Bournemouth University

School of Conservation Sciences

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Placement students report back from their overseas studies

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Alex Whiscombe and Tomas Peel Alex Whiscombe and Tomas Peel

In August 2008 Tomas Peel and Alex Whiscombe joined the OuTrop Volunteer Programme in Central Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo to spend seven weeks working in the tough tropical peat swamp forest of Sabangau National Park collecting data for their final year dissertations.

Although the main reason volunteers are drawn to work at the ‘Natural Laboratory’ is the chance to see wild orangutans (and with the largest orangutan population remaining in Borneo, 12% of the total world population, this is no surprise) volunteers soon learn of the extent and variety of research being carried out there which is crucial to the conservation of not just the orangutan but to the entire ecosystem.

OuTrop (the Orangutan Tropical Peatland Research Project) works to protect one of the most important areas of tropical rainforest in Borneo. Peat swamp forest is a little-known habitat yet it is remarkably diverse with four distinct habitat sub-types which support a huge diversity of life. Base camp stands on the site of an old logging concession camp that practiced selective logging for thirty years until 1996. Illegal logging in the area caused further destruction threatening the integrity of the ecosystem, in particular due to the construction of canals to remove timber which drains the peat leaving it susceptible to huge fires. Since the logging ceased, OuTrop’s continuing research on the ecology, biodiversity and sustainability of peat swamp forest is highlighting the conservation potential of this ecosystem.

The volunteer programme began in 2001 encouraging students to gain field work experience and offering the opportunity for a select number of students, like Tomas and Alex, to undertake research for their undergraduate honours projects.

Read more about the experience on our Placements page.