Royal support for Brunei HoB project
By Mahmud Yussof

Brunei Heart of Borneo (HoB) project has achieved a remarkable success in kick-starting its first project as to materialise the HoB Declaration since it was signed on February 12, 2008 in Bali, Indonesia, giving a beacon to its neighbouring countries when Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales and HRH Prince Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah, the Crown Prince and Senior Minister at the Prime Minister's Office consented to plant the 1000th and 1001st seedlings of Agathis borneensis in the Badas Forest Reserve. The event was held in conjunction with the One Million Tree project to support the pledge of sub-regional HoB Initiative on October 31.

Their Royal Highnesses' involvement and recognition echo the groundbreaking of the first project under the Project Implementation Framework (PIF) to be undertaken urgently to maintain the continuity of the green shade within the fragmented patches of degraded forests within the landmark for Brunei HoB initiative.

Brunei Darussalam and the Great Britain have been working together in the field of forestry since the early year of forestry sector in the country.

The British's technical involvement in the administration and planning of the national forest estate was recorded as early as in 1930s and the influence of British in the administration of the national forest estate was in 1934 in which a British legal concept and form were largely used as a basis for the formulation of the national forest laws and regulations.

Though it underwent series of amendments to maintain its relevance to the global challenges and opportunities, the British legal concept is still in use as the main backbone of the national Forest Law Chapter 46.

The first State Forest Officer (Director of Forestry Department) was also a British forester named JS Smith and followed by a succession of British secondees until 1960.

The royal tree planting activity is one of the environmental education programmes organised by the Forestry Department and initiated by the International School of Brunei (ISB).

Both Their Royal Highnesses' leadership in the local knowledge of environmental project marks a significant milestone for Brunei Darussalam - maintaining the Brunei HoB impetus and sustainability.

The planting of the 1000th and 1001st seedlings also earmark Their Royal Highnesses' significant investment in carbon stocking through the on-going reforestation project in the onset of Brunei HoB initiative, and at the same time promoting such community outreach programme in the Sultanate.

Thus, Brunei HoB project is becoming more visible to all community sectors in the country. Additionally, the active participation of the ethnic group could revive the rich tradition and culture of these people even though their level of forest dependency has decreased as their living standard improves with the advance of modernisation.

Located within the heart of the Belait Peat Swamp Forest with an area of 76 hectares, the Kerangas Forest in Badas Forest Reserve - a virgin jungle reserve - is one of the ecologically unique forest types in Brunei Darussalam within the landmark for Brunei HoB initiative, which exhibits the predominant majestic Tulong stand.

Frequently affected by arson fire, the hydrology of the area has changed drastically, hence, human intervention is needed urgently as to expedite the natural process of ecological recovery.

Since then, the ecologically degraded site has attracted the interest of nature lovers, researchers and students.

The Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources through the Forestry Department has strategically classified the area as the secondary conservation forest reserve aiming to embed the knowledge of the importance of preserving the nature and forest ecosystem, especially the Peat Swamp Forest.

The importance of the Peat Swamp Forest in Brunei Darussalam:

Hydrological Function:

1. Physically characterised by having high capacity of holding large volume of water that is 15 to 20 times of its own weight (Puustjarvi & Robertson 1975), Peat Swamp Forest displays the 'sponge-effect' - acts as water reservoir, which can absorb water during rainy season and slowly release it during dry spell.

2. Ironically, this amazing holding-water property will be lost if it is completely dried and such holding-water capacity will not be restored by rewetting. Therefore, human intervention in regulating the water flow within the natural system. Peat Swamp Forest will not be able to maintain the underground water pressure in preventing sea water intrusion (tidal influence extends up to 99 km upstream from the river mouth of Belait and saline intrusion can reach up to 40-50km upstream. Frequency of flooding in Belait River as many as 20 times per year (Sandal S.T 1996)).

3. The movement of water within Peat Swamp Forest is characterised by rapid lateral and slow vertical water movement (Nugroho et al. 1997). Irrigating agricultural field from Peat Swamp Forest will eventually dry up the water especially during the dry spell. As a result, this will expose the thick peat layer to high oxidation or mineralisation which will produce detrimental effect to tree growth specialised to the extreme peat conditions.

Specialised Species Adaptation:

1. The concentration of phosphorus, potassium, sodium, calcium and magnesium is low to very low and their concentration declines with increases in the distance from the margin of the forest (Anderson 1983). More importantly, the concentration of nutrients also decreases with increasing depth (Yonebayashi et al. 1997).

2. In view of the conditions of Peat Swamp Forest of having a high water table, low nutrients and peaty (high carbon/nitrogen ratio), only specialised species of vegetation can withstand such poor conditions. Thus, most of the species are habitat-specific Peat Swamp Forest species. - Borneo Bulletin (7th Nov 2008)