PART 2: Forest Reserves in Penang under increasing threat of encroachment?

This post will be a continuation of the last post, Forest Reserves in Penang under increasing threat of encroachment? and it will explore the ever increasing threat of encroachment in Bukit Relau Permanent Forest Reserve’s southern end. Bukit Relau Permanent Forest Reserve is a forest reserves in  the central hills of Penang.  When the Tun Sardon Road was built, it  cut through  this forest reserve,effectively slicing it into two separate chunks, the bigger northern tract of the  forest reserve and the smaller southern tract which has been badly fragmented. In today’s post we will be exploring a small part of the northern edge and the southern chunk of the forest reserve.

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A google earth image of the forest reserve, with Jalan Tun Sardon slicing across it. The red pin points show the places where active clearing or tree felling is currently happening.

Most people often stop by Anjung Indah to get fresh air or to buy durians before heading down to Balik Pulau or to Relau. However most don’t realize that one of Penang’s most embattled forest reserves is at either side of this pit stop. If we were to walk up the slope behind the Anjung Indah carpark and the Thai Restaurant, and further into the forest reserve you would probably see that clearing had come up right to the forest reserve edge about 6-7 years ago (adjacent land is privately owned).

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Hillside clearing which happened 6-7 years ago right at the forest reserve boundary. Trees perched precariously above the steep slope.

Further in a small section of the slope within the forest reserve has collapsed. This area was clear cut 6-7 years ago when a path was made through the forest before works came to a halt. Land clearing activities in this side of the slope has been dormant for the last 5 years, however the slope has yet to recover and stabilize fully.

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Part of the slope which caved in, at the periphery of the forest reserve

Moving on to the southern section of Bukit Relau Forest Reserve, one can notice that this area is now a hotbed of clearing activity,both legal and illegal. Improper demarcation of land boundaries has meant that parts of the fragmented southern tract of the Bukit Relau Forest Reserve has been heavily encroached upon.

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A signpost indicating the southern part of the Bukit Relau Forest Reserve.

If you were to cross the Tun Sardon road from Anjung Indah  and walk into the southern half of the forest reserve, you will  walk on a wide cement trail and pass a maze of fragmented forests and farms. Forestry Department signposts have been left idle while the surrounding forests have been cleared out.

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Forest reserve boundary,showing the border between a private piece of land (indicated by the gate) and what was supposed to be a forest reserve. However the forest which was supposed to be on the right side is long gone.

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Evidence of agricultural activity in Forest Reserve land. Rehabilitation or encroachment?

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Even Forest Reserve signs have fallen to the ground.

Going on straight from this area and climbing up the road which goes gently up the  Bukit Pondok Upeh  slope, one would also notice that small pockets of the forests have been cleared to plant ginger. This small farm which would only be about 1-2 years old, was seen further up along the trail. Tree stumps from clearing activity are still very apparent in this patch.

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About two years ago this small patch was a secondary forest, now a new ginger farm has sprung up in this area.

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All that remains of the forest in this patch are the stumps of trees which were felled to make way for the ginger farm. Ginger fetches a good price in the markets below and thus it is no surprise why they are being cultivated with increasing intensity.

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New ginger farms have replaced the forest.

Ever increasing farming is an increasing threat to our shrinking forests. Will we let this forest reserve fade away from memory?

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This picture sums up Bukit Relau Permanent Forest Reserve today. A forest  being squeezed out of existence.