Author: Katie King

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.

Sharing regional experiences on OECMs to achieve Aichi Biodiversity Target 11 in South Asia

Speakers from across South Asia presenting on regional experience of OECMs


On October 19th, 2020 Melissa Payne, SEARRP’s Assistant Director of Policy, joined a virtual meeting on Sharing Regional Experiences on ‘Other Effective Conservation Measures’ (OECMs) to achieve Aichi Biodiversity Target 11.  This meeting was a part of the Global Partnership on Target 11, and was hosted by UNDP India, International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change and the National Biodiversity Authority, Government of India; and the CBD Secretariat. The objective of the meeting was to discuss the importance of identifying, mapping and reporting OECMs in a bid to accelerate the achievement of Target 11 by the end of 2020. It also used the opportunity to share experiences on the work being undertaken on identifying OECMs in different countries and regions.

SEARRP Assistant Director of Policy, Melissa Payne presenting on OECMs in the Malaysian Context.

Melissa Payne presented on the OECM project that SEARRP is currently implementing to give perspective of how OECMs might work in the Malaysian context. This project is a 2 year initiative, supported by GEF Small Grants Programme, that collaborates with local partners to explore the potential of an OECM approach in achieving Malaysia’s commitments to Target 6 of the National Policy on Biological Diversity which corresponds to the internationally accepted to Aichi Target 11. Target 6 is a Malaysian National Policy on Biological Diversity that aims by 2025 for at least 20% of terrestrial areas and inland waters, and 10% of coastal and marine areas are conserved through a representative system of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures. The project’s primary focus is to determine if this policy and the institutional pathways that support it, are robust enough to contribute to the establishment and effectiveness of OECMs in Malaysia. This gives a special opportunity to enable inclusion of partners, strengthen conservation outside of protected areas, and improve landscape connectivity.

SEARRP wants to extend a big thank you for including us in this interesting and informative meeting. It was incredibly helpful to hear what other countries in South Asia are doing in order to implement OECM into their conservation programmes.

For more information on this exciting project visit our website here.

6th Asia Protected Areas Partnership (APAP) and Protected Areas (PA) Technical Workshop on OECMs

Recently, Melissa Payne, SEARRPs Assistant Director of Policy, joined a virtual conference with 66 members of the Asia Protected Areas Partnership (APAP) and Protected Areas (PA) staff to discuss ongoing work with Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures (OECMs). This meeting was the 6th Technical Workshop with APAP, and the aim was to help build Members capacities in working with OECMs.  Participants agreed that using OECMs as a framework could lead to a greater number of areas outside of protected areas being identified as important to broader conservation networks. It was also proposed that the framework could be a useful means to engage with indigenous peoples, local communities and the private sector, either to recognise their ongoing conservation contributions or to help enhance local or sectoral practices.

Currently Melissa is leading an OECM project in Malaysia that is interested in analysing the impact of this novel approach and asses its ability to identify, recognise and report on OECMs in Malaysia.  This is an exciting project that is supported by the GEF Small Grant programme, with the overarching goal of determining the policy and institutional pathways needed for Malaysia’s OECMs to contribute towards area-based, in-situ biodiversity conservation. The project commenced in late 2019 with a series of stakeholder consultations, followed by a call for case studies and follow up inception workshops. To date, the project has been met with a lot of interest and Melissa is looking forward to the onward progress. To learn more about this project visit our website here.

TESSA workshop at CFS IIUM Kampus Gambang

TESSA CFS Stakeholders Workshop

Ecosystem Services Assessment in the Central Forest Spine Introduction Workshop: Enabling key actors to identify & assess the natural capital & conservation value through the use of TESSA. The objective of the workshop is to engage with appointed desk officers from State Forestry Departments to introduce the project and components of the capacity building programme. The desk officers will be the focal people in each of the 8 States in the CFS. A huge thank you to Dato’ Hj. Zahari B. Ibrahim, the Deputy Director General for Forestry Department Peninsular Malayisia, for officiating the workshop.

Sabah Government implements 2-week lockdown on the East Coast of Borneo

In on ongoing effort to ensure the health and safety of Malaysian citizens, the Sabah Government has instituted a Targeted Lockdown in the cities of Tawau, Semporna, Kunak and Lahad Datu that is currently scheduled to last until October 12th, 2020. The lockdown limits travel in and out of these cities and is supported by road blocks and police checks. SEARRP has been advised that at this time Danum Valley Field Centre and Maliau Basin Field Centre are closed. We will continue to post information pertaining to the lockdown and changing rules and regulations, or if you have any questions please feel free to contact us here.

Photo Credit: Chien Lee

Special Announcement

I’m writing to outline some important staff changes within SEARRP.

Firstly, Dr Agnes Agama will be stepping down as Co-Director of SEARRP, with effect from the 11th September, to take-up a regional position with WWF International. I would like to take this opportunity to gratefully acknowledge the seminal contribution which Agnes has made to SEARRP – particularly in terms of our strategic direction, approaches to safeguarding, governance and diversity and, crucially, the impact our science has had with respect to conservation policy and best practice in Sabah and the wider region. Our Trustees, directors and staff join me in wishing Agnes every possible success and happiness with this new phase of her career.

As an organisation, I’m determined that the successes we have achieved together are embedded and sustained. To this end, I am very pleased that Agnes has agreed to transition to an advisory role with SEARRP, on an honorary basis, including as a non-executive Board member of our Malaysian operation.

However, this is a major change within our management team and it is important that, as far as possible, continuity is maintained – particularly in terms of our relationships with key collaborators and partner organisations. I am therefore delighted to announce that we have promoted Melissa Payne, currently our Science Impacts Manager, to the position of Assistant Director for Policy. Having worked together closely over recent years, Melissa will assume many of Agnes’s current responsibilities including the management of a suite of major projects – the largest of these being a recently launched capacity building and ecosystem services assessment initiative in the Central Forest Spine of Peninsular Malaysia. Since joining us in 2018, Melissa has brought tremendous vitality, enthusiasm and a fresh perspective to SEARRP – qualities which both Agnes and I are confident that she will bring, in even greater measure, to this new leadership role.

Again, and on behalf of SEARRP, I’d like to congratulate both Agnes and Melissa on their new appointments – and extend my thanks for your support through this transitionary period.

Should you have any project-specific questions or concerns please contact either me or Melissa.

Yours faithfully,

Dr Glen Reynolds

Director – SEARRP

New Publication in Science : Active restoration accelerates the carbon recovery of human-modified tropical forests

New research demonstrates reforestation benefits.

Fieldwork involved expeditions to remote forest locations (Photo credit: Christopher Philipson, ETH Zürich)

Researchers from 13 institutions studied an area of tropical forest in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, that was heavily logged in the 1980s and subsequently protected from further logging or conversion to plantation agriculture.

They found that areas left to regenerate naturally recovered by as much as 2.9 Tonnes of aboveground carbon per hectare of forest each year. This is important because it highlights that if degraded tropical forests are protected they can recover well naturally. Even more importantly they found that areas of forest that underwent active restoration (primarily by ‘enrichment planting’ tree seedlings in the most degraded areas) recovered 50% faster, from 2.9 to 4.4 Tonnes of aboveground carbon per hectare per year.

The research, published today in Science, has its origins in work that Dundee’s Professor Mark Cutler and researchers now at Nottingham University carried out in Borneo almost 25 years ago. He led the project alongside colleagues at the University of Aberdeen, and ETH Zürich’s Department of Environmental Systems Science with the support of the SE Asia Rainforest Research Partnership (SEARRP).

Commercial selective logging in Sabah has been ongoing for decades and this has severely degraded large areas of the forest estate. While Sabah retains over 50% natural forest cover (with almost half this, ~25% of land area, being fully protected) relatively little of this forest is in pristine condition. Restoration, particularly in heavily logged lowland forests, is therefore essential if the biodiversity, carbon sequestration, other ecosystem services and livelihoods which these forests support are to be maintained.

Dr Christopher Philipson, first author of the paper who carried out the work at Dundee and the ETH Zurich, said, “The people of Sabah made this project successful, and I am looking forward to seeing more projects like this that promote outcomes for restoring and ultimately better protecting tropical forests.”

Restoration work needs investment into nurseries for seedlings of many different species. (Photo Credit: SEARRP Sonny Royal)

Restoration involves cutting lianas – plants which thrive in degraded forest and which impact the recruitment of tree seedlings and their survival and growth – weeding, and planting of seedlings to help the forest recover after logging. In areas where this doesn’t take place, the forest regenerates naturally.

“The increase in forest regrowth from restoration coupled with average global restoration costs, suggests carbon prices need to be higher to incentivise investment in restoration,” said Professor Cutler.  “Even so, protecting previously logged tropical forests from further degradation and certainly clearance is vitally important to reduce carbon emissions and conserve biodiversity, and so sustainable mechanisms for funding this must be found.”

This is the first time that a long time-series dataset has been used to demonstrate that active restoration helps the regeneration of forests after logging and other disturbances. However, the current carbon price isn’t sufficient to pay for cost of restoration, limiting the impact that can have on the climate change crisis. Logged areas are also more at risk of being cleared for agricultural purposes.

Professor David Burslem, of the University of Aberdeen, said, “We have long known that tropical forests have the capacity to recover from logging if left undisturbed for long enough, but the extent of the reduction in recovery time resulting from simple low-tech restoration techniques was a surprise. This knowledge was only achieved by a sustained investment in research by a multi-national team over more than 20 years. ”

Dr Glen Reynolds of SEARRP said, “This work underscores the crucial importance of long-term, coordinated field research which actively involves local scientists and organisations. The collaborative approach adopted by this team will provide clear routes to impact with respect to policy and best practice, and lead to better managed, protected and restored rainforests”.

The SEARRP research staff and the most incredible helicopter pilot Jamahl Mannan, made this work possible (Photo Credit 13. Christopher Philipson, ETH Zürich)

This research was funded by the Carnegie Trust and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).


SEARRP launches 3 year capacity building project with Yayasan Hasanah in the Central Forest Spine in Peninsular Malaysia.

The Central Forest Spine (CFS) is one of the most important conservation initiatives currently taking place in Malaysia. In 2010, the Federal Government of Malaysia launched the CFS Ecological Corridor Master Plan which outlines conservation strategies for the CFS, including the protection and connectivity of the remaining rainforests of Peninsular Malaysia. However, the issue of competing land use is constantly growing, particularly in ecological network areas, and this ongoing situation threatens wildlife habitats and affects the ecological integrity and ecosystem services provided by the Central Forest Spine.
In partnership with the Forestry Department of Peninsular Malaysia (FDPM), SEARRP has launched a three-year project funded by Yayasan Hasanah to build the capacity of FDPM, State Forestry Departments, other partner agencies, Civil Society Organisations, and stakeholders in the CFS, in order to identify and assess key ecosystem services across the CFS using the Toolkit for Ecosystem Services Site-based Assessment (TESSA). SEARRP is excited to be part of this incredible initiative and looks forward to working with partners in Peninsular Malaysia.  Learn more about this project here.
Yayasan Hasanah Project Meeting

Central Forest Spine Stakeholder Meeting

Important Notice: New Procedures for Arranging Field Work

Given the ongoing Covid-19 related restrictions in Sabah, which have particularly impacted fieldwork by overseas scientists, we have been forced to furlough and place on unpaid leave a large number of Research Assistants. During this period, while we are operating with a much-reduced team, it will be essential that any fieldwork that can take place remotely is efficiently coordinated. For any scientists who are in a position to initiate fieldwork, please contact SEARRP’s Operations Manager, Adrian Karolus and Assistant Director for Science Coordination, Dr Mikey O’Brien who will be able to make the necessary arrangements. Thanks for your understanding.