Author: Katie King

The SEnSOR programme’s latest research into plantation management by independent smallholders

Plantation management practices of independent oil palm smallholders in Central Kalimantan: exploring the potential and limitations of standards for Good Agricultural Practices       Photo Credit – Grace Sibarani

The SEnSOR Programme’s smallholder research team has released new findings from their study into the potential and limitations of standards for Good Agricultural Practice for independent oil palm smallholders. The team investigated how different types of smallholders managed their plantations and whether the Good Agricultural Practice requirements for RSPO certification were suitable for the smallholder situation. Read the science-for-policy brief here.

Internal Training Programme for the upcoming National Geographic supported Environmental Education (EE) Online Series

SEARRP EEO&T team with SEARRP research assistants

Last week was certainly a busy one for the SEARRP Environmental Education Outreach and Training Team! Over a three day internal training programme, the EEOT team worked together with SEARRP senior field managers and research assistants to prepare for the upcoming National Geographic supported Environmental Education (EE) Online series. The training was led by SEARRP’s Environmental Education Outreach and Training Manager, Imelda Geoffrey and assisted by Melissa Payne.

SEARRP research assistants practicing the “runaway soil experiment”

SEARRP RAs putting together EE learning materials










The EE Online Series will cover the fascinating topics of – the importance of Sabah’s rainforests; the impacts of deforestation; the role ecosystem engineers (any species that creates, significantly modifies, or destroys a habitat) focusing on the roles of animals in the forest; and the iconic flora and fauna of Sabah. The EEOT team has worked hard to create materials, videos and experiments for EE toolkits that will be made available for secondary school students and this training programme was an excellent opportunity to check the relevance of these EE materials. SEARRP expects to launch the first online series for students at the end of August 2022, so be sure to watch this space for updates on this exciting project!

SEARRP RAs conducting Environmental Education experiments

Can riparian buffers support biodiversity in tropical agriculture?

Can riparian buffers support biodiversity in tropical agriculture?

An excellent new animated video on riparian buffers and their ability to support biodiversity in tropical agriculture has been produced and is now available on YouTube.  Together, Dr Eleanor Slade (NTU, Singapore), Dr Matthew Struebig & Dr Jake Bicknell (University of Kent, UK), and Melissa Payne (SEARRP, Malaysia) collaborated with local partners in Sabah from the Department of Irrigation and Drainage (DID) and Environment Protection Department (EPD) to create content for Science Animated that would provide information on the importance of riparian buffers to wildlife for a wide audience – not to worry, there will be a version in Bahasa Melayu soon!

The video shows how riparian buffers – areas of natural habitat alongside rivers – are important for maintaining water quality and biodiversity, but little evidence comes from tropical countries. A comprehensive new dataset from Malaysia shows the width of the buffer can strongly influence the wildlife present, with larger widths supporting more species. For more information you can find the full publication here.

TESSA Team visits Perak to conduct tree measurement training for above-ground carbon stocks!

TESSA Team with Perak Partners

This week Team TESSA (Toolkit for Ecosystem Services Site-based Assessment) travelled to Perak, Malaysia to deliver training to the TESSA Perak team based at UPSI (Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris). The training focused on measuring trees for above-ground carbon stocks, and was led by our senior field staff, Azlin and assisted by field staff, Ridly. This was an incredibly beneficial knowledge exchange for all of us. It gave our team a chance to provide guidance on establishing plots and conducting a vegetation census, while the TESSA Perak team shared insights on their research experience and local flora identification. We are definitely looking forward to future collaboration activities with the Perak TESSA team! 

TEAM TESSA doing tree measurements and setting up sampling transects

The SEnSOR Programme has published a new report exploring the evidence base for ecosystem service provision in smallholdings

New report exploring the evidence base for ecosystem service provision in smallholdings

The SEnSOR project has recently conducted a literature review to understand the evidence base behind the common assumptions that oil palm smallholdings are better for biodiversity than large commercial plantations, and that this biodiversity can provide beneficial ecosystem services that could be harnessed to improve yields sustainably with fewer chemical fertiliser and pesticide applications. The SEnSOR team explored the available literature to understand links between habitat heterogeneity, biodiversity and beneficial ecosystem service provision in smallholder oil palm production. They found that the literature has established a pattern of increased habitat heterogeneity in smallholdings compared to large scale plantations, linked to increased incidence of polyculture practices (farming multiple crops in the same area). There was also evidence of a link between this habitat heterogeneity and increased biodiversity, though the precise nature of this link was ambiguous. There was no evidence of a clear link between biodiversity and effective provision of ecosystem services for oil palm smallholders.  Research is needed to fill substantial gaps in the knowledge base on how natural ecosystem service provision can be harnessed effectively for smallholder production, in a way that benefits the environment and livelihoods. Read the full report here.

OECM Stakeholder Engagement Workshop in KL

OECM Stakeholder Workshop Participants

29th June 2022: SEARRP hosted a workshop to share a summary of our findings from the OECM (Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures) case studies. The case studies presented were based on the site assessments and case study evaluations that SEARRP has conducted with project partners over the past three years with the aim of identifying potential OECM areas around Malaysia.

Dr Glen Reynolds & Melissa Payne presenting findings from OECM case studies across Malaysia

Together with policy makers, universities, state authorities and environmental organisations, SEARRP discussed and reviewed how this innovative approach can be further refined and applied in the Malaysian context. We feel that based on the success of our initial studies, we are one step closer to exploring the potential of recognising and adopting an OECM approach for Malaysia.

Melissa Payne (SEARRP) presenting barriers to implementation of OECMs

This project is funded by the GEF-Small grants Programme.

OECM field visit to UiTM Jengka Forest Reserve and Benus Bird Camp in Pahang

OECM visit to UiTM Jengka and Benus Bird Camp

Recently our OECM (Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures) team in Peninsular Malaysia were joined by SEARRP’s key senior field staff from Sabah, to conduct site visits for the project. Together they visited two areas in Pahang:(i) UiTM’s University campus forest reserve in the Jengka Forest Reserve, Pahang; and (ii) Benus Bird Camp, Jerantut, Pahang. The team conducted site-assessments against the OECM criteria for assessing potential OECMs in Malaysia, while also testing the Forest Integrity Assessment (FIA) smartphone application in the field.

Forest Integrity Assessment Smart Phone Application

It was an amazing opportunity for our team to spend time in the forests of Pahang, exchange knowledge with partners, gain ideas and insight on forest assessments with the UiTM team and share experiences with the community leader of the Benus Bird Camp. The SEARRP team is incredibly grateful to our project partners and we are already looking forward to working on more joint initiatives on forest conservation efforts throughout Malaysia. Learn more about the OECM project here.

OECM visit to UiTM Jengka and Benus Bird Camp

FIA Smart Phone Application in action

New research into the impact of peatland re-wetting on biodiversity and yields from the SEnSOR Project

Drainage canal management, Indonesia (Photo Credit: Eleanor Warren-Thomas)

New SEnSOR-linked research led by Dr Eleanor Warren-Thomas and colleagues, investigated whether peat restoration initiatives affect biodiversity and oil palm yields on smallholdings in Indonesia. Initiatives to re-wet cultivated peatlands could protect both biodiversity and farms if they reduce fire risk, but there are concerns that re-wetting could reduce yields and damage livelihoods. The team from the UK and Indonesia studied yields and bird diversity in smallholdings that varied in drainage intensity and a nearby protected peat swamp forest in Jambi, Sumatra.  They found that neither bird species richness nor oil palm yields were affected by the amount of drainage. This suggests that peatland re-wetting initiatives could benefit smallholders by reducing fire risk without reducing yields. Drainage levels did not appear to affect on-farm bird diversity, which was low with very few species of conservation concern, but reducing fire risk could help protect vital remnant forest for biodiversity. Dr Eleanor Warren-Thomas wrote an incredibly interesting blog post about the work that is available in English and Bahasa Indonesia and the full article, which was published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, is available here.



Sabah State Guidelines for International Travellers Entering Malaysia

New Guidelines for international travellers entering Sabah – effective 1 April 2022

Malaysia has opened it’s borders for international travellers as of April 1st, 2022. Sabah followed suit and has issued comprehensive guidelines, that are available in both English and Bahasa Malaysia, so that travellers entering Malaysia are aware of the rules and requirements before their arrival. At SEARRP we are looking forward to welcoming back Scientists and Visitors! Please contact us at if you have any questions regarding entering Malaysia or Sabah. See you soon!

Download Guidelines For Entry Into Sabah Here.

Introductory workshops for Environmental Education Toolkits and the “Train-the-Trainers” Programme.

Introductory Workshop for Environmental Education Toolkits & “Train-the-Trainers” Programme

Last week SEARRP hosted the first introductory workshops for our Environmental Education (EE) toolkit and the subsequent “Train-the-Trainers” programme that is supported by Daim Zainuddin Environmental Education Programme. The purpose of these workshops was to introduce the EE materials and topic areas to future practitioners, stakeholders and communities, in order to gauge their interest in participating in the “Train-the-Trainers” programme as well as utilising the toolkits in their own EE programmes in the future. It also provided us with the opportunity to ask project partners for constructive feedback on the materials and how they can be improved so that they are more user-friendly and relevant in the Malaysian context.

3 Topic Areas: agricultural sustainability; riparian buffers & water catchment areas; living in a biodiverse world

SEARRP, in partnership with Swansea University Science for School SchemeSabah Environmental Education Network and Partners of Community Organisations (PACOS) Trust, is in the process of co-developing Environmental Education (EE) materials that bring together the SEARRP science base and community specialists in order to develop an EE toolkit. This toolkit will consist of materials, workbooks, slide presentations and hands-on activities that promote environmental awareness and activities in the key environmental areas of agricultural sustainability, riparian buffers and water catchment areas, and living in a biodiverse world. We have chosen these subject areas based on partner consultation, with the focus on issues that impact the lives of local communities and are important to promoting environmental stewardship across Malaysia. We will use this toolkit to train and empower local EE practitioners and educators through an intensive “train-the-trainers” pilot programme, with the aim that participants will gain an in-depth knowledge on the subjects and to be able to convey and teach this information to local communities, schools and partners in the future. This EE toolkit will be free, available in both hardcopy and online in English and Bahasa Malaysia, and can be downloaded for partners to use in their own EE outreach projects.

Community Learning Centre Participants from across Sabah

Government Agency Participants

The introductory workshops were incredibly successful and the participants from both the government and non-government sector and the PACOS Community Learning Centre initiative showed great enthusiasm at receiving the training and having access to the final EE toolkit. Following the workshops, we circulated an online questionnaire to determine if participants thought we were focusing on the correct topic areas. The responses showed that our areas of focus are in line with what partners feel is important at a local and national level and this feedback has reassured our team that the EE toolkit will be relevant and applicable to a wide range of users. We were also able to gain insight into the likelihood of partners using the materials in their own EE outreach programmes and again all participants said that they thought that the toolkits and training programmes would benefit their current EE projects, and they are interested in adopting them into their curriculum and training modules. The questionnaire has also helped us to understand ways that we can improve the materials, by suggesting that we utilise case studies and local examples of environmental issues that local people face regularly in Malaysia. This type of feedback is the precise information that we were hoping to gain from the introductory workshops and we are looking forward to applying this information into the EE toolkit

PACOS’ Community Learning Centre participants questionnaire answers


Government Agency Participants questionnaire answers

We will incorporate these suggestions into our final EE toolkits and begin the roll out of our “Train-the-Trainers” workshops that will be held in late March and early April. If you have any questions about this exciting programme, please contact our EE Outreach Manager Imelda Geoffrey here.