UBD pioneers study on reforestation

National 2 minutes, 41 seconds

BELAIT

UNIVERSITI Brunei Darrusalam (UBD) is conducting pioneering research at the Lumut water pipeline road to study what local trees species are best suited for revegetating Belait’s scorched peat swamp forests.

The ASEAN-Korea Environmental Cooperation Project is funding the Brunei study for the first time.

The study aims to supply information that could be used to remedy the effects of recurring fires at Belait's peat swamp forests, which have outstripped the vegetation's natural ability to restore itself.

Four trees, all known to be prominent timber species with high conservation value, were planted last year at three 50 by 15 metre plots opposite Brunei LNG’s water pipelines.

Sixteen saplings of light red meranti (shorea albida), keruing (dipetrocarpus borneensis), kapur paya (dryobalanops rappa) and tulong (agathis borneensis) were grown at each site.

MSc Biology student Wardah Hj Tuah, who is carrying out the project, yesterday said preliminary findings show kapur paya as having the most potential, but said that more time was needed.

“Reforestation is a process that can take years, decades even, so we need to continue to closely monitor the progress,” said the 24-year-old, who is also undertaking the study as a final year project.

Unsuitable for most commercial crops due to acidity, peatland in its natural state is swampy, acting as a huge water reservoir with the ability to absorb carbon and regulate water flow.

Their extinction, due to the compounding effects of fires, drainage and deforestation, risk destabilising water levels of rivers in the surrounding area, said Wardah.

“The latest estimation of heath (peat) forests in Brunei is 3,500 hectares but due to disturbances (fires/developments), their number is starting to decline rapidly,” she said.

A previous report said fires have destroyed an estimated 330 hectares of forests in Belait in 2016 thus far, less than the 400 hectares reported in 2014.

Citing previous studies, Wardah said the degraded forest is unlikely to regain its initial form unless direct action is taken.

An associate expert at global environmental non-governmental organisation Wetlands International, who is supporting the project with Brunei LNG and the Forestry Department, said an all-out reforestation across all degraded land may prove too costly.

Instead Dr Jonathan Davies suggested a multi-tiered approach that weans off and supports the forest’s ability to restore itself.

“First you raise the water level in the area so vegetation can grow. And if you can combine this with preventing forest fires from hitting the same area, then the degraded land closest to unaffected forest can restore itself via the natural spreading of seedlings through weather (and other environmental factors),” said Davies.

Strategic planting can then be done in areas away from healthy forests, with more trees planted as the distance gets further.

Brunei LNG Head of Environmental Affairs Marie Christine Johannes said they would most likely use the results of the study to reforest areas where their assets are most at risk.

“Part of the reason why we supported the project to be at the Lumut pipelines, which supply us with water, is because the surrounding land was actually degrading and sinking in the area. So learning how to raise the water level, and eventually choose the right trees to reforest the area is very important for us,” she said.

The Brunei Times