SEARRP’s vision is that exceptional science informs and inspires the conservation of tropical forests – which is not straightforward to achieve when, as an organisation, we neither own or manage forests, or even directly lobby for their protection. What we can do is enable the world-leading research that is essential to underpin conservation decision making, make sure that this science is accessible to policy makers and maintain a presence on-the-ground to provide continual support and input to government, land-managers and NGOs.
In Sabah, major strides have been made in achieving this vision since SEARRP was established in 1985. Our base at Danum Valley, which represents the most intact, pristine lowland forest that remains in Malaysia, and possibly the whole of SE Asia, was fully protected in 1995. The decision to protect Danum was made in large part due to the profile that the field centre had already achieved following SEARRP’s first 10 years of scientific endeavours. In the early 2000s, ‘Sabah’s Lost World’, the extraordinary Maliau Basin, a giant sunken plateau the size of Singapore and located 100 km to the west of Danum, was also protected – to be followed, in 2012, by the equally stunning Imbak Canyon. All of these primary forest protected areas now have associated research programmes.
Over the past 10 years, the 150,000 hectares covered by the primary forests of Danum, Maliau and Imbak has been supplemented by a further half million hectares of protected forest which now buffers and connects these three pristine conservation areas. This swathe of protected forest, stretching over 200km from the coastal plains surrounding Lahad Datu on Sabah’s east coast, through the low-lying forests of Danum and west to the central uplands of Imbak Canyon and Maliau Basin, represents the most important stretch of forest that remains intact on the island of Borneo. This vast corridor, which covers an area 4 times the size of Greater London, comprises an altitudinal gradient of over 1,600 metres and is of inestimable ecological and conservation value – a value which has been demonstrated by the 30-year body of SEARRP science.
The Conservator of Forests and Director of the Forestry Department in Sabah, Sam Mannan, has acknowledged SEARRP’s contribution as having, to quote: “greatly strengthened my hand in pressing the State Government to conserve further areas of critically important habitat, including some of the finest areas of primary forest in SE Asia – the Danum Valley, Maliau Basin and Imbak Canyon Conservation Areas – which are soon to be nominated for World Heritage listing”.
Over the coming years, and supported by a generous grant from the US-based Rainforest Trust, SEARRP will be expanding our direct support of conservation planning. In partnership with the Sabah Forestry Department, the Carnegie Airborne Observatory, Partners of Community Organisations Sabah (PACOS) and the BC Initiative (BCI) we will be identifying a further 400,000 hectares of new protected forests. Conservation decisions will be based not only on the best available science, but also with consideration to the support which forests must play to the livelihoods of forest dependent communities.