The beauty and beast of Badas Triangle

The beauty and beast of Badas Triangle

25 October 2008

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Brunei — Despite Brunei’s small land area, the sultanate is well-known internationally for its world class tropical rain forest majority of which, are still in pristine conditions protected by legislation. To date, with strong leadership and good forest governance, Brunei Darussalam can maintain its green shade and relatively large area to maintain its international prestige in line with progressive development of the country and more importantly, amid the global agenda of global warming.

There are seven distinguished forest types, all of which have both ecologically and economically importance to support the economic growth of the country namely: Montane; Hill and lowland Dipterocarp; Freshwater; Mangrove; Peat Swamp; Heath; and Beach Forest. These types of forest possess its own respective and unique architectural structure as well as ecosystem.

Heath Forest (known as Kerangas) in Brunei Darussalam is the most amazing forest type found in the sultanate as it has five bio-ecotypes viz:

*Ru (Casuarina spp) Forest (Marine White Sand Terraces) – found along the coastal road from Muara to Tutong, following the line of marine terraces as far as Jerudong characterised by the presence of Casuarina nobilis.

*Kapur Paya (Dryobananops rappa) Forest – the transition between the peat swamp forest and the Kerangas forest as found in the Anduki Forest Reserve in which Dryobalanops rappa is predominant

*Mountain Kerangas – found in Temburong district on the ridges of Bt Peradayan, Bt Patoi and Bt Biang, Bt Telugong, Bt Gelagas, and Gunong Pagon Priok.

*Belait Pleistocene Forest – the most extensive areas located on Pleistocene river terraces, containing much gravel and tend to be almost flat. Shorea albida is the dominant species with other species such as Drayobalanops rappa, Combretocarpus rotundatus, Amoora rubiginosa, and Parishia maingayi which typical peat swamp forest are the frequent species found in this area. On the podsolised soils, Dipterocapus borneensis, Melanorrhoea becarii, Cratoxylon glaucum and some Agathis borneensis trees are also found.

*Tulong (Agathis borneensis) Forest (Belait Quaternary) – found at Bt Puan and stretching from Badas to Sg Mau. Tulong species exhibits prominence along with Dipterocarpus borneensis and Cotelelobium burkii.

The Badas Forest Reserve is a 20-30 minutes drive from the main road. Inside the triangle of pipelines, the remnants of Tulong species unveil ecological uniqueness.

The reserve covers a total land area of 76 hectares, which was constituted in 1948 and legislatively protected under the Forest Act. It falls under the secondary forest conservation (Virgin Jungle Reserve) aiming to conserve an area of Tulong, which stands on marine terraces for scientific and educational purposes.

Conservation Value: There are five contributing factors to which Badas has a remarkable conservation value:

*Scarcity: The total area of Heath forest in the country is 3,455 ha (one per cent of the total forest area in Brunei Darussalam and Badas FR represents two per cent of the total area of conservation forest in Brunei Darussalam ), characterised by having infertile and acidic soil (low pH) and thin peaty soil except in eroded areas with sandy.

*Ecologically Unique: In general, Heath Forest has five bio-ecotypes. Badas FR is one which possesses Tulong trees (Agathis borneensis) and demonstrates eminence species.

Diptercarpus borneensis (Keruing sindur) Cotylelobium burkii (Resak Durian) are also found scattered within the area. Floristic composition is variable, and often contains species that are rare or not present in other forest habitats.

Ants-plants (myrmecophytes) are common and mossy carpets form on the forest floor – suitable growing media for the smallest orchid in Brunei Darussalam ( Corybas pictus ).

*Highest Species Diversity: Heath Forest in Badas holds one of the Bornean Botanical Secrets which has the highest species diversity per unit area ranging from ferns, orchids, xylis, zinger, shrubs and tree/plant species. Continuing research on this area might bring financial benefits.

*Profound Wildlife Habitats: Some wildlife such as birds (flying fox, horn bill) and mammals (wild cat, deer) can be found within the area as the forest provides good shelter and is also an important source of food. Tulong fruits which grow annually, is often consumed by rodents such as the squirrels.

According to the locals, with the presence of some ruminant species such as deers, Badas FR and its surroundings are the preferred cultural hunting sites for their subsistence.

*Accessibility: It has a strategic location, 20 – 30 minutes drive from the main road. Hence, it is one of the favorite sites for R & D and educational purposes.

Designated area for Brunei Heart of Borneo Initiative: Forests in Brunei Darussalam are a botanical treasure trove – for years as a source of valued plant- derived materials such as timber, rattan, resins, food, fibers, latex, traditional medicine and herbs (bioproducts), fragrant ‘gaharu’ wood that can be commercialised to support the national economic diversification.

The HoB initiative ensures the long term and sustainable manner of exploitation of these biodiversity-based resources taking into consideration preservation of the forest ecosystem and nature.

Moreover, the initiative will be an important source of new bio-discoveries of economic interest for the years to come and hence, further stimulate the incremental growth of prosperity of the country through a well diversified economy – without jeopardising the rights of the native people or those dwelling within and near the forests to allow them to continue practicing their traditional livelihood especially for poverty alleviation – forest dependent for their source of fodder. Badas FR area is one of the major forest types within the landmark for Brunei HoB Initiative (58 per cent of the total land area) in view of its ecological importance that enhances the value of the forest – a true assemblage of specialised plant species that accommodate the extreme micro-climate of Heath Forest .

Together with PSF on the state land, it also serves as a shade of green, connecting ecological corridor between Hill Mixed Diptercarp Forest and Beach Forest, and stretching into the sea.

With the presence of Tulong trees as a dominant species, Badas FR is quite distinct from other Heath Forest found in Brunei in terms of its bio-ecotype.

The much-needed human interventions in this area especially on previously burnt areas is a compelling effort as to ensure the persistence of this species as well contiguous network of protected forest ecosystem within Brunei HoB Initiative.

Planting with indigenous species will re-establish the forest connectivity within fragmented heath forest caused by frequent fires and at the same time will assist to expedite the recovery of ecological degradation of the area as to ensure the sustainability of the Badas ecosystem in the long term through the maintenance of population size of dominant species within the area.

Major Threats: Since Badas is located within the two major pipelines and legislatively protected, the threat of sand mining activity is less significant unlike peat swamp area at the coastal area which is under state land status. This includes the peat swamp forest surroundings located within the pipelines.

However, it has been frequently affected by arson fires for years. The arson fires especially during the dry spell is one of the major threats as the area especially on the planting site has a layer of undecomposed litter/debris above the forest floor which provides good fuel.

The wind breeze from the sea during the day even causes the spread of ground fire to this area.

Additionally, the improvement of the drainage system will somehow change the hydrology of the area and thus, the forest ecosystem of that particular area.

More importantly, this will reduce the capacity of the surrounding area to hold water at its original level especially during the long dry spell which will further augment the risk of forest fire.

Rehabilitation Pact: Under the long term national forest programme, the Forestry Department is committed to restore the ecological degradation of the country – special attention given to diminishing forest margins such as Badas forest.

The first fire recorded which affected the Badas area was in 1983 and the worst occurred in 1997 -1998 during El-Nino.

Therefore, the rehabilitation sites consist of patches of previously burnt area and used to be a predominant Tulong stand.

Since the area is prone to frequent arson fire, the artificial planting of indigenous species to recover the fragile ecosystem is almost very difficult. However, the presence of the pioneer species is very much contributed to the natural recovery process.

The nature of the soils which are infertile and contain very low pH also contributes to the slow process of natural recovery.

The availability of soil nutrients is very low especially on the bare area. The slowness rate of recovery will also make the site more vulnerable to physical disturbance such as erosion.

Thus, there is urgency for human interventions as to prevent the continuous deterioration of the site through assisted natural regeneration (ANR).

Therefore, there is a continuing need for rehabilitation efforts to ameliorate effect as the stands develop.

This requires involvement of the public sectors especially students recognising the importance of imparting knowledge upon future guardians of the national forest estate.

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