Peat is a carbon store and vital to tackling climate change. Indonesia has the world’s second largest area of tropical peatland and its peat swamps capture between 0.5t and 1.5t of carbon per hectare each year. Expansion of oil palm and acacia plantations, as well as intensive logging, have degraded and drained much of this land. Dry and eroding peat releases large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and can easily catch fire – adding to global warming. Loss of peat leads to land subsidence, and also increases the risk of flooding.
After devastating forest and peatland fires in 2015 swept through more than 2Mha – causing up to 100,000 premature deaths and a further 500,000 people requiring hospital treatment – the Government of Indonesia created the National Peatland Restoration Agency to restore affected areas. One is Merang in South Sumatra, where drainage, illegal logging and fires have significantly reduced the peat swamp. We’re supporting local private sector partners Forest Carbon and Global Alam Lestari to restore almost 23,000ha of degraded peatland at Merang, which is a habitat for critically endangered species, including the Sumatran tiger and is where both organisations hold an ecosystem restoration concession.
To develop our reforestation and regeneration plan, we conducted a field inventory of the ecological condition of the area to determine the degree of degradation, presence of existing native seed banks, and to identify areas of high conservation value. The plan covered implementation plan, budget, management responsibilities, and a monitoring system. We analysed the regenerative potential of our proposals to assess the the biomass and carbon accumulation benefits over time. To support reforestation, our team developed a manual to help establish native tree nurseries.
The reforestation and regeneration plan was combined with canal blocking to restore the water table and rewet the peat surface to control fires and support natural revival. We supervised canal blocking work and developed standard operating procedures to rewet the area and kickstart the regeneration process. Our designs for compacted peat dams enabled us to reduce the number of canal blocks from 386 in the original plan to 199. This reduced both time and peat dam construction costs, while providing the wet conditions needed for peat to begin accumulating again.
The project is making good progress and is reducing emissions caused by peat decomposition and fires, and wildlife is returning to this once highly biodiverse area. Natural regeneration of peatland vegetation is taking place as ground water levels in peatland are restored. Sumatran tigers have been seen in Merang and the project is creating the conditions for the recovery of endangered sun bears and rhinoceros hornbills. It forms a part of a corridor that links with nearby Sembilang National Park. Almost 90 people from surrounding villages have been employed to construct dams, plant trees, patrol and monitor the forest and manage the plant nurseries. By rewetting and stabilising the land, flood risk has been reduced, as has the possibility of fires during the dry season. The risk of chronic air pollution and risks to human health, as experienced during the fire of 2015 (and again in 2019), has also been reduced.
The project has achieved both Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) and the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Standard (CCB) status.