The RSPB is no stranger to rainforest conservation, having been working with our BirdLife International and government partners to protect and restore rainforests in West Africa and Indonesia for many years. So we have plenty of first-hand experience of the very real problem of deforestation driven by the production of agricultural crops and other commodities, whether for local or international consumption.

We therefore welcome the increasing interest from companies interested in taking steps to address their impacts on deforestation, as shown by the New York Declaration on Forests, the two-day conference this week in London, and various online debates .

The case of Sumatra is a text-book example of deforestation driven by growth in demand for commodities. In the year 1900 there was over 16 million hectares of lowland terra firma rainforest in Sumatra, in 2014 there is less than 500,000 hectares remaining. The rest of that previously forested land has been converted to oil palm or fast-growing trees for pulp and paper. This clearance continues today, with a mixture of legal and illegal deforestation and conversion of forest. This has led to Indonesia being the country with the highest rate of deforestation anywhere in the world.

But we’re trying to reverse that trend. In Sumatra, together with Burung Indonesia and BirdLife, we are managing 100,000hectares of previously-logged forest as the first-ever forest restoration concession in Indonesia; to protect the wildlife and people that depend on the forest, and restore the forest and the environmental services (such as water or carbon) that we benefit from. We called this initiative “Harapan Rainforest” from the Indonesian word meaning “hope”.

This is challenging work, which still faces the ever-present threat of illegal deforestation. It is also expensive. Some particular challenges are:

  • A lot of funding has been pledged for REDD and other work to stop deforestation by both governments and companies. However there is still a huge gap between the pledges and the funds that are flowing to work on the ground that is actually stopping deforestation. This needs to change as forests are still disappearing at an alarming rate, and initiatives such as Harapan and forest restoration that are making a real difference struggle to see funding pledges materialise;
  • Illegal clearance is a challenge everywhere in Indonesia, and more needs to be done to tackle issues such as clarity of land tenure as well as greater scrutiny by companies on their sourcing of commodities such as palm oil;
  • There is still a need for regulatory reform on requirements under licences to clear high value forest land for plant oil palm that lead to unnecessary legal deforestation, overlapping concession licences, and to remove barriers to investment in forest restoration licences;

But despite the challenges, our work has stimulated the idea that forests can be managed for restoration in Indonesia, and thus form an essential part of a wider landscape that can support wildlife and people. Taking such a landscape level view is essential if we are going to stop deforestation leading to forest protected areas essentially ending up as islands in a “sea” of other land-uses.

We therefore welcome initiatives from companies such as Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) that are now taking steps to address deforestation through their activities. We would encourage all companies to follow suit, and to take the larger view and look at how they can support not only initiatives such as Harapan Rainforest, but forest restoration more widely. APP have committed to restoring 1 million hectares, and we look forward to them implementing this commitment. At Harapan Rainforest we are demonstrating that it is possible to restore a rainforest; and if companies, government and NGOs work together there is real hope that we can turn this tide of deforestation.