Forest restoration planting

Forest restoration is about forest and ecosystem establishment. The purpose is to establish a forest, typically based on what was historically there.

Forest restoration principles

The principles of forest restoration are to:

  • protect and enhance what is already there
  • understand the land and what can be achieved
  • look to link with others in your patch – what nearby groups or areas of forest can you join up with?

Forest restoration benefits

Forests restoration projects have many benefits including: 

  • provision of natural habitats
  • return of ecosystem function
  • control of soil erosion
  • regulating water flows
  • provision of clean water
  • provision of taonga (treasured) species for whakairo (carving) and rongoā (medicine)
  • aesthetics and inspiration
  • stock shelter
  • climate regulation.

Forest restoration vision and goals

Having a clear vision and goals will help with planning your forest restoration project. Start with an understanding of your land and what you want your forest to look and function like. Have some restoration goals that you are trying to achieve. Some reasons you might restore your land include:

  • forest buffers 
  • wildlife corridors
  • erosion control
  • flood protection.

Once you know your vision, you can develop some clear goals on how to achieve it.

Research your forest restoration project

Do your research before you begin so you have a plan to achieve your vision and goals. 

  • Understand the environmental factors your trees will need to deal with, such as pests, soil type, climate and terrain.
  • Understand your area – check if there are existing forests, plantings or seed sources nearby.
  • Investigate what natural forest would have been in your area. 
  • Know your budget.
  • Understand the scale you intend to restore – is it 1 hectare (for example, 2 rugby fields) or 1,500 hectares?

Our Environment has online maps showing environmental data. This data includes habitat and ecosystems. 

Land Atlas of New Zealand – Our Environment

Passive to active techniques

You can think about your forest restoration activities on a passive to active scale to help plan which restoration approach is required.

Passive forest restoration techniques

Land can naturally revert to forest cover by increasing protection such as fencing, pest control and buffer zones.

Vegetation cover

If the existing vegetation is near natural and can regenerate naturally, you should restore using passive techniques. Protection (fence or weed control) may be the only action required on that part of your land. 

If the existing vegetation is modified (subject to prolonged disturbance) then:

  • provide protection
  • remove the cause of the damage
  • start monitoring to see if regeneration starts or if a trigger is needed. 

Active forest restoration techniques

Land is too damaged to regenerate naturally and the appropriate plants and trees have to be reintroduced by planting.

Vegetation cover

If the existing vegetation is degraded (non-native ground cover) then you need to actively assist any natural regeneration. For example, remove the cause of the damage and start planting. 

If the existing vegetation is highly degraded (most of the original biodiversity is missing) or absent (totally cleared) active restoration is required. You need to:

  • provide protection
  • remove the cause of damage 
  • start planting
  • monitor the health of your plantings.

Draw up a forest restoration plan

Once you have done your research, you can use this information to do a plan. Make sure your plan includes ongoing monitoring and maintenance. Some things to think about for your plan include:

  • how you are going to manage pests and weeds
  • what steps you need to take if you are managing land to revert to native forest – do you need to actively plant the site or can you encourage reversion by removing pests or stock from the land
  • what you will plant and how you will get your trees established – do you need to plant nurse crops like manuka, pittosporum, akeake and cabbage trees to create shelter and establish a canopy before you can plant longer living trees
  • where to start planting, for example, planting sheltered valleys first may help with seedling survival
  • planting density – should you plant at 1 metre or 3 metre spacings? Will planting at 3 metres increase overall costs due to the maintenance time needed to get established? Will it impact seedling growth rates? 

Your regional council’s land management officer may be able to offer advice on what and where to plant and could help with preparing a management plan.

Council maps and websites – Local Government New Zealand Get planting advice and help