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Royal visit…

…to the 'Forest of Hope'

HRH The Prince of Wales will this Sunday (November 2) visit one of the world’s most innovative rainforest conservation projects as part of his Far East tour.

The Prince will see how logged rainforest on the Indonesian island of Sumatra is being protected and restored by conservation groups BirdLife International, Burung Indonesia (BirdLife in Indonesia), and the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK).

The three organisations are working to regenerate this area of rainforest, a 101,170 hectare site on an island on which most forests have been lost to oil palm or timber plantations. They decided to name this forest, Harapan, which is Indonesian for ‘hope’.

A recent law, which the groups helped develop, allowed conservationists to acquire the management rights to the southern half of Harapan Rainforest. They can oversee limited work in the northern section as well and are hopeful that Indonesia’s forestry minister, Malam Sambat Kaban will confirm the imminent handover of management rights to the northern half, during the royal visit this Sunday. That would safeguard the whole of Harapan Rainforest for at least 100 years.''Harapan Rainforest is a pioneering project. Replication of such an innovative approch is required to save critical habitats in Indonesia'', said Agus Utomo, Managing Director of Burung Indonesia.

"We are delighted with the interest and support HRH The Prince of Wales is showing in Harapan Rainforest", said RSPB Chief Executive, Graham Wynne. "The initiative is protecting one of the world’s finest wildlife hotspots and we are finding new species of plant and animal with each survey we do. Indonesia has huge potential for rainforest protection and this trail-blazing project will show how precious sites like Harapan Rainforest can be retained for wildlife, for the people whose livelihoods depend on rainforests and how they can be used to cut the world’s greenhouse gas emissions."

The new law, enabling forest restoration, paved the way for the Harapan Rainforest project last April. Previously, those holding management rights for rainforests were obliged to extract timber, often doing so unsustainably. The new law sanctioned the right to keep the trees standing.''Strenghtening the policy and regulations is important for the implementation of ecosystem restoration. We are confident that the Government of Indonesia through the Ministry of Forestry has been giving the best effort to do so", says Agus Utomo.

This means carbon stores can be left intact, flooding reduced and unique wildlife safeguarded. The elusive Sumatran Tiger, Asian Elephants, loud and spectacular hornbills and almost 300 other species of bird are among species Harapan Rainforest now protects.

Sumatran lowland forest is thought to host more plantlife than any other place on earth and earlier this year, scientists from Kew Gardens and the Indonesian Institute of Science Herbarium trained Harapan Rainforest staff in plant identification.

"Now that we are on the ground, we have to combine forest conservation and rehabilitation with a solid programme of community involvement", says Dr Marco Lambertini, Director of Network and Programme at BirdLife International.Harapan Rainforest has several plant nurseries where staff are growing native saplings for planting in the forest. Those staff are among 80 employees working in Harapan Rainforest as rangers, guides and researchers. Most of the rangers are local people and now work with police to stop deforestation.

"Work to restore Harapan Rainforest will take decades because much of it has been badly damaged by logging. Nearly half the commercial forests in Indonesia are no longer managed which means far more rainforest could be used for environmental benefit. The support of the Indonesian Government has created huge opportunities and we hope to hear very soon that we have secured management rights to the whole of the Harapan site", said Graham Wynne.

Professor Ani Mardiastuti, Chairwoman of Burung Indonesia, said: "The people of Indonesia admire HRH The Prince of Wales for his tireless fight to save rainforests. His visit to Harapan Rainforest is a great honour and reinforces our determination to conserve the forest."

4th July 2014