South East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership (SEARRP)


SEARRP has contributed to the conservation, sustainable management and restoration of Malaysia’s forest ecosystem and also played an instrumental role in the education and training of Malaysian environmental scientists.

The South East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership (SEARRP), established in 1985 by the Royal Society of the UK and Commonwealth Academy of Science, has made a significant contribution to the conservation, sustainable management and restoration of rainforests in Malaysia, particularly Sabah.

The pristine forests of Danum Valley, Sabah where SEARRP's base is located

From their base in Borneo’s Danum Valley in Lahad Datu, Sabah, it has emerged as a premier source of rainforest research in the tropics. It has published over 550 papers in the world’s leading academic journals. The organisation also has a strong understanding of rainforests, restoration and the sustainable management of tropical landscapes.

It is led by its Director, Datuk Dr Glen Reynolds who has over 15 years of leadership experience and a proven record of success in securing major research grants, building institutional and political support and delivering scientific excellence across multiple disciplines. They work in close collaboration with leading international universities and local partners to facilitate research by individual scientists and manage major environmental issues.

SEARRP's Director, Datuk Dr Glen Reynolds explaining their works on rainforests and wildlife conservation to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge

In close collaboration with its Malaysian partners, particularly the Sabah Forestry Department, it facilitates world-class scientific research that addresses major environmental issues. It has developed further understanding of rainforests by making Danum Valley its base and established the Danum Valley Field Centre that became the most renowned, influential and productive research station in South East Asia. The Danum Valley Field Centre is also one of the top three centres of its kind in the world, attracting thousands of Malaysian and international school and university students annually.

SEARRP's scientists doing various studies related to rainforests and wildlife conservation and preservation

For over 30 years, the organisation-linked scientists, supported by research grants of over US$50 million (RM219.45 million), have been engaged in a coordinated programme of ecological science. Research through the organisation has contributed to the formulation of land use, conservation and forest or plantation management policy in Malaysia by demonstrating the value of logged forest in supporting biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Its Sabah Biodiversity Experiment is jointly conducted with the NERC Centre for Population Biology, University of Zurich and the Malaysian forestry company Innoprise Corporation. This large-scale forest biodiversity experiment on Sabah’s rainforests is to provide a platform for testing various questions related to the effects of tree diversity, ecosystem processes, successful forest reestablishment, bio geochemical ecosystem processes and ecological processes.

Sustainable palm oil production is also a major strategic focus of the organisation research, whereby the science in this field is delivered through the Stability of Altered Forest Ecosystems (SAFE) Project, one of the world’s largest ecological experiments. The recently-initiated Socially and Environmentally Sustainable Palm Oil Research (SEnSOR) project is a multi-disciplinary programme that aims to test if the certification of plantations under the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is delivering sustainability.

SEnSOR Project booth at a Round Table RSPO conference in Bangkok 2019

In 2017, the organisation and Wild Asia signed a five-year MOU on a new partnership that aims to draw on the strengths of both parties in order to encourage scientific research, with a focus on issues relating to small-holder production of palm oil and the livelihoods of rural and forest-dependent communities in Sabah.

The collaboration will be based primarily at Wild Asia’s sites in Sabah and involves the communities in which they have built long-standing relationships including Beluran and the Kinabatangan River.

SEARRP contributes regularly at local, regional and international conferences and other meetings where policy issues are discussed and formulated. One of these is the formulation of Reduced Impact Logging (RIL) guidelines for South East Asian lowland rainforests, calculation of sustainable timber yields and appropriate cutting cycles. The use of RIL techniques are now a compulsory requirement in all of Sabah’s commercial forest reserves totalling 2.5 million hectares.

To date, SEARRP researchers have published 600 articles in leading international journals which have been cited almost 40,000 times in the scientific literature. It has supported numerous research projects which have led to the successful completion of over 170 PhD and MSc projects including 54 Malaysians. Currently, it has about RM80 million in active research grants. It is jointly led by Malaysian and UK co-directors and employs over 60 mostly Sabahan field staff, many of whom have been with SEARRP for 20 years or more.

University field course from ETH Zurich, facilitated by SEARRP

SEARRP also has a RM60 million, 10-year Leverhulme Trust award from the University of Sheffield to establish the Leverhulme Centre for Climate Change Mitigation to develop and assess the underlying science for safely removing large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere.

The Organisation’s Academic Council consists of a group of 20 of the world’s leading universities to oversee the organisation and provide strategic direction to ensure the development of policy and best practice. The council, supported by high net worth individuals, was launched at an event of royal society, attended by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and global environmental icon Sir David Attenborough.
Message to Young Malaysians

“Spend time in, enjoy, better understand and take pride in your wonderful forests. It’s so important that Malaysia’s rainforests are protected and, where necessary, restored. This can only be achieved through the efforts and dedication of the next generation of Malaysian scientists and conservation professionals.” - Datuk Dr Glen Reynolds
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