Author: Katie King

New research from the SEnSOR Project investigates whether RSPO certification makes a difference to smallholder yields!

New research from the SEnSOR project team has found that RSPO certified smallholders have better management practices and higher yields, but could not prove that RSPO certification was the causal factor.

The study, led by Dr Rosa de Vos at Wageningen University, compared the management practices and yields of certified and uncertified oil palm smallholder groups in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. She found that the planting material and fertiliser use was better in certified smallholders, who also produced significantly higher yields. However, it was not clear whether this was a result of RSPO certification, and it is likely that better pre-certification conditions, particularly strong group organisation, contributed both to better agricultural practices as well as making certification more accessible.

The article is published in Environmental Research Letters and the full report can be accessed here.

New simplified tropical forest assessment tool found to be highly effective at estimating forest condition


New simplified tropical forest assessment tool is highly effective at estimating forest condition | University of Oxford

New simplified tropical forest assessment tool is highly effective at estimating forest condition       University of Oxford

New collaborative research led by the University of Oxford, and published this week in Ecological Solutions and Evidence, shows that a simple tropical forest assessment tool can robustly estimate forest condition. The Forest Integrity Assessment (FIA) tool  has demonstrated high levels of accuracy with traditionally collected scientific data sets to correctly identify biodiversity, forest structure and ecosystem functioning.

The FIA tool, which was originally developed by the High Conservation Value Resource Network (HCVRN), is designed to enable forest managers and other users with no prior experience in forestry or conservation to assess and monitor the condition of tropical forest conservation areas.  The FIA tool requires no taxonomic knowledge, time-consuming measurements, expensive equipment or inaccessible satellite technologies, only simple yes or no answers to questions. Often conservation efforts are hampered by limited knowledge, experience and resources, an issue that the FIA tool aims to address. This tool will allow communities, companies, charities and individuals who are responsible for looking after natural forests, to provide accurate and invaluable information about forests outside of protected areas.

SEARRP’s Assistant Director of Knowledge Exchange, Dr Jennifer Lucey from Oxford’s Department of Zoology, led the collaborative research effort with the Universities of Northumbria, York, Leeds and Sheffield, along with partners, the HCVRN, South East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership and Wilmar International. Additionally, Dr Lucey used funding from an Impact Award that she received to create an animated video – ‘How do you estimate the condition of a forest?’ – that effectively explains the importance of forests and forest quality, and details how to recognise signs of a healthy forest and how these differ from forests that have been degraded.

With innovation follow-on funding from UKRI, Dr Lucey is now leading a project in collaboration with industry and NGO partners to develop the FIA tool into a smartphone application. The app will further enhance the accuracy of forest monitoring, with the aim of reducing the variations in responses which was a potential issue highlighted by the study.

Dr Lucey said: ‘We hope that the FIA smartphone app will enable forest stewards from diverse backgrounds to easily and effectively manage their conservation areas, maintaining and enhancing the biodiversity, carbon storage and other important ecosystem services that tropical rainforests provide.’

For the full press release of this article please visit Oxford University’s website.

For further information and interview requests please contact Jennifer Lucey at:  Or Andrew Suggitt at: / Twitter (@andysuggitt)



Together SEARRP and Partners have completed the Inception Workshops for the Hasanah Ecosystem Services Project in the Central Forest Spine.

A series of Inception Workshops held throughout March and April 2021, to engage with Central Forest Spine (CFS) stakeholders to introduce the Hasanah Project on “Ecosystem Services in the CFS”,  as well as the Toolkit for Ecosystem Services Site-based Assessment (TESSA), have been completed. The SEARRP team, together with the Forestry Department of Peninsular Malaysia, successfully organised workshops in the eight CFS States – Perak, Selangor, Pahang, Terengganu, Negeri Sembilan, Johor, Kedah and Kelantan. This project will build the capacity of State Forestry Departments and other CFS stakeholders to facilitate identifying and assessing ecosystem services using the TESSA toolkit. For the next step, the project team will further engage with participants who are interested in being involved in the capacity building programme and the implementation of ecosystem services assessment in the CFS. For more information about this exciting project visit here.

                                                                                   Inception Workshop with Central Forest Spine (CFS) stakeholders

Daily Express interview with SEARRP Director Dr. Glen Reynolds on the Stability of Altered Forest Ecosystems (SAFE) Project

Daily Express article – Reversing the deterioration of resources

SEARRP manages a suite of major, strategic field projects that allow scientists to address critical issues in forest conservation, habitat restoration, the impacts of a changing climate and sustainable plantation management. In a recent interview with the Daily Express, Dr Glen Reynolds the Director of SEARRP, talked about the importance of one of our large, ongoing projects – the Stability of Altered Forests Ecosystems (SAFE) project. The SAFE project conducts large-scale experiments to understand how logging, deforestation, forest fragmentation and oil palm plantations are affecting the functioning of tropical rainforests. In the interview, Dr Reynolds spoke candidly about the importance of changing the way we manage forest, and non-forest land and the urgent need for biodiversity conservation to be mainstreamed into forest management best practices in all forest types.  “As humanity continues to grapple with the accelerating rate of biodiversity loss, sustainable agriculture is becoming very essential in reversing trends that lead to the overall deterioration of our natural resources.” The potential impact of the SAFE Project is global and far-reaching. The findings of this study are helping scientists to design landscapes that maintain agricultural production at reduced cost to biodiversity. Please read the full article here.

Postdoctoral Research Assistant Position – Department of Zoology – Oxford University

We are looking for a Postdoctoral Research Assistant in the Department of Zoology at Oxford University. The successful applicant will be responsible for exploring and analysing extensive monitoring datasets of biodiversity and forest structure from the conservation set-asides in oil palm plantations belonging to a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).
RSPO members are required to set-aside and “Maintain and/ or enhance” areas deemed to be of “high conservation value”, and since November 2019, of “high carbon stock” ( Fragmentation and degradation of forests can have negative impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services, and so far, there is a poor understanding of the impact that forest stewardship within plantations is having on avoiding biodiversity losses. Using extensive monitoring datasets over many years and sites, this project will shed new light on the effectiveness of these set-asides, develop new recommendations for improving biodiversity levels in plantations, and generate guidance on biodiversity monitoring and management.
The project will focus on understanding the conservation value of forest-set asides in oil palm plantations, quantifying the impact of management techniques, and exploring patterns of biodiversity in relation to the level of fragmentation of forests and other relevant factors. Additionally, the successful applicant will investigate gaps and redundancy in current monitoring protocols. The project has a strong knowledge exchange element, and a key component of the work will be to use outputs of the analysis to co-develop a state of the art monitoring and management system for conservation set-asides with industry.
Candidates will hold a relevant PhD (or be near to completion) together with knowledge and experience in a relevant area, such as tropical ecology, agricultural sustainability or biodiversity conservation.
Only applications made online will be accepted. You will be required to upload a CV and supporting statement as part of your online application.
The closing date for applications is 12.00 noon on Monday 29th March 2021 – All interested applicants are welcome to apply here.

Interview with SEARRP Director Dr Glen Reynolds – talking about our programmes successes and training the next generation of scientists and conservation leaders in Malaysia

If you would like to learn more about SEARRP and the work that we do be sure to watch this excellent short interview or listen to the full podcast with our Director Dr Glen Reynolds about our programme receiving the 2020 Merdeka Award in the Environment Category. In the interview, Dr Reynolds speaks about the conservation, sustainable management and restoration work that has driven SEARRP’s work  for the past 35 years, along with the aim to continue to train and mentor the next generation of scientists and conservation leaders in Malaysia. SEARRP is honoured to receive this recognition of our ongoing work and we extend our gratitude to The Merdeka Award Trust for supporting us.

                                        Dr Glen Reynolds receiving the 2020 Merdeka Award in the Environment Category

Science@SAFE 2020 webinar is available online

SEARRP would like to extend a huge thank you to all of the participants who attended the incredibly interesting and insightful Science@SAFE 2020 conference on December 14th, 2020. It was an excellent opportunity to showcase the work coming out of the Stability of Altered Forest Ecosystems Project, one of the largest and perhaps most productive ecological experiments in the tropics.

SAFE was established in 2010, through a collaboration between Imperial College, SEARRP and the Sabah Foundation, with core funding from Malaysia’s Sime Darby Foundation – and this meeting marked the project’s 10th anniversary. For the past decade, hundreds of scientists have worked at SAFE from dozens of the world’s leading universities and the conference provided the opportunity for these scientists to present the impacts SAFE science has achieved – not just in terms of conservation and sustainable agriculture, but in supporting early-career scientists.

We also want to extend our gratitude to the Sime Darby Foundation for partnering with us and providing such generous, long term funding. This has not only paid for the collection of core datasets – but also the research infrastructure and team of field staff that has enabled us to attract a whole array of independently funded scientists and research projects supported by grants of millions of pounds.

For those of you who would like to re-watch the webinar or if you were unable to attend, the webinar has now been uploaded to YouTube and can be found here: Apologies to anyone who may have had trouble attending the event. If you have any questions for our speakers please feel free to email Olivia Daniel at Imperial College and she will forward questions on to the speakers. Thank you again for your participation in the conference and the follow-up break out groups, we were very happy with the event and hope that you enjoyed it as well.





Reminder – The Science@SAFE 2020 Virtual Conference is today December 14th (8am-11:30am UK time)

The Science@SAFE 2020 virtual conference is today December 14th (8am-11:30am UK time) and will bring together the science and achievements of the past ten years of work at one of the world’s largest ecological experiments. The conference will look at  impacts, capacity building, new technologies, carbon and how this project has improved our understanding of oil palm dominated landscapes and the resilience of Borneo’s forest ecosystem. The conference will feature talks, followed by breakout groups for open discussion around topics including hydrology, conservation and forest restoration, biodiversity, disease ecology, carbon and key knowledge and skills gaps. There is a full conference programme on the SAFE website here and attendance is free, you just need to register online via Eventbrite here: Science@SAFE 2020 Tickets, Mon, Dec 14, 2020 at 8:00 AM | Eventbrite.

The conference will be held using Zoom: the plenary talks will be presented as a Zoom Webinar and then a separate session will be used for the breakout groups. Links to both of these will be sent out from Eventbrite before the conference. You will need to download the latest version of Zoom to make sure that you can attend the webinar and participate in the breakout rooms. You should be able to use Zoom on a laptop or a smartphone.




SEARRP awarded prestigious Merdeka Award 2020 for exceptional and sustainable contributions to the Environment


Merdeka Award

SEARRP awarded the Merdeka Award 2020 for contributions to the Environment

SEARRP is thrilled to announce that we have been awarded with the prestigious Merdeka Award 2020 for our contributions to the field of Environment.

The Merdeka Award Trust (MAT) was established by PETRONAS, ExxonMobil and Shell on 27th August 2007 to recognise and reward excellent individuals and organisations whose works, and achievements have contributed to the nation’s growth and inspired
greatness in the people of Malaysia.

It is such a great honour for our programme to be recognised in this way. The Merdeka Award will be a huge source of pride for our staff, many of whom have been with us for decades. To have their work and dedication acknowledged through this distinguished award is wonderful.

Since SEARRP was established in 1985, we have been part of so many memorable moment – the formal protection of the pristine forests of our Danum Valley base in 1995; the visit to Danum of their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2012; Sir David Attenborough in 2014 and, more recently, Dame Judi Dench in 2018. But the contribution our research has made to a better understanding and greater appreciation of the rainforests of Sabah, and by extension their protection, is SEARRP’s most important accomplishment and will form its enduring legacy.  Together with the incredible distinction of receiving this award, we hope that these accomplishments will raise the profile of Sabah and highlight the excellent science and conservation work being done here – which is genuinely world class.

We would like to extend our thanks to the Merdeka Awards Trust (MAT), the MAT Trustees, nominating and selection committees – and the staff of the MAT Secretariat.

For more information about Merdeka Award, please visit their website.

The Science@SAFE 2020 Virtual Conference will be on December 14th 2020

The Stability of Altered Forest Ecosystems Project has been running for ten years with generous support from the Sime Darby Foundation. The Science@SAFE 2020 virtual conference will bring together the science and achievements of the past ten years. We will look at our impacts, capacity building, new technologies, carbon and how this project has improved our understanding of oil palm dominated landscapes and the resilience of Borneo’s forest ecosystem.

The Science@SAFE 2020 conference will be hosted online on Monday 14th December 2020 at 8am-12pm UK time/4pm-8pm Malaysian time.

All are welcome to attend this free event. More details to follow. But if you are interested to join, book your space on Eventbrite here.