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.
Plantation development in the tropics can result in a significant alteration of biodiversity and natural ecosystem functions. Agricultural operations should ensure long term effectiveness of natural ecosystem characteristics and services. Ideally, the operational aspects required for oil palm cultivation, harvest, processing and delivery should be integrated with conservation principles, not only with measures in place to avoid or mitigate negative impacts, but also with positive steps to restore or enhance significant portions of the original landscape level biological diversity.
Aware of the importance of minimising the environmental impact of its operations, the group incorporated a strategy for enhanced best practice, within the policy framework adopted at the beginning of 2015. This was to ensure that all those involved in the process of planning and development of new land were aware of the responsibility to prevent or mitigate negative impacts of plantation development. As dictated by the group's policy and the RSPO's new planting procedure on which the group's policy is based, the process of opening new land begins with a series of surveys and assessments typically conducted by qualified experts. These environmental and social impact assessments include an evaluation of land use changes, assessments of high conservation value (“HCV”) characteristics of the landscape, soil surveys and carbon stock assessments. The results of these assessments guide development teams to avoid disturbance of areas of cultural biological significance, steep areas, riparian zones or peat soils, including any habitats containing high carbon stock.
As at 31 December 2017, REA had set aside some 20,000 hectares of natural habitat within its five concessions, accounting for some 23% of the group’s total titled land area. Such so-called “conservation areas” are most frequently located along rivers and contain HCVs such as intact forest, which are in turn connected to other conservation areas within, between and along the periphery of REAK Group estates.
Further, an encroachment policy has been developed in order to tackle encroachment (logging and settlement) within the company land boundaries.
By actively managing this network of conservation reserves, REA aims to make a tangible contribution to maintaining the natural biodiversity of the landscapes in which the group operates.
Since 2008, the conservation reserves within REA’s concessions have been managed by REA’s conservation department, which is known as REA Kon. The REA Kon team comprises an in-house team of experienced conservationists, ecologists, herpetologists, ornithologists, and education and media specialists with good knowledge of the biological and cultural diversity of the region.
REA Kon’s aim is to conserve or enhance the natural biodiversity and ecosystem functions of the landscape in which the group operates. Using empirical information derived from scientific field studies, hands-on conservation education, and active management, REA Kon aims to gain a betterunderstanding of the biodiversity present within and around the group’s oil palm concessions and ensuring that its agricultural activities, employees and the local communities do not have a detrimental impact on this biodiversity.
REA Kon conducts systematic monthly activities in order to maintain and enhance biodiversity surveys in cooperation with local and international scientists, including HCV boundary marking and monitoring, camera trapping point surveys, belt-transects, restoration and enrichment activities, and conservation education in schools. REA Kon also conducts water quality monitoring to obtain a reliable picture of the physical and biological health of conservation areas.
In 2017, a total of 19 new camera traps were installed in REA Kaltim and CDM. These camera traps recorded a total of 34 mammal, bird and reptile species. Three of these species are threatened: Pongo pygmaeus alias Orangutan (Endangered), Manis javanica (Sunda Pangolin, Trenggiling) (Critically endangered) and Helarctos malayanus (Malayan Sun Bear, Beruang Madu) (Endangered). The Prionailurus bengalensis or leopard cat (Kucing Hutan) was also detected in 2017.
REA Kon monitors the orangutans found in the conservation areas of four of the group’s estates on a monthly basis, by conducting nest surveys along permanent transects. In 2017, monthly permanent transect walks revealed a total of 94 orangutan nests which had remained intact for a total of 652 days, implying that, on average, each nest remained intact for about 7 days. These transects confirm that a population of orangutans continues to use the conservation reserves within the group's concessions. Further surveys that focus on identifying orangutan individuals will be undertaken during 2018 and 2019 to verify the current status of the orangutan population.
An important aspect of REA Kon's work to protect the habitat and biodiversity within conservation areas is regular engagement with surrounding communities and REA's workforce, in order to exchange ideas about its efforts to maintain local biodiversity and natural ecosystem services. REA Kon also seeks to form closer bonds and better communication with local villages and independent farmers. In 2017, REA Kon conducted regular visits to schools in REA emplacements as well as educational activities with communities and workers, mostly in the form of presentations followed by discussions about rare, threatened and endangered species. A conservation education camp was organised in the field station to provide more hands-on learning about environmental issues for a broader age group from within the local community.
REA Kon also conducts visits to meet senior members of communities to promote positive environmental action by villages, including HCV protection and proper waste management. REA Kon often conducts these visits in collaboration with the Indonesian Government's Natural Resources Conservation Agency.
Education can help to promote a positive attitude towards conservation amongst local communities and the workforce, but the message needs to be reinforced through the active management of conservation areas. The boundaries of conservation areas are marked with visible posts and signboards to clearly delineate HCV land within the group's concessions, and REA Kon routinely patrols the edges of the conservation areas to monitor for signs of human disturbance and to map areas damaged through human activity or fire. Despite REA Kon‘s continued engagement with local communities, there are still cases of encroachment into the group’s conservation areas by loggers or independent farmers.
REA’s conservation department established a seedling nursery in 2008, in which it currently manages a rotating stock of up to 2,000 seedlings of various species, including native hardwoods (seraya, kapur), softwoods (sengon or “Albizia", and Gmelina), and fruit tree species. On a monthly basis, these seedlings are being planted in numerous disturbed sites scattered among conservation areas within the estates. During the period between June 2018 to August 2018, just under 1,200 tree seedlings were produced and distributed to various estates and villages for the purpose of long-term restoration of disturbed areas.
The expertise of the REA Kon team is augmented and shared through collaborations with both national and international scientific institutions and NGOs. Recent collaborations have included the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), the University of Mulawarman in Samarinda, East Kalimantan, the National University in Jakarta (UNAS) and the Natural History Museum of London.
Further, the group has enhanced its collaboration with Satelligence in the Netherlands to acquire and develop a land cover map for 2017, and establish a land cover monitoring system for 2018, in order to track land cover change over the broader landscape into which the estates are integrated. The land cover map is used to identify areas for rehabilitation earlier disturbed by, for example, fire, logging, or other locally initiated encroachment. The monitoring system provides bi-weekly alerts of land cover change in areas within and beyond the estates to allow for a prompt and targeted response to encroachment or deforestation at an early stage.
REA Kon works closely with local and provincial government agencies and with KEE (Kawasan Ekosistem Essential), an initiative for the protection of endangered species in the CDM-Mesangat wetland. In September 2018, REA Kon initiated contacts with the European Crocodile Working Group and the French NGO Planète Urgence to restore damaged habitats in the wetland as well as to continue long term monitoring and assessment of the endangered species of the company-managed portions of the wetland.
REA Kon also collaborates with a senior academic (Prof Sri Suci Utama Atmoko of the Universitas Nasional or, UNAS in Jakarta) to enhance monitoring skills regarding resident orangutan and hornbill populations. Furthermore, REA Kon continues to work with the staff and students of the Universitas Mulawarman in Samarinda, providing internships in conservation outside protected areas, meals, lodging and transport for undergraduate as well as graduate research projects, thus building local knowledge in the fields of biology and conservation.