The Growing Our Future project is a living lab that will provide researchers and students with cumulative data collated from monitored plots.

Gathering data over time

Thousands of reforestation projects exist throughout New Zealand. Only a small percentage of these, however, receive formal monitoring. What's more, the different methods of monitoring make comparisons between these projects difficult.

For this reason, the University has decided to establish a number of permanent plots where data can be collected repeatedly. This will allow researchers to build up a picture of how the forest develops over time.

Baseline data

Baseline data being collected from Ohariu includes:

  • tree species and density (stems per hectare)
  • stem diameter and height of trees
  • tree vitality
  • signs of grazing
  • invertebrate, bird, and mammal counts
  • soil pH, nitrogen, and carbon.
Grassy hillside in Ohariu Valley with suburb in background
Areas of planted native trees amongst gorse. Ohariu Valley, 2021.

The importance of nurse species

The tree plantings at the Growing Our Future site have been organised into plots with different proportions of kānuka and mānuka. These two species are often advocated as good “nurse” species to help other trees establish by suppressing grass and other weeds that might otherwise take over.

This project will  help us to determine the importance of nurse species on forest development and whether mānuka and kānuka leave different legacies in the ecological succession of an area.

The monitoring plots also vary in whether or not they contain gorse, and whether they are on relatively dry or wet microsites. All these factors can alter tree growth and natural regeneration. This will help us determine the optimal nurse species and planting mix for each set of conditions.

Manuka seedling surrounded by gorse plants
A manuka seedling at the Growing Our Future site in Ohariu, 2021.

Student research

Having access to the Growing Our Future site in Ohariu Valley provides an invaluable asset to the University, as the project provides unique opportunities for applied research and teaching.

The project is a living laboratory and long-term field study site for members of the Center for Biodiversity and Restoration Ecology. Students undertaking postgraduate courses in Ecological Restoration have the chance to develop practical skills and design their own research projects relating to the restoration site.

Students involved with the project work with government agencies and local community groups. In this way, students can gain work experience and develop valuable professional relationships.


One example of the work being done through this course is Becky Parmenter’s StoryMap, which she designed to tell the story of the Growing Our Future project. Her StoryMap contains various infographic maps to illustrate the work being done in Ohariu. We used some content from Becky's StoryMap to create this Growing Our Future site.

Woman in high-vis vest kneeling on grassy bank
Becky Parmenter, a summer scholarship student setting up a permanent vegetation plot. Ohariu, 2021.