Three weeks into his time as a conservation cadet, Paengaroa's Levi Pouwhare is loving it.
Levi is one of the 12-strong first intake into the Bay Conservation Alliance Cadets, a Government funded programme that is part of the Jobs for Nature scheme launched in the 2020 Budget.
Levi had just finished an environmental diploma at Toi Ohomai when he saw details of the programme pop up on Facebook.
He says when he learned he had been accepted it blew his mind.
"I really didn't know if I'd get in or not, but once I found out I was just really excited. It's one more step towards trying to get a career in conservation."
Enrolling on the diploma course was Levi's first step.
The cadets are now on week four of the programme, and Levi says he has already found new interests.
"I've become really interested in trapping - we learned about that and it really seems fascinating."
The interest ties in with his concern about native birds - with trapping one of the ways of protecting them and their habitat.
"Because I like birds so much, trapping a pest means that more birds in the area can breed and have more success at spreading."
After looking at various traps, and the way they work, the cadets visited Ōtanewainuku to set them.
As a youngster in Te Puke Levi would spend a lot of his time in the reserves and says he saved many orphaned birds.
Then while studying he was taught about bird surveying.
"I got really good at identifying birds and it's just fascinating."
The cadets have also studied banding, the technology around tracking, pest movement trends and various native plants.
Once the programme is over Levi, whose affiliations include Tapuika iwi and Ngāti Mākino, says he would like to be part of local conservation initiatives.
"A lot of the hapu and iwi I belong to are actually starting some conservation initiatives and I'm looking to be part of that."
He says he would like to see more people discover and take an interest in the existing initiatives such as Te Pourepo o Kaituna wetland project.
Levi says the current crop of cadets are "a good bunch of people".
"I didn't expect to be so comfortable, but when you get with people with a shared interest I guess you mesh well."
The scheme was launched last month at Oropi Community Hall with Environment Minister David Parker on hand to welcome the cadets, along with several community leaders including Bay of Plenty Regional Council chairman Doug Leeder, Western Bay of Plenty deputy mayor John Scrimgeour and Rob McGowan, an authority on conservation and rongoa Maori (traditional Maori medicine).
The cadets are working with 29 environmental experts to learn and complete a range of different conservation work.
Bay Conservation Alliance chairman Julian Fitter called the cadets "pioneers" at the launch and told them they were in for a "lifetime job" in saving the environment.
"Conservation work is not like rocket science, it's a lot more complicated. The natural world is far more complex."
He said jobs in conservation were meaningless without understanding and training and that was what made this programme so important.
The minister said the Jobs for Nature programme would create 5000 roles nationally in the coming years but could not say exactly how many would be based in the Bay of Plenty alone. Restoring lost wetlands, helping the region's biodiversity that was under threat and reversing environmental damage was far more important than "just building roads".
Department of Conservation iwi representative and former Tauranga Moana Biosecurity Capital co-chairman Carlton Bidois said environmental work had been "under-resourced for decades" and it was now more important than ever to "fix what we've done".