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Peatland News

Title: Help preserve peat swamp forest in Kuala Selangor
Date: 24-Feb-2012
Category: Malaysia
Source/Author: Stories by TAN KARR WEI karrwei@thestar.com.my
Description: KUALA Selangor residents do not know the existence of peat swamps in the area as most of them assume it is agricultural land.


KUALA Selangor residents do not know the existence of peat swamps in the area as most of them assume it is agricultural land.

SMK Sultan Sulaiman Shah teacher M. Thilaga, 38, said many of them live in Kuala Selangor but they were not even aware that the area was a peat swamp.

“We didn’t even know that it is a forest reserve,” she said.

Thilaga and 10 students from the school’s Nature Society were among more than 200 participants in the Selangor World Wetlands Day 2012 celebration at the Raja Musa Forest Reserve in Bestari Jaya, Selangor, recently.

Calming effect: The black waters of the peat swamp at the Sungai Karang forest reserve provides for an interesting landscape amid the lush surroundings.

Selangor Tourism, Consumer Affairs and Environment deputy committee chairman Lee Kim Sin launched the event that was also attended by Selangor Forestry Department director Yusoff Muda and Kuala Selangor District Council president Noraini Roslan.

Over the years, more than 1,000ha of the 23,000ha forest have been cleared and burnt illegally for large-scale farming. It was not until 2008 that the state government and Selangor Forestry Department evicted all the illegal settlers and the Global Environment Centre (GEC) embarked on a project to rehabilitate the site.

This year, the GEC launched the Friends of Peatland Forest and the Peatland Forest Ranger to get the local residents living around the forest involved in its rehabilitation efforts.

The Friends of Peatland Forest comprises local residents who are concerned about the degradation of the peat swamp forest and are proactive in conserving it while the Forest Ranger is a programme to educate schoolchildren on the importance of environmental protection.

“We were shocked to hear that a big part of the forest has been burnt for agriculture. The students are interested to learn more about the forest and how they can help.

“They have also been doing their part in letting other students know what they have learnt.

“Today, they are just happy to be outdoors doing the tree-planting,” said Thilaga, who is also the school’s Nature Society adviser.

Greening the earth: Volunteers spent their Saturday morning planting Inggir Burung tree saplings at the Raja Musa Forest Reserve recently.

Lee said peat soil had always been viewed as “problematic soil” because of its high acidity and unsuitable for farming.

“We need the commitment of all sectors to rehabilitate and protect the forest,” he said.

GEC director Faizal Parish said peat swamp forests played an important role in regulating global climate and conserving the eco-system.

He said the area had been drained for agriculture and part of the rehabilitation exercise was to bring back the water level and vegetation in the affected areas.

Rich in organic matter, the dried peat soil is susceptible to underground fires which can take up to three months to put out.

“Our aim is to restore the depleted area. We need a lot of support from corporations and local residents,” said Faizal.

Yusoff said clearing the land would take a few months but rehabilitating it was a mammoth task that could take more than 100 years.

In the past three years, more than 4,000 volunteers have been involved in several tree-planting activities but these too have been a learning process for the GEC and other parties involved.

Acquired taste: Lee (left) and Faizal trying the seeds of the lotus, a local product in Kuala Selangor.

The previous species of trees planted had a low survival rate because it could not grow in open spaces, so this time the Inggir Burung type was chosen to provide a canopy before other species could grow.

HSBC Bank Malaysia Bhd has pledged to support the rehabilitation programme for three years and this has enabled the establishment of four groups of Friends of Peatland Forest — one each from Kampung Raja Musa, Kampung Bestari Jaya, Kampung Seri Tiram and Kampung Sungai Sireh.

Faizal believed that the partnership with local residents would not only help in their rehabilitation efforts but also served as a way to educate them.

“If they want to use the forest for their livelihood, we want to show them ways to do so without destroying the environment.

“For example, we worked with some people in Bestari Jaya to provide the saplings to replant the forest,” he said.

Noraini said the residents could also play their role as the eyes of the local council, making sure that the forest was not being burnt or cleared for agriculture.

She and Lee were both in agreement that it would take some time before the peat swamp forest could be developed into a tourism area.

When that happens, the local residents could benefit from it by being trained as guides to educate visitors about the forest or as boatmen.

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