BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION IN EAST KALIMANTAN, BORNEO ISLAND

REA operates in the Indonesian region of the island of Borneo, which is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet and a powerhouse for the provision of critical ecosystem services, including clean water, climate regulation and nutrient cycling. The longevity of REA’s business is wholly dependent on its ability to maintain and enhance this biodiversity.

In recognition of the group’s record of dedication to conservation, as part of the 66th anniversary celebrations for the Province of East Kalimantan in 2023, the group was given an award as best manager of an area with high conservation value within a plantation designated area.

Plantation development in the tropics has the potential to alter local biodiversity and natural ecosystem functions. The group therefore believes that operational requirements for oil palm cultivation, that include land clearing, maintenance, harvesting, processing and delivery, should be guided by conservation principles designed to avoid or mitigate negative impacts and augment positive steps to restore or enhance original landscape level biological diversity. Currently a total of approximately 17,990 hectares have been set aside as conservation reserves within the group’s titled land bank, accounting for over 26 per cent of the group’s land areas.

The group takes seriously its responsibility to conserve and, where possible, restore or rewild the natural landscape in and around the group’s operations. The group’s conservation department (REA Kon) was established in 2008 and aspires to exceed, rather than just meet, all the requirements of the sustainability bodies by which the group is certified. REA Kon is organised into three functional areas: plantation ecology (evaluating the long term ecological relationships between planted blocks and conservation reserves); biodiversity management (understanding trends within and conservation management of natural species of the landscape); and communities and forests (collaborating with local communities in the conservation management of the group’s designated conservation reserves, including HCV areas).

To address and mitigate the impacts of climate change, REA Kon continues to expand its rewilding and enrichment programme and supplies seedlings of endemic forest fruit and timber tree species to local communities and for the group’s restoration projects. The REA Kon nursery maintains a stock of some 5,500 seedlings (2022: 4,700) for rewilding projects. In 2023 more than 1,000 seedlings of individual native fruit and timber trees were distributed and planted and a further 3,400 seedlings were planted for restoration of approximately 9 hectares of degraded areas. As the forested conservation areas mature, this will lead to increased carbon sequestration and capture. Observational data gathered during 2023 demonstrates that the group’s endeavours as respects conservation, which encompasses a mixed use landscape, have assisted in the survival and enhancement of a significant portion of the original biodiversity of the area.

REA Kon has installed climate indicator tools and collects temperature, rainfall and humidity data from its weather station on the estates. Water quality is measured quarterly in several watersheds in the group’s forested conservation reserves and HCV forested areas to ensure that water resources remain free of contamination. During 2023, monitoring of water quality was conducted in four rivers (Butut, Temaring, Salai, and Lurah). No significant contamination was identified.

REA Kon maintains a permanent database of species richness, distribution and abundance with special emphasis on the status of any species of fauna or flora listed as Critically Endangered [CR] or Endangered [EN] by the IUCN. Any species not recorded in previous years is identified and its location entered into the database. In 2023, the programme of mapping the locations of all species within the group’s conservation reserves identified a total of 698 species (87 mammals, 267 birds, 61 reptiles, 44 amphibian, 126 Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) and 113 fish).

CR and EN species recorded by camera trap or incidental observation in 2023 include:

  • Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus morio) [CR] found in six different areas around the group estates
  • Sunda Pangolin (Manis javanica) [CR] identified across five separate sites
  • Bornean Gibbon (Hylobates muelleri) [EN] observed in five separate sites
  • Proboscis Monkey (Nasalis larvatus) [EN] consistently observed throughout the year in one wetland site at three locations
  • Flat-Headed Cat (Prionailurus planiceps) [EN] observed in two separate sites
  • Marbled Cat (Pardofelis marmorata) [EN] and Sunda Clouded Leopard (Neofelis diardi) [EN], both carnivores, observed on rare occasions
  • Greater Green Leafbird (Chloropsis sonnerati) [EN] as new record
  • Storm’s Stork (Ciconia stormi) [EN] and Wrinkled Hornbill (Rhabdotorrhinus corrugatus) [EN] observed on rare occasions

A total of 12 previously unrecorded bird species were found in 2023. Monthly point counts for birds across specific sites in the group’s conservation reserves demonstrate a steady increase in species richness and suggest that a higher number of species can be expected with additional inventories. Recording and monitoring of butterfly species also provides information on the ecological health of the landscape. 46 previously unrecorded species were added to the records for Lepidoptera in 2023.

Fluctuations in the annual records of wildlife are commonplace due to species mobility or the degree of difficulty in encountering particularly elusive species. Records of fish species encounters have increased significantly due to collaborative research with third parties such as the National University of Indonesia (UNAS) and the Faculty of Fisheries team from Mulawarman University.

The graph below shows the annual totals of CR & EN species encountered across the group’s locations. Records of species categorised by The IUCN Red List as Vulnerable [VU] are not included here due to the frequency of such encounters.

There has been a 100% increase in the number of IUCN classified CR & EN species encounters recorded across the REA’s conservation sites since 2018. The data illustrates that encounters with the most threatened RTE species since 2018 has already exceeded the initial target of a 20% increase in encounters by 2025. A review to revise future targets is currently underway.

To improve the level of data collection and ensure that records are reflective of the current reality, REA Kon continues to implement additional survey methods to enhance data collection. In 2023, night surveys were initiated to improve identification and recording of nocturnal species encounters.

Through camera trapping arrays and walking surveys along permanent transects, REA Kon identifies the location of each individual orangutan, the highest priority species. Wherever orangutan nests are encountered, at least two units of camera traps are set in order to identify individuals by their characteristics, such as size, sex and facial features, and assessment of their body condition and health, and the detection of infants. Camera trap monitoring provides information of spatial distribution of the species and superior population estimates, in addition to the accurate identification of individuals. No orangutan-human conflicts were reported during the year.

Phenology monitoring as prescribed by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry in permanent plots revealed at least five RTE tree species in 2023, including the CR timber species, Kayu Resak (Vatica rassak) and Sweet Chestnut (Castanopsis argentea) [EN]. REA Kon collects fruits or seedlings of all such endangered tree species for regeneration in its seedling nursery and replanting in the restoration and rewilding sites. REA Kon has also cultivated and replanted large numbers of economically valuable Ironwood (Ulin) (Eusideroxylon zwageri) and several other valuable timber species such as Red Balang (Kahoi) (Shorea balangeran).

REA Kon conducts socialisation projects on conservation education and management and on the value of protecting the environment with the local communities, the group’s employees, school pupils, as well as the local government. REA Kon seeks to engender a long term collaboration with these groups through discussion forums, exchanges of information and the distribution of leaflets and posters on the group’s conservation policies and government regulations as respects, for example, animal protection. During 2023, REA Kon sought to expand the reach of its environmental awareness activities to both the company and external communities with the aim of minimising disturbance to HCV areas.

Encroachment

Encroachment into conservation reserves poses a significant risk to the viability of endangered species and their forest habitats. REA Kon monitors the boundaries of its conservation reserves which are clearly marked with signboards to identify their status as protected sites. Joint patrols of forest conservation areas are conducted with the group’s staff and security to monitor and swiftly respond to illegal intrusion into conservation areas. The group also has access to the Satelligence satellite data system which generates biweekly updates to an online platform for monitoring the status of forest cover and land clearing activities within and around the group’s estates. This facilitates rapid investigation of illegal activities within the estates and smallholder areas that may be damaging to the environment. Any encroachment is investigated and, as necessary, processed in conjunction with local communities and government authorities.

The results of monitoring (shown below) are used as a reference point for conducting ground checks and taking the necessary control measures.

Deforestation monitoring 2019-2022

Location Hectares
2019 2020 2021 2022
Within REA concessions
Perdana estate 16.97
Sentekan estate 5.54 0.16
Cakra estate 0.42 2.24 1.71
Lestari estate 6.05 4.63
Damai estate 0.21 0.20
Berkat estate 4.65 16.53 0.01 0.41
Tepian estate 14.14 7.93
Satria estate 182.40 18.49 16.41 29.18
Kedaron estate 0.06 0.46
CDM 34.09 55.82 0.95 1.27
PBJ2 Kaltim 9.73 10.90 5.45
PBJ2 Satria 27.86 10.01 15.06
PU 22.69 16.24 29.46
Subtotal 319.06 111.39 54.52 83.36
Outside REA concessions (areas of interest covering independent smallholder supplier locations) 63.16 59.37 2.71 3.17
Total 382.22 170.76 57.23 86.53

During 2022, there were indications of non-compliant deforestation or land clearing taking place outside REA’s concessions covering an area of 3.17 hectares. The monitoring results showed multiple indications of deforestation in the vicinity of 26 locations of independent smallholders but that proved not to be within independent smallholder locations. On receipt of land-clearing alerts in an identified area of interest, REA conducts direct field verification to ensure that the areas are not within those of a registered smallholder supplier.

Fires in and around the company concessions are an ongoing threat to habitats and operations during periods of dry weather, and the project with Satelligence provides the company with an effective additional tool to monitor incidents and work with local communities to raise awareness and reduce such risks. In 2022, there were 14 incidents (fire hotspots) recorded within the company concessions that were reported to the RSPO and 81 hotspots detected in the area of interest outside the group’s concessions. REA routinely conducts direct field verification after obtaining hotspot alert reports to ensure that potential fires do not occur in the area of third party FFB suppliers. Based on the results of direct field verification, none of the 81 hotspot alerts triggered in 2022 involved third party FFB supplier locations.

Since 2021, the group has been cooperating with the local government and communities to develop a network of trained community groups to promote fire prevention and firefighting capabilities. Training courses in local villages continued throughout 2023 and a fire prevention and control agreement was reached between the group and the local communities with firefighting equipment acquired for the relevant communities. The cooperation is intended to encourage efforts to reduce the traditional reliance on fire for clearing village land and, in parallel with other group funded community development initiatives, to promote forest and habitat conservation.

Collaborations with external institutions

The group collaborates with research projects undertaken by the University of Cambridge, UK, and the University of Ohio, USA together with local research institutions in Indonesia as well as the communities in and around the group’s operational locations.

In 2023 the group signed an initial five year collaborative research agreement with SEARRP, a Malaysian based organisation engaged in programmes to address environmental issues in the tropics, complementing the existing agreement with University of Cambridge signed in 2021. These agreements provide the group with access to world-renowned research networks focused on working in fragmented tropical landscapes in which oil palm cultivation plays a major role. Initial collaboration commenced with the group participating in survey work being carried out as part of the SEARRP SEnSOR programme to evaluate the effectiveness of biodiversity management and monitoring programmes. It is intended to develop a comprehensive soil health monitoring and enhancement research programme involving researchers from local universities and the SEARRP network. In addition, the group has submitted a joint proposal with researchers from the University of Mularwarman and BRIN (the Indonesian National Research and Innovation agency) to investigate the potential for converting organic mill by-products into biofertilisers so as to replace imported inorganic fertilisers.

REA Kon also collaborates with staff and students of the Faculty of Science and the Faculty of Forestry at Mulawarman University (Samarinda), and provides support for undergraduate and graduate research projects, thus building local capacity in field biology and conservation. Students receive meals, lodging and transport for internships in conservation outside of protected areas.

As regards specific projects, REA Kon collaborates with senior scientists (Prof Dr. Sri Suci Utama Atmoko and Dr, Tatang Mitra Setia) of the Biology Faculty of the Universitas Nasional (UNAS) in Jakarta in monitoring resident orangutan and hornbill populations within the estates managed by REA. An ongoing collaboration between REA Kon and Prof. Dr. Ir. H. Iwan Suyatna from the Faculty of Fisheries at Mulawarman University is also carrying out an identification survey on the Richness of Fish Species and Their Environment. REA Kon staff and the estate management team at CDM management also work closely with the KEP (Kawasan Ekosistem Penting), a provincial government initiative for the protection of endangered species in the CDM-Mesangat wetlands area. REA Kon works with the European Crocodile Networking Group (experts on Asian crocodile species) to monitor and assess the endangered species in the company-managed portions of the wetland.