The past one year we’ve seen many cases of clearing activity for development in hillsides around the island, and it mostly involves cases of land which were formerly privately owned orchards and farms which are converted into residential property. But how are our forest reserves in Penang doing?
Going up the hills of Paya Terubong, I was able to see the fate of two forest reserves, namely Bukit Relau Permanent Forest Reserve (not the same hill as Bukit Relau @ Bukit Botak) and Penara Bukit Permanent Forest Reserve, which are battling another form of threat, small scale farming encroachment.
Both these forest reserves are located in the upper reaches of Paya Terubong’s Bukit Penara hill and are shown in the below map.
Map 1. The demarcations in the map are not an accurate measurement of forest reserve size but are drawn based on the area of remaining forest which constitutes the forest reserves. There is a possibility that the forest reserves were bigger than shown,as many parts of these two reserves have been cleared for farming.
As can be seen from the map, a jigsaw puzzle of farms seem to eat up the spaces between both reserves, effectively cutting them off from each other. And they are expanding. We will be looking at 3 zones, namely Zone 1, Zone 2 and Zone 3 within this area to see how this is happening.
The satellite image below shows Zone 1 (from Map 1), which is at the fringes of Bukit Relau Forest Reserve
Over 6 years, a huge swath of secondary forest at the fringes of Bukit Relau Forest Reserve have been cleared for agriculture.
While its unclear if they have intruded into Forest Reserve land or are still outside the borders, having a farm at the borders of a forest reserve increases the chance of human-wildlife conflicts and of course poaching. Here’s how Zone 1 looks right now;
In Zone 2 as well, expanding farms pose a threat as well, in this case, a long beans farm, manned by foreign workers, which seem to eat up a huge slope near Zone 1
Long beans Farm in Zone 2, eats up right to the tree line. Status of this farming land is unclear.
Walking into the Bukit Relau Forest Reserve from Zone 2, one can clearly see evidence of wood collecting from the forest. Part of the trail is totally covered by a pile of cut wood as shown below;
Its quite evident that Bukit Relau Forest Reserve is facing increasing stress from all sides due to increased farming activity.
Now we’ll move on to Zone 3, which forms part of Penara Bukit Forest Reserve. Penara Bukit Forest Reserve covers most of Bukit Penara’s upper slopes and houses a known colony of the rare parasitic plant, Exorhopalia ruficeps.
Penara Bukit too, much like Bukit Relau Forest Reserve, is surrounded on most sides by farms and orchards and thus, it is no surprise that some parts, like Zone 3, have been encroached upon by orchards and farms. Here are some shots from the edges of Penara Bukit Forest Reserve in Zone 3.
Marker pole to denote forest reserve boundary but only orchard trees on either side.
Hints of agricultural activity (Bunga Kantan plants) behind forest reserve marker in Zone 3
Forest Reserve boundary markers left on the ground.
These two forest reserves are just an example of how farming activities are eating up into our forest reserves. These are many other cases, some which are undocumented and thus unknown to the public.
It is about time that forest reserve boundaries are demarcated again and action is taken against those that trespass into our natural heritage illegally. Let’s protect our forests, water catchments and natural areas from destruction.