Ayer Hitam Forest Reserve

Ayer Hitam Forest Reserve, Johor, Malaysia

We left our worries behind for the good kampung life, well at least for three wonderful days. People’s Expedition to Experience Peat (PEEP) at the Ayer Hitam Forest Reserve (RMFR) in Johor, Malaysia allowed us to deepen our understanding of the ecological and economic aspects of peatland restoration in a local context. We build bonds with our neighbours in Ayer Hitam and understood how our visit empowered the community to protect the peat swamp forest that surrounded their entire way of life.

The Air Hitam Forest Reserve is the last standing peat swamp forest in Southern Peninsula Malaysia. 2 hours away from Singapore, the reserve is surrounded by community plantations of rubber and pineapples. We work closely with Yayasan Kemanusiaan Muslim Aid Malaysia, Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) and the County government of Air Hitam to enable their peatland restoration work. Preventing haze goes beyond Singapore borders and we have supported community livelihoods through organising field trips with participants from various volunteers and organisations in Singapore.

Location

Programme

  • Visit to peatland restoration sites
  • Planting of native peat swamp tree species
  • Trekking in peat swamp forest
  • Visit to local kampung industries and discussions with local community
  • Learning about the culture and practices of communities that live on peatlands

Registration & Fundraising

Registration is open all year round email Benjamin Tay, our programme director at benjamin@pmhaze.org to register your interest

We can arrange for bespoke trips for groups with a minimum size of 15 persons.

Community Partner

Muslim Aid Malaysia Humanitarian Foundation (Muslim Aid) is an aid and development organisation under the ambit of Muslim Aid Asia (MAA), which in turn is part of the Muslim Aid International (MAI) network of non-governmental organisations. The foundation was set up in 2008 and runs both sustainable development and welfare programmes in Malaysia.

The story of Ayer Hitam Forest Reserve

The rehabilitation of Ayer Hitam Forest Reserve is a collaborative peatland restoration programme among Muslim Aid Malaysia Humanitarian Foundation (Muslim Aid), Ayer Hitam County Government and Forest Research Institute of Malaysia to to rehabilitate degraded peatlands within the Ayer Hitam peat swamp forest. The programme is in partnership with the community where livelihoods are also an area of focus.

The programme includes a range of actions includingreplanting of native peat swamp tree species, restoration of natural water table, and encouragement of natural regeneration. The programme involves the engagement of local communities and volunteers in carrying out the seedling procurement, enrichment planting, post planting treatment and monitoring of threats.

Past expeditions

March 2019

Participants voices

Testimonials-Chevon
Chevon

What a kampong life experience!

Testimonials-YuShan
Yu Shan

A once in a lifetime experience!

Testimonials-CherKian
Cher Kian

There is a lot that we can lose
if we do not protect the peatlands.

Testimonials-Lucie
Lucie

A crazy Kampong immersion
and a rich human experience
which directly benefits
to the local community

Testimonials-LJ
LJ

I was glad to join the People’s Expedition to Experience Peat (PEEP) because I was sick of whining about the haze and wished to take active steps to learn about why haze happens, and therefore be empowered to make it stop!

Testimonials-Shawn
Shawn

Understand the ground level conditions
and be able to see the rise in water level
on the spot after fun sweating work!!

Highlight #1 Canal Blocking

The RMFR is a peat swamp forest surrounded by agriculture land mainly consisting of rice paddy and oil palm plantations.

PM.Haze’s local partner, Global Environment Center (GEC), has been supporting the Government of Selangor and the Selangor State Forestry Department to manage the reserve since 1998. One of the key challenge is the decrease of water level in the peat swamp caused by drainage of water by the oil palm plantations outside the reserve. During dry season, the dried peat catches fire easily. To reduce the impact of the drainage, canals blocks are built to dam up the stream and maintain a desirable water level within the forest reserve, meanwhile supplying the excess water to the surrounding plantations. These canal blocks will keep the peat swamp wet and are the most cost-effective measures to prevent fire.

The canal-blocking project was crowd-funded and we would like to express our deepest appreciation for those who donated to the project. We raised S$1750 in two days, which went entirely to pay for the cost of canal-blocking and planting 30 native Tenggek Burung trees.

We filled up about 100 sand bags to fill the 1.5 meters deep canal under the scotching sun.

About 100 unites of mangrove poles were used to build the “casing”. We immersed ourselves in the cooling peat water to tie up the poles with wires.

A blue canopy was used to wrap and hold the sand bags. We had to resist great force from the fast flowing water stream while arranging the sandbags.

Six experienced locals can build two such dams in one afternoon, while 20 of us struggled with one for 3 hours.

Well, there is a learning curve!

We were really happy after 3 hours of hard labouring. Look how strong the canal block is! It held the weight of all 20 of us.

Ta-da our canal block (3°30’23.43″N, 101°26’41.09″E)!

Note how the dam helps to raise the water level in the canal and thereby keeping the surrounding peat moist.

Highlight #2 Peat Swamp Tour

It was definitely the first time for most of us to wade through a peat forest.

According to Raj from GEC, Raja Musa Forest Reserve (RMFR) is part of a huge peatland area larger than Singapore. Peat swamp forests, also known as peatland forests, are unique wetland ecosystems where partially decomposed organic matter accumulates over thousands of years under waterlogged conditions to form carbon-rich soil, or peat. Besides serving as a source of water supply, peat swamp forests also serves as habitat for numerous flora and fauna including many threatened and endangered species.

The guided tour through the forest was about 2 hours.

Some parts of peat were chest-deep and difficult to walk in, with tangled roots under the black water. When we walked in the swamp, the bottom felt very soft and spongy.

We enjoyed ourselves having intimate contact with nature.

Peat can store large amount of water because its structure is not very firm and has a high pore volume. Even in the dry season, water level in the peat swamp forest is quite high.

The distinct black colour of the peat water is due to tannin from decomposing organic matter. The organic matter under the water decomposes very slowly as bacteria struggle to survive in this very acidic and oxygen depleted environment. Because the decomposition is slow, organic matter accumulates and peat grows over time. This makes peatland excellent carbon storage.

In about 100,000 years, peat will turn into coal!

The peat landscape is in stark contrast with the oil palm plantations nearby. Oil palm plantations on peat are created by draining the peatland. Notice the drastic transformation of the landscape. According to Raj from GEC, the exposed root is a sign of peat subsidence, a result of the release of huge amount of CO2 into the atmosphere. Peatland is therefore not suitable for large scale agriculture and no new peatland should be converted to grow oil palm or timber.

Highlight #3 Homestay

RMFR and the adjacent areas have a long history of fire occurrences. Besides the community-based rehabilitation program where villagers are involved in fire prevention measures, additional incentives for community to protect the forest is created through the local agro-tourism. The Sungai Sireh agro-tourism homestay program started in 1989. Villagers generate additional income by hosting tourists all over the world. The program makes protecting peat forest easy: locals are incentivised to protect the peat forest for tourists.

PEEP-10We tried our hands on planting rice. The mud was nice and warm and we enjoyed excellent view of the never ending rice paddy.

We also saw how the rice fields use a mix of river and peat water for irrigation.

PEEP-11Pak Rashid and Mak Young hosted the girls. Pak Rashid used to work in Singapore for a few years and really likes to take photos with his guests. So we took a lot of photos!