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RSPB celebrates start of rainforest initiative

Last modified: 21 February 2008

Lowland agile gibbon

Image: Anup Shah

The RSPB, Burung Indonesia and BirdLife International are celebrating receiving Indonesia's first official licence to restore a forest ecosystem.

Indonesia’s Forestry Minister M.S. Kaban formally handed over the licence on 14 February, allowing the Partners to manage a large swathe of wildlife-rich lowland rainforest in Sumatra for 100 years.

The forest covers an area of 52,000 hectares in South Sumatra province. The Partners are also eager to secure part of the neighbouring concession, which would bring the entire area under ecosystem restoration to 100,000 hectares - two-thirds the size of Greater London. The RSPB, Burung Indonesia and BirdLife International call the area 'Harapan Rainforest' after the Indonesian word for 'hope'.

'The licence... allows the managers to restore and conserve a partly-degraded forest ecosystem'

The licence is a historic first, because it allows the managers to restore and conserve a partly-degraded forest ecosystem. In other words, the Partners have acquired the logging rights for the area, not for the purpose of logging, but of restoring the forest to its former glory.

Burung Indonesia, the RSPB and BirdLife International anticipate that restoring ecological balance will allow endangered hornbills and other forest-dependent birds to flourish, and numbers of the Critically Endangered Sumatran tiger to stabilise. Harapan Rainforest is one of the last refuges of the Sumatran tiger in the wild. 

The Partners have an ambitious ten-point plan for what they'll achieve during Harapan Rainforest’s first few years under ‘ecosystem restoration':

  • Prevent the otherwise almost certain clearance of this area of rainforest and its conversion into plantations or agricultural land
  • Halt destruction of habitat important to the survival of more than 260 species of forest-dependent birds
  • Protect the forest to allow it to regenerate and create prime habitat for a whole spectrum of wildlife, including the critically endangered Sumatran tiger
  • Preserve elements of sustainable, forest-based livelihoods followed by indigenous people and other local communities
  • Provide environmental education for all local communities
  • Involve local communities in planning and offer job opportunities in sustainable forest management, ecotourism and alternative income generation
  • Provide a model for ecosystem restoration and sustainable forest management in Indonesia
  • Become a resource for research on rainforest biology and ecosystem recovery
  • Measure how much carbon is stored by the rainforest and how much carbon can be captured through replanting and restoration work
  • Explore ways that rainforest protection could receive credits under a future international climate change treaty

Dr Dieter Hoffmann, the RSPB’s Head of Global Programme, said:

'This is a major milestone and is the result of a tremendous team effort involving many staff from various areas of the Society, BirdLife International and Burung Indonesia.

'There is a lot of work ahead to protect the forest and to restore it to its original glory, but this is a moment to reflect on our Partnership’s tenacity and determination to make a real difference – and to thank the Indonesian Government for their support in making this initiative possible.

'Forests across Indonesia are under severe pressure of deforestation, even when they are incredibly rich in wildlife like Harapan Rainforest. That’s why this model of ecosystem restoration is so important. 

'By allowing private management of such a ‘biodiversity hotspot’, the Indonesian Government has given concerned private citizens and organisations around the world the chance to make a difference by preserving some of the world's most spectacular wildlife. Our Partnership will provide technical expertise and private funding to help save this rainforest and create an environmentally and economically sustainable model for its future.'

The Burung Indonesia-RSPB-BirdLife International Partnership has already had permission to operate in Harapan Rainforest since last year. They have already established a conservation camp on the ground and hired 60 staff to patrol the area.

They have achieved notable success in co-operating with local authorities to reduce illegal logging, and have been monitoring the diverse mammalian and bird life of the area. Next month, the Partnership will bring botanic experts from the United Kingdom to Harapan Rainforest to study its diverse plant life. Scientists will begin a more intensive survey of the area's breeding birds and will start to train new teams of Sumatran staff in monitoring wildlife.

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