Welcome to the third SEARRP Newsletter and apologies for the delay since our last update. The past 18 months or so has been pretty challenging, but we are very happy to be re-initiating the newsletter and to let everyone know what’s been happening with SEARRP.
Like so many charities, universities, companies and communities, SEARRP has been hard-hit by Covid; with very little field research possible since March of last year, and no scientists or students allowed entry to Sabah through this period, impacts have been profound. Early on in the pandemic – and in order to stay afloat as revenues plummeted – we had to make the entirely wretched decision to place well over half our excellent team of Sabahan field assistants on furlough, more than 40 staff in total. These very painful cuts, along with the generous personal donations from a number of our Trustees, SEARRP alumni and, in particular, funding from one of our long-standing partners – the Cambridge-Malaysia Education and Development Trust – have allowed us to avoid what could easily have become an irrecoverable predicament. I’m now confident that, at least in this respect, we’re through the worst – though we plan, over the coming year, to redouble our fundraising efforts and get the programme on to much more sustainable financial footings.
Realistically, it’s unlikely that much field science will be possible until early 2022 – but we’re taking this opportunity to re-focus our immediate efforts and the work we’re doing around policy advice, conservation planning and environmental education. To this end, and despite these straightened times, I’m delighted that we’ve been able to promote Melissa Payne to the position of Assistant Director for Policy – and recruited Imelda Geoffrey as our new Environmental Education and Outreach Manager (you’ll see a write-up on Imelda below).
We’ve also secured a number of new grants since our last Newsletter – again, detailed below. I’m especially pleased that we’ll be working with the Indonesian plantation company Musim Mas, on a biodiversity-focussed project led by my colleague Jen Lucey – and with a new partner for SEARRP, Malaysia’s Haji Zainuddin Foundation, who are supporting a community outreach and environmental education programme in Sabah. It was also our great honour to be elected as the 2021 environment recipient of Malaysia’s prestigious Merdeka Award – with SEARRP being only the second organisation in the award’s history to be recognised in this way.
Sadly, back in September, we said farewell to SEARRP’s Co-Director – Agnes Agama – who’s moved on to a regional role with WWF International. Agnes contributed to SEARRP in many ways – not least by ensuring that SEARRP science achieved tangible policy impacts and, as importantly, developing and embedding our approaches to safeguarding, governance and diversity. While Agnes will be missed, we have a highly capable successor in the form of Melissa, who has taken over the policy brief.
Finally, and on a happier note, we’re delighted to welcome David Mills MBE, founder of the British Wildlife Centre, onto the board of SEARRP’s UK charity; we’re all very much looking forward to working with David and benefiting from the insights he will bring to the programme – particularly as we seek to expand the outreach and environmental education components of SEARRP.
Do keep an eye on the SEARRP website incidentally – as we’ll be posting regular updates on the travel situation and entry requirements as we emerge from the pandemic.
We’re very pleased to announce that SEARRP was selected as the 2020/21 recipient of Malaysia’s prestigious Merdeka Award, in the environment category, for making an “outstanding contribution to the conservation, sustainable management & restoration of Malaysia’s forest ecosystems as well as the education & training of Malaysian scientists”.
The Merdeka Award is usually granted to individuals, making SEARRP only the second organisation be recognised in the award’s 15-year history! This is such a great honour for our programme and is a huge source of pride for our staff in particular, many of whom have been with us for decades. To have our work and dedication acknowledged through this distinguished award is wonderful, and we hope that this accomplishment will raise the profile of Sabah and highlight the excellent science and conservation work being done through SEARRP.
With support from Yayasan Haji Zainuddin, SEARRP in partnership with Swansea University Science for School Scheme, Sabah Environmental Education Network and Partners of Community Organisations (PACOS) Trust, will co-develop Environmental Education (EE) modules and deliver capacity building to local EE practitioners and educators. This one-year project aims to bring together scientists, EE and community specialists in order to develop an EE toolkit that consists of modules, materials, handbooks and hands-on activities in the key environmental areas of agricultural sustainability, riparian reserves and water quality, and maintaining biodiversity. The project will then use this EE toolkit to train and empower local EE practitioners and educators through an intensive “train-the-trainers” pilot programme.
SEARRP, in partnership with Oxford University, has secured a new grant from the Indonesian plantation and commodities trading company PT Musim Mas to quantify the conservation value of High Conservation Value (HCV) areas under the company’s management. This research will be carried out in Central Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo, and provides an excellent opportunity to further expand SEARRP’s footprint in SE Asia and contribute to the conservation of biodiversity in plantation landscapes. For more information on Musim Mas’ Sustainability Projects visit here.
New collaborative research led by the University of Oxford, SEARRP and the High Conservation Resources Network (HCVRN), and published in Ecological Solutions and Evidence, shows that a simple assessment tool can robustly estimate the condition of tropical rainforest. The Forest Integrity Assessment (FIA) tool has demonstrated high levels of congruence with traditionally collected scientific data to robustly assess biodiversity, forest structure and ecosystem functioning. The FIA tool, which was originally developed by the HCVRN and adapted for lowland dipterocarp forests in collaboration with SEARRP, is designed to enable forest managers and other users, including those with no prior experience in forestry or conservation, to assess and monitor the condition of tropical forest. The FIA tool requires no taxonomic knowledge, time-consuming measurements, expensive equipment or access to satellite-based technologies, only simple yes or no answers to questions.
The results of almost 1,000 volunteer surveys across 16 forest sites in Sabah found strong correlations between FIA scores and biodiversity, vegetation structure, carbon stocks and ecosystem function metrics. On the basis of these findings, we’re confident that this simple and easy to use method could contribute to the conservation, restoration and sustainable management of tropical forests – which are often hampered by limited knowledge, experience and resources; issues that the FIA tool aims to address. With innovation follow-on funding from UKRI, Dr Jennifer Lucey (SEARRP’s Assistant Director of Knowledge Exchange) is now leading a project, in collaboration with industry and NGO partners, to develop the FIA tool as a smartphone application. The app will further enhance the accuracy of forest monitoring and reduce the variation in surveyor responses. It will also enable forest managers, plantation companies, conservation NGOs and communities to organise and analyse their data easily, as well as provide management decision support to help improve forest condition scores, filling the critical knowledge gap between monitoring and adaptive management. For the full press release of this article please visit the Oxford University’s website.
SEARRP has recently been confirmed as a member of Sabah Environmental Education Network (SEEN), which comprises 40+ institutions, including a number of government departments (Education, Environmental Protection), conservation and social NGOs and private sector organisations. SEARRP will be the only research-focused member of SEEN and we are very much looking forward to working with them on new and exciting EE initiatives.
SEARRP has also recently joined the Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG). POIG is a multi-stakeholder initiative that aims to achieve the adoption of responsible palm oil production practices by key players in the supply chain through developing and sharing a credible and verifiable benchmark that builds upon the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), and creating and promoting innovations. Founded in 2013, POIG was developed in partnership with leading NGOs as well as with palm oil producers, to support the RSPO through building on its standards.
SEARRP was invited to create a virtual tour of Danum Valley for Discovery Channel’s ‘Field Trip’ Instagram platform, which coincided with the release of the documentary ‘Judi Dench’s Wild Borneo Adventure’ in the USA. Our very own research assistant, Unding Jami, was the tour guide for the excursion, which took participants through a day in the life of stunning Danum Valley.
The footage and pictures showcase the majestic beauty of Danum’s iconic species and unique forests, and highlights the important work that SEARRP does in the region. Unding also used this incredible platform to talk about some of the pressing issues facing tropical forests and the biodiversity it supports, which we hope – along with the documentary – will increase awareness of Borneo and the importance of protecting it’s wildlife and ecosystems. It’s been great to have the opportunity to work on this project with Discovery Channel and be sure to take the outstanding virtual tour with Unding here – click on our Highlighted Discovery Stories.