Tuesday, June 25

Exploring Bukit Lima Forest Park

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WHAT is so special about Bukit Lima Forest Park in Sibu? Well, it’s a cool place to jog, mornings or evenings.

REACH FOR THE SKIES: Alan trees thrive in the forest park.

REACH FOR THE SKIES: Alan trees thrive in the forest park.

Two plank walk trails totalling 6km run mostly through a shady forest, with some open more exposed areas.

For those who like to observe, it is a place to experience nature’s wonders, be it the birdlife (bright red scarlet-rumped trogons in the undergrowth just a stone’s throw away), the jungle fruits that one can spot on the plank walk or the huge variety of trees – trunks of all shapes, sizes, colours and textures and foliage fi lling most available spaces.

But there is something else special about Bukit Lima Forest Park.

Maybe most of us who enjoy a walk or jog along the plank walks do not realise that this patch of forest, albeit disturbed, is a recognisable remnant of the vast peat swamp forest that once covered the coastal fl at plain stretching about 500km from the mouth of Batang Lupar to Kidurong Point and covering approximately 12 per cent of the state’s total landmass.

The forest at Bukit Lima Forest Park likely represents two different peat swamp forest communities known as mixed swamp forest and alan forest.

The ramin telur (or lunak), meranti paya, meranti buaya, meranti lop and meranti lilin that we found on a recent two-day identifi cation exercise of the trees along the plank walk at Bukit Lima are typical species of the mixed swamp forest, which occurs at the perimeters of swamps.

However, at one point along the plank walk we also saw a number of stumps of alan trees.

Alan is a dipterocarp species that gives its name to a particular peat swamp forest community where it occurs abundantly and gregariously (many specimens growing closely together).

Alan is easily recognised by its large size, high buttresses still visible on stumps left after logging many years ago, and hollow boles.

A number of semayur trees, elegant with slender stem and drooping branches, were spotted in the transitional zone between the mixed swamp and alan forests.

SIGN OF THE PAST: A stump of an alan tree (Shorea albida).

SIGN OF THE PAST: A stump of an alan tree (Shorea albida).

 

Altogether, during our investigations in the forest park we ‘logged’ more than 50 species of forest trees, most of them typical of peat swamp.

Although the area has been logged, as the hollow stumps of the alan trees remind us, and some areas have probably been burnt, leaving large areas of scrub and fern, we did see saplings of some forest species, indicating some regeneration is occurring.

So next time – especially you fortunate Sibu folk – you fancy a walk, go check out Bukit Lima Forest Park.

Hopefully, you will be able to spot specimens of trees that helped to make Sarawak great, including the timber species ramin and alan, which were of great economic importance to Sarawak from the 1950s till the 1990s.

You would be hard put to fi nd another patch of peat swamp forest so accessible to city folk.

Although Sarawak has the largest area of peatland in Malaysia, an estimate in 2000 indicated that only 1.

47 per cent of Sarawak’s original peat swamp area is still “relatively untouched” (‘Status of peat swamp forest in Sarawak’ by Josephine Wong 2005).

So this remnant of logged-over and disturbed peat swamp forest can help us appreciate what the once extensive Sarawak peat swamp forest was like.

That is why Bukit SIGN OF THE PAST: A stump of Lima Forest Park is so special.

 How coastal peat may have developed: To better understand how the specialised forest type we term peat swamp forest developed, we look to the work of James Aidan Robb Anderson, who arrived in Sarawak in 1951 and became assistant conservator of forests in Sibu – peat heartland, so to speak.

Anderson’s work on peat swamp forest ecology remains the only thorough ecological study of such forest for the area.

He describes the development of peat swamps in Sarawak thus: “There is some evidence to show that this coastal plain has developed since the stabilisation of the sea level, about 5,500 years ago, following the last Glacial Period.

Alluvium carried down by the rivers draining the interior has been deposited at the mouths of rivers in bays along the coast and as the coastline has progressed seawards so peat has developed and accumulated under the dense forest on the plain behind.

” It is thought that peat began to develop at the inland margin of mangrove forests.

Poor drainage resulted in swampy land, where plant debris accumulated and became peat, rather than being decomposed.

The high sulphide of the underlying clay, originating from sulphate in the seawater, together with the high salt content, was toxic to the microorganisms that would otherwise decompose such material.

 The Malaysian Nature Society

Established in the 1940, the Malaysian Nature Society is the oldest scientifi c and nongovernmental organisation in Malaysia. Our mission is ‘to promote the study, appreciation, conservation and protection of Malaysia’s nature heritage’. Our 5,000-strong membership, spread across 12 branches nationwide, come from all walks of life, bound by a common interest in nature. For further information on membership or our activities in Kuching, call Kwan on 019-8349499. For information on our activities in Miri, call Nazeri Abghani on 085-453185. You can also visit www.mns.org.my or http://[email protected]