Forests of Hope - Asia

Banded pitta. Photo: Jacob% Wijpkema
Banded pitta. Photo: Jacob% Wijpkema

Asia is the home of BirdLife’s first Forest of Hope: Harapan Rainforest in Sumatra. BirdLife Partner Burung Indonesia, with the support of the BirdLife Partnership, persuaded the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry to allow private organisations to manage logging concessions in the interests of nature conservation. The BirdLife Partnership is now managing 100,000 hectares of forest at Harapan, protecting around a fifth of the remaining lowland rainforest of Sumatra. 

BirdLife’s Forests of Hope Programme builds on this and similar tropical forest conservation achievements by BirdLife Partners around the world. The BirdLife Partnership is developing innovative approaches to forest conservation that are bringing benefits to forest people as well as forests and their wildlife. By 2020, BirdLife will manage at least 10,000km2 of priority tropical forest through purchase, lease, management licence or delegated management authority, with a further 40,000km2 managed by governments and other organisations, using approaches developed or promoted by BirdLife.


Forests of Hope in Asia

The sites chosen as Forests of Hope in Asia are typical of the forests of the region. In Indo-Burma, Western Siem Pang in Cambodia is one of the last tracts of the tropical dry forest that once covered much of central Indochina, and has an extraordinary concentration of five Critically Endangered bird species. 

To the south, Belum-Temengor, Malaysia, is in one of largest forest blocks on the Malaysian Peninsula. In the Philippines, tracts of forest on the two largest islands (Luzon and Mindanao) have been identified as Forests of Hope.

These sites exemplify all the major threats to the forests of the region. BirdLife Partners are working at other forest sites in tropical Asia —both in other countries and other sites in the same countries — and it is likely that some will become Forests of Hope.

Most forest land in Asia belongs to governments, and land purchase is generally not an option. Therefore conservation strategies generally involve lease or concession approaches, or various forms of collaborative management of forest land with governments and communities. Protected Areas may also be part of the solution: part of Belum-Temengor forest has been upgraded from Production Forest to a State Park, and the Malaysian Nature Society is campaigning for more to be protected. 

Conservation organisations and governments alike see the potential of this model for sustainable, self-financing forest management. This has helped to inspire projects in the other countries participating in Forests of Hope in Asia. New concession arrangements or management licenses of various types are now being sought in several countries including Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines. 

Asia’s forests, and drivers of forest loss

Asia accounts for around 37% of the global tropical forest biome, and forests are by far the most important of all habitats for threatened bird species in the Asia region.  Nearly all occur in tropical forests, with 70% in lowland rainforest. The lowland rainforests of the Sundaic region (the Thai-Malay Peninsula,  Sumatra, Borneo, Java and Bali) rival the Amazon basin forests in terms of biological diversity. The tropical archipelagos of Indonesia and the Philippines are particularly species-rich, with many assemblages of endemic species with small (sometimes tiny) ranges.

The major driver of forest loss is conversion to agro-industrial plantations, especially oil palm, rubber, tea and other cash crops. Legal and illegal logging and paper pulp production are further threats. Locally, forest is cleared for shifting agriculture, and further biodiversity loss is caused by hunting and trade in wildlife, which is so extreme, particularly in Indo-Burma, that it threatens many individual species with global extinction and results in so-called ‘empty forests.