his job, the volunteers, his team, and Town Belt, but there are a couple of things that really get his blood boiling. “It annoys me when people dump rubbish and domestic weeds on public land, so if anyone sees something suspicious on our reserves we always welcome a call,” he says.
“Also, if people are keen to volunteer they should first contact us, then we’ll arrange a time to have a catch up, find the right job for the right team, and we always have a thorough health and safety briefing too,” adds Paulo.
The Council offers support to those wanting to set up a group and can provide advice on developing restoration plans, funding environmental projects, and publicity for drumming up numbers for a working bee.
It also supports and advises environmental community groups through the community greening programme, which includes providing free native plants for re-vegetation projects.