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.
As at 31 December 2014, REA had set aside some 17,300 hectares of natural habitat within its five concessions, accounting for 26% of the group’s total titled land area. 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 both experienced conservationists and people from local villages who have a good knowledge of the biological and cultural diversity of the region. This department focuses on gaining a scientific understanding 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.
The expertise of the REA Kon team is augmented and shared through collaborations with both international and national 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.
With assistance from visiting scientists, REA Kon has recorded a remarkable number of species within the boundaries of the group’s oil palm concessions. To date, 504 species have been detected. This includes 78 species which are listed as ‘Near Threatened’ or above on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
Approximately 23% of the area in the REAK Group has been set aside for conservation as a first step to maintaining the landscape’s biological and hydrological functions. Conservation areas are most frequently located along rivers and contain High Conservation Values (HCVs) such as intact forest, which are in turn connected to other conservation areas within, between and along the periphery of REAK Group estates.
The REAK 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.
In addition, air and water quality are being monitored in the watershed, specifically upstream and downstream sites of rivers flowing through the estates and used by local communities to monitor impacts of both the mills and outflows from plantation blocks within the landscape.
The REAK Group conducts bi-yearly social impact assessments in the communities surrounding the estates, focused on the perceptions of the households related to how the company’s activities have affected their daily lives.
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), along with fruit tree species, all employed for eventual use for rehabilitation of disturbed areas. On a monthly basis, 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 REAK’s conservation department (“REA Kon”) also 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, 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. This is integrated with monthly monitoring work in observational point transects, camera trapping, drone-based mapping and field visits across the conservation areas. 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.