Our People – Meet the Team Leaders

Bridget Palmer

Kiwi Management Team Leader

I have had the privilege of being part of the Whakatāne Kiwi Project team since 2009 when I was offered a secondment from my Department of Conservation (DOC) role in Rotorua. I was asked to manage the project, which I readily accepted – who wouldn’t want to live in the Sunshine Capital? My soon to be husband also lived here, so it wasn’t all about the sun and kiwi.

The Kiwi Project is very close to my heart.  The iconic species living on our doorstep, the friendships I have made through the Trust, and the incredible natural environment here have now become a lifestyle.  The role I have played within the Project has continued to evolve as I have transitioned from being a full time DOC ranger and Kiwi Project Manager; to undertaking various volunteer roles such as kiwi practitioner, education coordinator, and volunteer and events coordinator;  to now being the Kiwi Management Team Leader as a paid contractor.

It is an honour to be called the Kiwi Lady, and a well-known figure in Whakatāne and the kiwi ‘industry’ nationwide. I think I’ll always be involved in some capacity – I’m passionate about the Project and can’t imagine not being part of it.

Sue and Ken Laurent

Sue – Chick Pingers Team Leader / Ken – Education ‘Kiwi Tracker’ Guide 

Both happily retired! Now our time is spent helping support and protect this amazing kiwi icon… the North Island Brown kiwi. This involvement has gradually found a way to take over our lives a bit….. but we wouldn’t change a thing!

We work together with the Kiwi Management Team to ensure our precious kiwi population continues to thrive and grow….   and we love our tasks.  Initially we started in 2010 as very naive “chick pingers” and gradually got hooked as we watched and learned from our incredible team of kiwi handlers. We surely are lifelong learners!!!  An added bonus being that our son Jamie is a predator dog handler for the Kiwi Trust, and his wife Tracy and daughters Emmerson and Jordyn also help out with trapping and kiwi monitoring.

Sue’s job as Team Leader is to co-ordinate the ‘chick pingers’ (or kiwi monitoring team).  We currently have a great team of very dedicated volunteers (mostly retired) who go out on a regular basis to check where our monitored kiwi are, confirm that they are alive, and collect data about the kiwi dads who are incubating for input to the Trust’s App (database).

Ken’s role involve’s the education side of ‘kiwi mahi’… getting the message out there to schools, to ensure that the next generation are informed of the struggles our kiwi have to survive.  Ken loves taking school children on the Kiwi Tracker walks to learn about all things kiwi.

Ken is also heavily involved with trapping and wasp control, and he is also a HALO volunteer and a trustee for the Manawahe Kokako Trust.

Gaye Payze

Pest Control Team leader 

I work closely with Lydia, our Volunteer and Events Coordinator to manage and support the volunteer stoat trappers and the ‘Bring Back the Birds’ volunteers (who fill bait stations along the Ōhope escarpment). I also lead the planning for wasp monitoring and control and the use of PAPP to control stoats, including preparing any consent documents required for the toxin operations.  We also undertake quarterly rodent monitoring in the reserves and I am involved in helping the Whakatāne Kiwi Trust meet its health and safety obligations. 

The focus on pests is both satisfying and challenging… Satisfying to work with such committed volunteers who are keen to see pest populations reduced to low levels and the birds & bush thrive….Challenging to find ways to reduce trap shyness and combat stoat re-invasion.

Michelle Howard

Wasp Control and Kiwi Management Contractor 

I was amazed and excited to hear kiwi call in my own backyard in Wainui shortly after moving there in 2004. I recognised the kiwi call immediately as my partner Greg and I had been living and working on Kapiti Island for several years, with kiwi calling just outside our cottage window.   I wanted to help kiwi flourish in my mainland home, so I started working for the Whakatāne Kiwi Trust as a trapping contractor.  I then became a kiwi management assistant, and I am now also involved in wasp control.

The Kiwi Project has come a long way since those early days of eight kiwi in Ōhope Scenic Reserve, and it’s fantastic to have seen kiwi numbers increase from a few breeding pairs to the hundreds we have today. I’m hoping for similar success with wasp control – but of course with the contrasting aim of massively reducing the numbers of those pesky critters!

Much of my working week is spent as a theatre nurse, but the bush is my truly ‘happy place’ and spending time with the amazing people involved in the Kiwi Project is the icing on the cake. There are lots of incredible people who have made it a success and I feel lucky to  work with them – it really is a Kiwi Project family.

Rick Boon

Live Trapping Team Leader 

I am proud to be part of a volunteer team dedicated to the protection and preservation of our beautiful kiwi.  Being Team Leader for live trapping does have its challenges though!   It can mean a lot of time out in the bush, although that is something I enjoy.

A dedicated team checks the live traps every day for feral cats (our main target), stoats and the odd rat.  The traps are checked daily to ensure that the animals do not suffer.  Feral cats are excellent hunters and can cause a lot of damage to native wild life, so when one is caught it is a real victory.  I often wonder how many native birds and animals will now survive because that cat is not in the bush anymore!

I am also part of the ‘chick pinging’ team that tracks monitored adult kiwi and chicks via a transmitter on the bird’s leg.  This is something that I enjoy very much as well.  Many hours can also be spent tracking kiwi as they do like to wander!  

The Whakatāne Kiwi Trust is a very worthwhile organisation to be involved with and it has been an important part of my life for a number of years now.

Jamie Rhodes

Predator Dog Handler

Juggling shift work, family life and numerous volunteer activities is all part and parcel for Whakatāne Kiwi Trust volunteer Jamie Rhodes.

Jamie has volunteered for the Whakatāne Kiwi Trust since 2008, track cutting and monitoring trap lines. “I signed up as a Kiwi Trust volunteer 12 years ago.  I am a shift worker at Fonterra and it was something to do on my days off. The Whakatāne Kiwi Project is a really good initiative to be involved in and it provides an opportunity to spend some quality family time together in the bush” he said.  Jamie’s mum and step dad have also become volunteers and are both valued members of the Kiwi Trust whanau too.

Jamie and wife Tracy have two daughters – Emmerson and Jordyn – who often help out, undertaking tasks like trap checking, kiwi monitoring and attending trust events.  Averaging five plus hours a week, the Whakatāne Kiwi Trust volunteer work is a big commitment in itself – but it’s just one part of Jamie’s community involvement.  He also volunteers for the Whakatāne Emergency Response team, the Rural Fire Force and the Urban Land Search and Rescue team.

And Jamie now has another tool in his predator control arsenal; the Kiwi Trust’s mustelid detection dog  ‘Teddy’.  Jamie and Teddy, the short, woolly parson’s terrier, are now a common sight in the reserves around Whakatāne.


Russell Ingram-Seal

Night Walks Team Leader

Russell Ingram-Seal is a longtime volunteer.  He started trapping, track clearing, collecting eggs and taking people to hear kiwi in 2006.  In 2010 he became a trustee and officially set up the ‘Night Walks’ for people to hear kiwi calls and experience the bush at night.  The Night Walks take place between April and June during the kiwi breeding season.  Russell switched roles from trustee to treasurer for a couple years; then in 2014, Russell became part of the operational team and is now the Team Leader for the Night Walks. Russell has spent a generous amount of time coordinating his like-minded team of volunteers and has been passing on his knowledge to them as well.

Russell is very passionate about conservation, NZ invertebrates, lizards, bats, and birds.  He enjoys learning about and showing people native fauna and flora at night.  He has recently developed an interest (and considerable skill) in night-time macro photography.  Similar to kiwi, Russell is rather nocturnal and not generally seen in daylight.

If you are interested in volunteering your time for night walks and working with Russell, please get in touch using our website contact details.


Donna Wensor

 Kiwi Aversion Team Leader

Kia ora koutou. My name is Donna Wensor and I am the Leader of a small team of volunteers who support Guus Knopers, our Dog Training expert, to offer to the community kiwi aversion training.  We now offer this training six times a year,  or approximately every two months.  The training is however, not only for kiwi, as many people think.  Guus can also train dogs so that they do not interfere with whio, weka, pateke and even chickens.

My job is to co-ordinate all the bookings and complete the paperwork on the day.  If you would like your dog trained to keep away from specific birds such as chickens, you need to make sure to tell me when booking, as I need to let Guus know before the day, so that he can source the birds needed.  This service is offered to everyone, not only hunters.  We encourage those who live close to bush areas, or who take their dogs for long walks to get them trained.  The cost is $10.00 per dog, and training only takes about five minutes.

Lydia Grunwell

Volunteer and Events Coordinator

I am very excited to be the new Volunteer and Events Coordinator for the Whakatāne Kiwi Trust. I am responsible for planning and managing events to promote the Whakatāne Kiwi Trust, but arguably my most important role is to look after the Trust’s most valuable assets – its wonderful volunteers!  Lots of these volunteers work day and night, rain or shine; all in order to protect our beautiful Kiwi.

There is a wide range of areas our volunteers work in such as trapping, chick ‘pinging’, and wasp control – right through to night walks and education.  We are so lucky to have so much knowledge and expertise within the Trust, and it keeps growing every day!

I live in the sunny Bay with my husband Kane and we are kept on our toes constantly by our children Ella, Cullan, Poppy and Marley.  We enjoy spending time on the beach, out walking the amazing bush walks we have around the Eastern Bay, and watching or playing sports – mostly football (or soccer as it’s usually known by here in NZ!).

If you are interested in volunteering with the Whakatāne Kiwi Trust, please email me at:   volunteer@whakatanekiwi.org.nz

Helen Dobbin

Education Coordinator

It is a privilege to be the Education Coordinator for the Kiwi Trust.  I have lived adjacent to the Mokorua reserve for the last 16 years and have witnessed the increase in kiwi and the other native bird activity throughout these years.  This has been due to the Whakatāne Kiwi trust and their team of volunteers. 

My role involves working with all schools and preschools to increase students’ awareness of kiwi and the biodiverse environment surrounding them.  We look at all the different aspects of providing a healthy, safe environment for kiwi, as well as the other native birds in the area.  Our programmes are organised to cater for all levels of students, and have direct links to the New Zealand Education curriculum as well as the National Certificate of Education Achievement. 

I have come from a background of teaching outdoor education in a secondary school, so to move into environmental education has been a perfect next step.  I love the New Zealand bush.   

Please contact me to create a cool experience for your students.  Email education@whakatanekiwi.org.nz

John Black

IT Team leader 

So, what’s the Whakatāne Kiwi Trust doing with an IT Team you may ask? Before you get images of Sheldon-esque geek-types sitting in a darkened room coding through the night, being perpetually fed coca-cola and pizza, it’s not quite like that. It’s a team of one, me, and I don’t drink cola and I don’t eat pizza (much).

When I first got invloved with the Project, I discovered that most of their data was stored at best in spreadsheets and at worst in small, easily flammable and even more easily lost, notebooks. Having worked in IT for …. let’s just call it a long time …. I realised that I could help them centralise and secure all their data. Thus was born the WebApp, a web-based application for storing volunteer, trapping and kiwi data. As well as building the WebApp, I have also been a trapper, assisted on Kiwi Night Walks, and am currently a ‘chick pinger’ and member of the Kiwi Management team.

I can thoroughly recommend volunteering for the Trust. I have made some great friends through volunteering and it really has given me a sense of belonging in the local community. Be warned though, you may get sucked in. I started out volunteering for about an hour a week and now it appears to have taken over my life … in a good way! Anyway, better get back to coding…. where’s my pizza?

Dani Guy

Marketing and Funding Coordinator

As the Marketing and Funding Coordinator for the Whakatāne Kiwi Trust, my job is to raise public awareness about the Trust and the amazing work done by our volunteers to protect kiwi and other native flora and fauna in the Whakatāne District.  Although I’m fairly new to this position (I’ve recently finished a 16 month stint as the Volunteer and Events Coordinator for the Trust), I know it’s going to be a pretty  ‘sweet job’ as there are LOADs of cool stories to tell – and after all – who doesn’t love a photo of a cute, fluffy kiwi?!

My other key role is working alongside Wayne, our Operations Manager to raise funds to support the Trust’s operations.  This includes writing grant applications (someone’s gotta do it!) and working alongside our wonderful sponsors and local supporters who give so generously to keep us running.

When I’m not doing my work with the Kiwi Trust, I’m busy running around after two small dictators (I mean daughters) on our avocado orchard in Tauranga, and consuming copious amounts of coffee and chocolate.  On a good day, I have also been known to walk the dog and do yoga.