First steps taken to regenerate an ecosystem

9th August 2018

Acacia bashing, mist netting and amphibian night surveys… essential puzzle pieces to rehabilitating one of Sabah’s significant water catchment areas.

The Bengkoka Forest Reserve, situated in the north of Sabah, is 6000 hectares of mostly secondary forest forming part of an important water catchment zone. The reserve contains a river which many surrounding communities use as their main water source. Not only is the area of importance to local communities, the native flora and fauna also rely on the supply of water from the river. Asian Forestry Company Sabah (AFCS), our project partner, manage the reserve and are committed to conserving and regenerating this area as much as possible.

AFCS’s Conservation Team conducted water surveys and collected data on flora and fauna in 2015. It was found that both the water source and water catchment area were of poor quality. Water levels were often low and, in some areas, often completely dry during many times of the year. The main cause of this were high numbers of acacia trees that had been previously planted in the area; a tree that is characteristically thirsty and responsible for draining the water levels in the reserve. The area was highlighted as in need of rehabilitation.

Raleigh Borneo partnered with AFCS to aid their conservation efforts, contribute to scientific research and reinvigorate the water catchment zone in this forest reserve.

The rehabilitation process

A stripline method will be used to remove the thirsty acacia trees and replace them with native tree species. Volunteer Manager Chris explains, “the acacias are an invasive species which are growing extensively. They are extracting large quantities of the water out of the local environment. By gradually removing them the habitat for the local flora and fauna will increase, as will the water quantity and quality for the local communities.” Since the biodiversity study in 2015, AFCS established their own nursery growing native and fruit tree species.

The acacia trees will primarily be replaced with trees from the dipterocarp family and fast-growing local tree species including fruit tree species for increased food sources. Aside from aiming to remove the problematic acacia trees, the project intends to improve the habitat for local flora and fauna. This will provide a long-term habitat and create a corridor to allow wildlife movement along the river and water catchment.

Biodiversity monitoring

Research will be conducted into the flora and fauna in the area to update the previous findings from 2015. The new research will primarily focus on bird life and amphibians present in the watercourse. Chris explains, “On our second day we will install six camera traps which will stay up for the duration of the project. We will also put up 10 mist nets which will remain in each location for 10 days at a time.”

Volunteer Manager Tom continues, “We will be conducting amphibian surveys at night. It will involve walking along the river with the guides for one hour in the evening using torches to find frogs. We will be picking them up with gloves and then identifying them. We will be doing that twice a week.”

The overall outcome 

The project in the Bengkoka Forest Reserve is part of a wider ambition to contribute towards conservation management recommendations and achieve greater protection for the area. The data will allow comparison with other High Conservation Value Areas to show conservation value and therefore to provide justification for upgraded protection of this location.

The findings from the biodiversity survey will be used as baseline data to be compared to future surveys conducted after the acacia trees have been removed and replanted trees established.

Our project partner: The Asian Forestry Company Sabah (AFCS)

The Asian Forestry Company Sabah has a strong commitment to the communities in the project area and established a Community Development Program (CDP) prior to the implementation of the project operations. The CDP Department is managed by a fulltime team of professionals who work closely with community members, local government officials and partners. Since 2009, the CDP Team has been implementing strategies to create self-sustaining social, cultural and economic development with which Raleigh Malaysia have also been involved.


Words by Communications Officer Rebecca Raab.

Photographs by Photographer Daniel Buttifant.

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