Celebrating 10 years of achievements in rehabilitating the North Selangor Peat Swamp Forest

14 févr. 2019

Peatlands are unique wetland ecosystems where partially decomposed organic matter accumulates over thousands of years under waterlogged conditions to form carbon-rich soil, or “peat”.  They are the world largest carbon stores and play an important role in regulating global climate and greenhouse gas emissions.

Six per cent out of 24.8 million hectares peatlands worldwide are found in Southeast Asia (SEA). Peatlands in SEA are characterized as tropical peatland are naturally forested (known as peat swamp forest) and they provide copious of benefits.

In Peninsular Malaysia, there are 880, 389 hectares of peatlands. Selangor State has the second largest peatland area with a total of 90,601 hectares of peat swamp forest that are gazetted as forest reserve. The North Selangor Peat Swamp Forest (NSPSF) is located in the north western part of the State of Selangor has global importance for its role in maintaining endangered and endemic species (biodiversity conservation) and as huge carbon sink. NSPSF consists of Raja Musa Forest Reserve (35,656 hectares), Sungai Karang Forest Reserve (37.417 hectares), Bukit Belata (Extension) Forest Reserve (4,342 hectares) and Sungai Dusun Forest Reserve (5, 091 hectares). Together it covers an area slightly bigger than Singapore!

North Selangor Peat Swamp Forest harbours a variety of floras including 107 types of trees, 60 types of herbs, 32 types of orchids, 14 types of mosses and lycophytes, 24 types of ferns and others. Some of the valued floras found are Gonystylus bancanus, Shorea platycarpa, and Dyera polyhylla. More than 100 fish species are found in this peat swamp forest, with at least 6 known endemic species found no-where else in the world, including the Selangor Red Betta (Betta livida) listed as endangered in IUCN Red List. It is home to 173 species of birds, of which 145 are breeding residents, including endangered species such as Hornbills and the Short Toed Coucal. This peat swamp forest plays an important role in supplying water for local domestic usage and irrigating the famous   Sekinchan Padi Fields in Malaysia.

Prior to 2008, the NSPSF particularly in Raja Musa Forest Reserve had been illegally encroached by people in the surrounding area and turned into farms and settlement area. Drainage canals that were built for the illegal agricultural activities have caused water to drain out from the peat. This had led to extensive fires and degradation; leading to significant carbon emissions. In mid-2008, enforcement actions were taken by the local authority to remove 470 individuals that were illegally intruding on the forest reserve and the agricultural crops that were illegally planted in the forest reserve removed.

As an environmental NGO that advocates for sustainable management of peatland and spearheading peatland rehabilitation and conservation initiatives, Global Environment Centre (GEC) has partnered with the Selangor State Forestry Department (SSFD) and initiated a long term rehabilitation programme to restore 1,000 hectares of the degraded peat area. Together, SSDF and GEC focused on 3 major aspects to rehabilitate NSPSF. There are re-wetting, fire prevention and control, and assisted re-vegetation and enrichment planting. In addition, community participation aspect was also included and it was first of its kind to be introduced at a massive scale in Malaysia. It is aimed to promote local community ownership and participation in forest rehabilitation work at the NSPSF.

Peatlands are unique wetland ecosystems where partially decomposed organic matter accumulates over thousands of years under waterlogged conditions to form carbon-rich soil, or “peat”.  They are the world largest carbon stores and play an important role in regulating global climate and greenhouse gas emissions.

Six per cent out of 24.8 million hectares peatlands worldwide are found in Southeast Asia (SEA). Peatlands in SEA are characterized as tropical peatland are naturally forested (known as peat swamp forest) and they provide copious of benefits.

In Peninsular Malaysia, there are 880, 389 hectares of peatlands. Selangor State has the second largest peatland area with a total of 90,601 hectares of peat swamp forest that are gazetted as forest reserve. The North Selangor Peat Swamp Forest (NSPSF) is located in the north western part of the State of Selangor has global importance for its role in maintaining endangered and endemic species (biodiversity conservation) and as huge carbon sink. NSPSF consists of Raja Musa Forest Reserve (35,656 hectares), Sungai Karang Forest Reserve (37.417 hectares), Bukit Belata (Extension) Forest Reserve (4,342 hectares) and Sungai Dusun Forest Reserve (5, 091 hectares). Together it covers an area slightly bigger than Singapore!

North Selangor Peat Swamp Forest harbours a variety of floras including 107 types of trees, 60 types of herbs, 32 types of orchids, 14 types of mosses and lycophytes, 24 types of ferns and others. Some of the valued floras found are Gonystylus bancanus, Shorea platycarpa, and Dyera polyhylla. More than 100 fish species are found in this peat swamp forest, with at least 6 known endemic species found no-where else in the world, including the Selangor Red Betta (Betta livida) listed as endangered in IUCN Red List. It is home to 173 species of birds, of which 145 are breeding residents, including endangered species such as Hornbills and the Short Toed Coucal. This peat swamp forest plays an important role in supplying water for local domestic usage and irrigating the famous   Sekinchan Padi Fields in Malaysia.

Prior to 2008, the NSPSF particularly in Raja Musa Forest Reserve had been illegally encroached by people in the surrounding area and turned into farms and settlement area. Drainage canals that were built for the illegal agricultural activities have caused water to drain out from the peat. This had led to extensive fires and degradation; leading to significant carbon emissions. In mid-2008, enforcement actions were taken by the local authority to remove 470 individuals that were illegally intruding on the forest reserve and the agricultural crops that were illegally planted in the forest reserve removed.

As an environmental NGO that advocates for sustainable management of peatland and spearheading peatland rehabilitation and conservation initiatives, Global Environment Centre (GEC) has partnered with the Selangor State Forestry Department (SSFD) and initiated a long term rehabilitation programme to restore 1,000 hectares of the degraded peat area. Together, SSDF and GEC focused on 3 major aspects to rehabilitate NSPSF. There are re-wetting, fire prevention and control, and assisted re-vegetation and enrichment planting. In addition, community participation aspect was also included and it was first of its kind to be introduced at a massive scale in Malaysia. It is aimed to promote local community ownership and participation in forest rehabilitation work at the NSPSF.

Here are the 5 main achievements to celebrate 10 years of rehabilitating and conserving the North Selangor Peat Swamp Forest:

  1. Nearly 200 hectares of this peat swamp forest was successfully restored and enriched the degraded area with more than 115,000 pioneer and indigenous trees such as Melicope lunu-ankend and Shorea platycarpa. More than 100 abandoned canals and drains in peatland areas have been blocked to raise water levels for fire prevention and control and enhancing natural regeneration. As the result, forest fire incidents and haze have been reduced up to 90%. The rehabilitation programme has engaged more than 22,000 volunteers from public and corporate bodies to be a part of this effort.
  2. In 2012, the Friends of North Selangor Peat Swamp Forest, the first registered Community Based Organisation (CBO) on peatlands formed in Malaysia. The members were empowered to be the eyes and ears of the forest and are involved in the forest fire prevention, fire suppression, tree planting and eco-tourism activities. They have also set up a community nursery, raising more than 20,000 peat swamp seedlings and implemented seedling buy-back system. They collected and raised seedlings which were then bought by agencies for tree planting activities at the rehabilitation site. This system allows them to be sustainable.
  3.  As part of the capacity building effort, the Government of Selangor State, Malaysia launched a Centre of Excellence for Peatland Awareness and Conservation in June 2015. The Centre acts as an education hub for interest groups who would like to learn more about peatland conservation. In future, the centre will serve as a research base for university students and researchers. For school students, GEC has also developed an environmental education module and set up an outdoor classroom focusing on peat swamp forest.
  4.  The Integrated Management Plan of North Selangor Peat Swamp Forest (IMP-NSPSF) for 2014-2023 was developed with three new sub-plans i.e. Buffer Zone Management Plan, Cooperative Fire Management Plan and Rehabilitation Plan. The updated IMP-NSPSF was approved by the Selangor State Government in December 2014.
  5.  On 22nd September 2017, Raja Musa Forest Reserve has granted Queens Commonwealth Canopy accreditation by the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy (QCC) partnership with the Royal Commonwealth Society and Cool Earth and the Commonwealth Forestry Association. This is the first accreditation for Malaysia after QCC was launched at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta, in 2015.

In conjunction with the international celebration of World Wetlands Day, GEC and SSFD will be celebrating World Wetlands Day 2019 by organising a tree planting event at the North Selangor Peat Swamp Forest on February 23, 2019, to highlight the importance to protect our local natural wetlands as they are a natural solution in attenuating impacts of climate change. This event is also a part of GEC 20th anniversary of building partnership for the environment. Join us to #KeepWetlands at www.gec.org.my  and take part in the global celebration of #WorldWetlandsDay.

 Story and Photo credits: Shafinaz Shahabudin