Prince Charles Visits Conservation Projects Across the Far East

LONDON, UK, October 31, 2008 (ENS) – HRH The Prince of Wales will this Sunday visit the Indonesian island of Sumatra to view an innovative rainforest conservation project as part of his ongoing Far East tour.

Prince Charles will see how logged rainforest on Sumatra is being protected and restored by conservation groups BirdLife International, based in Cambridge; Burung Indonesia, which in English is BirdLife in Indonesia; and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which is BirdLife in the UK.

The three organizations are working to regenerate this area of rainforest, a 101,170 hectare (390 square mile) site on an island where most forests have been lost to oil palm or timber plantations. They decided to name this forest, Harapan, which is Indonesian for “hope.”

Professor Ani Mardiastuti, chairwoman of Burung Indonesia, said, “The people of Indonesia admire HRH The Prince of Wales for his tireless fight to save rainforests. His visit to Harapan Rainforest is a great honor and reinforces our determination to conserve the forest.”

A rufous collared kingfisher is among the
threatened species to find refuge in Harapan
Forest. (Photo by Jacob Wijkema courtesy
BirdLife International)

A recent law, which the groups helped develop, allowed conservationists to acquire the management rights to the southern half of Harapan Rainforest. They now oversee limited work in the northern section as well.

The groups are hopeful that during the royal visit on Sunday Indonesian Forestry Minister Malam Sambat Kaban will confirm the imminent handover of management rights to the northern half. That would safeguard the whole of Harapan Rainforest for at least 100 years.

The new law, enabling forest restoration, paved the way for the Harapan Rainforest project last April. Previously, those holding management rights for rainforests were obliged to extract timber, often doing so unsustainably. The new law sanctioned the right to keep the trees standing.

“Harapan Rainforest is a pioneering project. Replication of such an innovative approch is required to save critical habitats in Indonesia,” said Agus Utomo, managing director of Burung Indonesia.

“We are delighted with the interest and support HRH The Prince of Wales is showing in Harapan Rainforest,” said Graham Wynne, chief executive of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

“The initiative is protecting one of the world’s finest wildlife hotspots and we are finding new species of plant and animal with each survey we do,” said Wynne.

“Indonesia has huge potential for rainforest protection and this trail-blazing project will show how precious sites like Harapan Rainforest can be retained for wildlife, for the people whose livelihoods depend on rainforests and how they can be used to cut the world’s greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

The new law means that carbon stores can be left intact, flooding reduced and unique wildlife safeguarded. The elusive Sumatran tiger, Asian elephants, loud and spectacular hornbills and almost 300 other species of bird are among species Harapan Rainforest now protects.

A Storm’s stork, the Harapan’s most endangered
species (Photo by Dave Gandy courtesy
BirdLife International)

Of the 235 bird species confirmed to date in the forest, there is one species listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, Storm’s Stork, Ciconia stormi. There are five Vulnerable species and 62 Near-Threatened species.

Sumatran lowland forest is thought to host more plantlife than any other place on Earth and earlier this year, scientists from Kew Gardens and the Indonesian Institute of Science Herbarium trained Harapan Rainforest staff in plant identification.

“Now that we are on the ground, we have to combine forest conservation and rehabilitation with a solid program of community involvement,” says Dr. Marco Lambertini, director of network and programs at BirdLife International.

Harapan Rainforest has several plant nurseries where staff are growing native saplings for planting in the forest. Those staff are among 80 employees working in Harapan Rainforest as rangers, guides and researchers. Most of the rangers are local people and now work with police to stop deforestation.

“Work to restore Harapan Rainforest will take decades because much of it has been badly damaged by logging,” said Wynne. “Nearly half the commercial forests in Indonesia are no longer managed, which means far more rainforest could be used for environmental benefit.”

“The support of the Indonesian government has created huge opportunities,” he said, “and we hope to hear very soon that we have secured management rights to the whole of the Harapan site.”

The Prince of Wales and Princess Takamado visit
the Afan Forest, a conservation project in
Nagano (Photo courtesy Office of HRH
Prince of Wales)

In Japan on Thursday, Prince Charles visited the Afan Forest with Princess Takamado of Japan, who has a keen interest in birdlife.

Welshman and owner of the forest, Clive William Nicol, has breathed new life into a former “ghost forest” of neglected scrubland in Nagano that is now inhabited by hundreds of species of plant and wildlife.

Nicol named the woodland Afan Forest after a forest in Wales that has been regenerated after mining destruction.

The conservationist was inspired to buy his first piece of land and turn it back into woodland in 1982 after he visited the Afan Valley above Port Talbot in South Wales and saw efforts to turn the former coal mining area back into natural habitat.

Originally from Neath but now a Japanese citizen, Nicol said he was honored to show the prince around the site.

“For me it’s an enormous honor. He hasn’t been to the Afan forest in Wales so for him to come here it’s a right royal rocket-assisted take-off for what we are trying to do.”

Describing how the Japanese woodland first looked he said, “You couldn’t see three metres ahead and people called it the ‘ghost forest.’ It was just neglected brush.”

“I wanted to bring back a healthy diversity, go back to big trees like it was a virgin forest.”

Today, during his official visit to Brunei, Prince Charles will plant the 1,000th tree of a reforestation project that is part of the Heart of Borneo Initiative. The conservation project aims to preserve 220,000 square kilometers (84,942 square miles) of rainforest through a tri-country partnership of Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia.

British High Commissioner John Saville said today, “Brunei has played a pivotal role in achieving consensus for the three-nation Heart of Borneo initiative, has allocated around 60 percent of its land area to the initiative and has created strong popular civil society support. I am particularly pleased that the UK has been able to help in practical ways.”

Dato Hamdillah Wahab, chairman of Brunei’s Heart of Borneo Council said, “This visit will give us the chance to showcase our work on the Heart of Borneo to the Prince of Wales, whose keen interest in the environment is well known; it will also give our efforts a great boost going forward as Brunei strives to be a beacon of the Heart of Borneo Project and a strong model of public and private sector partnership.”

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