Royal Society delegation with the senior SEARRP staff based at Danum

Royal Society delegation with the senior SEARRP staff based at Danum

In March 2015 I had the pleasure of travelling to Malaysia with Julie Maxton, the Society’s Executive Director, and Rapela Zaman, our new Director of International Affairs. The main purpose of our visit was to celebrate 30 years of Royal Society support for the South East Asia Rainforest Research Programme (SEARRP), based at Danum Valley in Sabah Malaysia. SEARRP as a programme is now transitioning to SEARRP as a partnership (keeping the same acronym), supported by a consortium of over 20 of the world’s leading universities and research institutions

The celebrations started with a reception on 26 March in Kota Kinabalu in Sabah with a Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Danum Valley Management Committee (DVMC), which facilitates and oversees science within the Danum Valley Conservation Area, and the new SE Asia Rainforest Research Partnership. This represented an unprecedented seventh renewal of the agreement and a 35 year commitment to support research and training at the Danum Valley Field Centre and, more widely, in Sabah.

The next day Glen Reynolds (SEARRP’s Director), John Pyle (a Fellow who has chaired the Society’s SEARRP committee and is now chairing the new SEARRP board of trustees), Julie, Rapela and I visited Danum Valley itself. We went via two other conservation areas at the Imbak Canyon and Maliau Basin – both of which comprise almost entirely pristine forest (as does Danum itself). It was, however, sobering to see the effects of logging and plantation development on the landscape, but heartening to see the areas of protected forest and to know that SEARRP’s work is making a difference. Danum Valley was formally gazetted as a protected area in 1995 covering about 500 sq km. Over the past two years – and at least in part driven by the presence of SEARRP and the knowledge-base it has contributed to – the extent of protected forests around Danum has been extended to a continuous 200km, 5,000 sq km arc of rainforest (an area well over 3 times the size of Greater London) – arguably the most important stretch of rainforest remaining intact on the island of Borneo.

Different landscapes

Different landscapes. © Chi’en C Lee/SEARRP

Glen guided us round the field centre and then took us on to the Borneo Rainforest Lodge – a high-end ecotourism resort managed as a sister facility to the Field Centre. The main bridge to the lodge was undergoing repairs, so Glen forded the river instead. Luckily he didn’t tell us that he could feel the current pulling the vehicle sideways until we had made the return journey. We then had lunch and a chat with the senior SEARRP staff who are based at Danum – many of whom have been with the programme for over 20 years. SEARRP’s chief botanist, Mike, who has worked for SEARRP since it was set up in 1985, impressed us with his encyclopaedic  knowledge of not just the local flora but the fauna too – skills which are of crucial importance to many of the scientific projects running through SEARRP.

The Royal Society will play a continued role by hosting meetings of SEARRP’s Board of Trustees and the Partnership is seeking to establish a post-doctoral fellowships programme for early career Malaysian scientists.

Dr Julie Maxton said,

“The Royal Society is incredibly proud of SEARRP – the longest running overseas programme in our history – and we are also extremely grateful for the support provided through the Danum Valley Management Committee and the Sabah Government, which has very much underpinned SEARRP’s accomplishments. We wish the new Partnership every possible success – and look forward to SEARRPs continued support of early career Malaysian scientists and broader academic exchange and research collaboration between Malaysia and the UK”.

Our trip was rounded off by a reception kindly hosted by the British High Commissioner to Malaysia, Mrs Vicki Treadell. This provided a great opportunity to showcase UK-Malaysia collaboration in science (with SEARRP representing the longest running collaborative research programme between the UK and Malaysia) and have some interesting and useful discussions with the other guests. Julie also took the opportunity to mention the Commonwealth Science Conference, held in Bangalore last November under the auspices of the Royal Society, the first such event for 46 years.

Download Glen Reynolds’ presentation (PPTX, 7.5MB)

The whole visit was thoroughly enjoyable despite being such a whirlwind visit. Here’s to the next 30 years!