We need to understand how planted forests affect the flow of water through landscapes to make the best use of land and water while maintaining environmental health.

Scion’s Forest Flows five-year research programme is investigating the complex processes of water distribution, use and circulation in forested catchments, and downstream effects.

The goal of the programme is to capture data around key hydrological processes spanning forests and catchments and use the data to create a model that predicts hydrological flow across a range of planted forests that can be used to optimise water use in the wider landscape.

Five primary research catchment sites have been identified across New Zealand’s climate zones. Instrumentation to monitor soil-plant-atmosphere interactions that operates as a wireless sensor network has been developed and installed, along with a big data cloud-based pipeline to manage the expected 300,000 observations daily.

Scion is working closely with industry, landowners, iwi, councils and national and international collaborators. The work protects primary-sector productivity and aims to improve water quality and supply and flood mitigation. The forestry sector’s licence to operate will be strengthened by demonstrating forests can have positive impacts on water resources. Decision-making on siting new forests will be improved.

Data collection is starting in the second half of 2021.

“Summit Forests NZ Limited manages Te Hiku plantation forest on land collectively owned by four Te Tai Tokerau iwi (Te Aupōuri, Ngāti Kuri, Ngāi Takoto and Te Rarawa). Summit is dedicated to managing the land in an environmentally, culturally, socially and economically sustainable manner. We welcome Scion’s research focused on flows from this forest and hope it will help plug some of the hydrological knowledge gaps. In the future the information gathered may be able to provide sound science to management decisions, particularly around wetland setbacks.” - Karen Lucich, Environmental Planner, Summit Forests NZ Ltd
“Ngai Tahu Forestry are pleased to partner with Scion on their research project to better understand how plantation forestry impacts the flow and quality of water both within and beyond their forest estate. This project reflects the increasing importance being placed on the protection of our natural resources and ecosystems and Ngai Tahu envisage that the information obtained through the course of this programme has the potential to enhance and strengthen their own beliefs and values with respect to the protection of the land in perpetuity.”  - Chris Calder, Operations Manager, Ngāi Tahu Forestry
“New Zealand’s planted forests are part of a mosaic of land cover, and the relationships between our planted forests and the flow of water in and out of them and the consequent impact on and interaction with the wider receiving environments are not always well understood. Yet water use and flow dynamics are fast becoming a major issue affecting forest owners’ licence to operate – both as a result of major rainfall events, and in increasingly dry areas.  In drier areas such as Otago, regulators are starting to single out plantation forestry for land use restrictions, and this seems to be based on research that relies on a small number of sometimes quite unrepresentative studies. Scion’s Forest Flows research programme promises to significantly advance our understanding of in-forest and catchment flow dynamics, and should deliver robust modelling tools to back up the positive impact of our plantation activities.” - Peter Oliver, General Manager, Forest Assets, City Forests Ltd

Funder: Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment
Collaborators:  NIWA, XERRA, University of Auckland, University of Waikato. International collaborators: Meter Group (USA), Virginia Tech (USA), University of Massachusetts (USA), University of Southern California (USA), CSIRO (Australia), Whitegum Forest Natural Resource (Australia), MVARC (Portugal), ARAUCO (Chile)

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