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The peatswamps in Brunei

October 29, 2008
The “alan bunga” community on the Badas Peat Dome, Brunei. The canopy is composed entirely of Shorea albida. Pic by Dr Jonathan Davies

The “alan bunga” community on the Badas Peat Dome, Brunei. The canopy is composed entirely of Shorea albida. Pic by Dr Jonathan Davies

Peatlands cover 19% of Brunei and most can be found in the Belait District. Not many people would know the importance of peatswamps. They are very important in mitigating climate change as they are huge carbon stores, just like a sponge absorbing water; and in their natural state actively accumulate carbon from the atmosphere.

Dr Jonathon Davies, an expert on peatswamps and who would be leading a project called the rehabilitation of the degraded peatswamps in Brunei said that the peatswamp forests of Brunei have a very high biodiversity values; most peatlands have a doomed structure, upon which are found unique vegetation communities. Brunei is the last stronghold for some of these communities.

Peatlands are very fragile ecosystems; once they are drained for logging and agriculture, the peat starts to decompose and they release carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, lose their carbon-accumulating and flood control functions and so much of the biodiversity is lost.

Degraded mixed peat swamp forest burning during the drought of 1998 in Brunei. Pic by Dr Jonathan Davies

Degraded mixed peat swamp forest burning during the drought of 1998 in Brunei. Pic by Dr Jonathan Davies

They also become verys susceptible to fire and are major contributors to the haze that envelopes parts of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei during dry periods annually. Works in other countries has shown that peatland rehabilitation is viable and very cost-effective in contrast to other carbon reduction schemes.

As part of the Heart of Borneo project, an action plan has been identified with the main objective of encouraging policy changes to stimulate rehabilitation and conservation of peatlands in Brunei as well as identifying pilot sites for trying out innovative methods of rehabilitating peatlands.  The rehabilitation of peatlands is a two-stage process, first, the water table is restored to its former level before drainage and secondly, reforestation is carried out where new trees are planted to replace those lost before. The aim is in some cases to restore the biodiversity value and in other cases, to encourage sustainable forestry and agriculture.

Dr Jonathan Davies pointed out that converting peatlands to other uses is seldom a good investment, aside from the loss of the ecological services that they provide. “There is a lot of experience in the region to show that what seems easy with modern technology ends up being hugely expensive and technically difficult, when done on a large scale, because of the nature of the peat itself and the water management that has to be done. It is a lot more beneficial to manage peatlands in harmony with nature”.

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