‘Restoring’ the Forests of Cameron Highlands

3rd September 2017-Even after 16 years of environmental conservation work in Cameron Highlands and repeated disappointments , we still find it difficult to stand idly by as we watch our forests tumble. And so we soldier on ..and as we do so, occasionally we are rewarded with “rays of sunshine” that comes in many forms.

24th of May 2017 was such a day when the “rays of sunshine” shone. On that day our environmental organisation REACH was awarded a grant to restore a small part of reclaimed forest in the Batu Gangan forest reserves under the Greening of Cameron Highlands programme.

The Greening of Cameron Highlands project is basically a project formed by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment NRE (which also includes involvement of NGOs) to undertake rehabilitation and  restoration of encroached forests reclaimed by the Government  following the crackdown on illegal land clearings and foreign workers which started in 2014.


Above picture-4th from the right-Datuk Dr Haji Wan Junaidi bin Tuanku Jaafar, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment

3rd from right -Miss Melody Woon, our representative and regular volunteer

We had been briefed about this grant at the Forestry headquarters of Peninsular Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, a fortnight earlier. Two days after receiving the award, we visited the site with local forestry officials.The site was located at the far reaches of our largest water catchment area, the Sungai Terla water catchment area.


As we passed through farms, initially along tarred roads and later along ‘bone rattling’ earth roads, it was hard to fathom that the queer coloured river passing through all these farms was the source of water for Cameron Highlands. We finally reached the last of the farms and I watched transfixed at how my fellow teammates crossed a debris laden stream in their 4-wheel drive vehicles. That required off road ‘Kung Fu’!


From here, things improved and was so much more pleasant. Walking up a slippery mossed covered road, with the forest creeping in from the sides, the sound of a waterfall close-by and butterflies a fluttering. I could not help but wonder, why we need to restore this. Nature was doing a fine job.

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But I spoke too soon. Further up, the road open into another valley where disturbed highland forests stretched a few hectares. It was now covered with shrubs and bushes.

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There were remains of a dismantled farm and we found some empty army ration packages too. (In 2014, the army was called in to render assistance in the reclamation of the encroached forests) It was this secondary forest, that we were tasked to restore. Oh, what a beautiful forest it must have been where a mountain stream still flows.


The topsoil was fertile and earthworms aplenty. The bushes were predominantly of the Buddleia species. (also known as butterfly bushes) averaging 8 feet in height. Since jungle trees usually begin life under the forest canopy, we decided to trim the shrubs but leave the Buddleia bushes alone to provide shade for the saplings that we would be planting soon.

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On the 12th of June 2017, two weeks after being shown the area to be restored, we started work. We were fortunate that propagation of forests saplings which began a year ago produced some results.

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Above: Ara and Merpauh saplings

We were also fortunate to have volunteers, both locally and from abroad. Many thanks to them.


Above: Our volunteers from France..from right to left Aurelien Boulet, Tom Brugiere and Pablo Rabouin

Our local volunteers include Dr Liau,Encik Khairil, Siva, Kumar, Roy, Nitiya, Rose, Danial,Geogina,Gopindran,Rajeswaran,Amizal and Kahfi

Our initially tasks consisted mainly of cleaning the area, cutting the undergrowth and preparing a toilet and shelter. This work were spread out over a few weeks. Once the undergrowth were cleared, trees were planted. Except for the bone rattling 4wd ride, each visit was rewarding and interesting.

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We also took time out to explore the surrounding areas and the little area that we saw did not disappoint. I continue to believe that our undisturbed highland forests is exceptional and second to none. They deserve to be protected and restored. It won’t be easy and as the saying goes “A journey of a thousand miles begins ..but with a small step”