BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) has embarked on a one-year research project to restore the degraded Badas peat swamp forest in Belait.

Researchers and volunteers will be planting and monitoring the growth of 200 saplings of the native tree species shorea albida at Badas, which has the largest peat dome in Brunei.

Endemic to Bornean peat swamp forests, shorea albida is currently listed as vulnerable in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

UBD on Thursday launched the tree-planting project that forms part of the research. It is also a citizen science revegetation project involving members of the public as volunteers.

The university is collaborating with the Singapore-Massachusetts Institute of Technology Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) to conduct the study, as part of efforts to improve biodiversity and support Brunei’s climate change policy.

One of Brunei’s climate change targets in increasing forest cover is planting 500,000 trees by 2035.

Associate Professor Dr Rahayu Sukmaria Hj Sukri, UBD lead researcher of the Badas Tree Planting project, said Brunei’s peat swamp forests are likely the only place with the least disturbed shorea albida.

However, she said Badas peatlands are increasingly affected by forest fires, prompting an “urgent need” to protect the area.

Researchers said sand mining as well as industrial and residential infrastructure development have further contributed to the degradation of the Badas peat swamp forests.

Dr Rahayu hoped that working with international biodiversity experts on the study would elevate the Badas forest as a centre for tropical peat swamp research.

The Badas tree-planting project is the culmination of UBD and SMART’s five-year study, she added.

Prior to the launch of the Badas research project, tree planting trials were conducted to better understand the survival rate of the shorea albida.

UBD and SMART are also carrying out other research projects in Badas, including carbon exchange and forest dynamics of tropical peat forests and biodiversity of peat swamp fish and insects.