Project status
Forests, tropical peatlands
Project collaborators

Loss of peat swamp forests

Across the world, natural habitats have been damaged by human activities which has a critical impact on biodiversity.  

In Indonesia, the hyper-diversity of the country’s forests is under threat. The loss of peat swamp forests is hugely damaging as they hold large stores of carbon and support unique flora and fauna not found elsewhere in the world. They’ve been drained and degraded to make way for agriculture and oil palm plantations.  

Although oil palm plantations damage ecosystems, they also provide important sources of income for local people. So, it’s critical to understand how the rehabilitation of tropical peatland will affect the livelihoods of local communities.  

That's why, in Jambi province, Sumatra, we’ve worked to understand both the impacts of draining peatlands on biodiversity and local people’s livelihoods. And we’ve analysed the impacts of tropical peatland restoration on biodiversity, emissions and the local community. 

Why we’ve worked to restore tropical peatland  

The restoration of tropical peatlands is important for mitigating climate change and addressing the current biodiversity crisis.  

In Indonesia, restoration of degraded peat forest and re-wetting of drained areas may remove agricultural areas from production thereby reducing small holder farmer incomes and food security. 

Restoration may have detrimental impacts on the local communities dependent on these areas, but with potential benefits from other factors (eg cleaner water and better air quality).  

Decisions about sites to restore need to be compatible with systems of local governance, land rights and devolved administrations, and require the identification of alternative livelihood options for communities in restored habitats.  

Man with branch putting out grassland fire
Peat swamp forest in Kalimantan

What impact has our work had on tropical peatland restoration? 

Accurately monitoring land cover in the humid tropics is critical to ensure effective conservation and restoration action, and to inform ongoing policies and strategies.  

Our work showed how preserving the temporal information provided by satellite image time series can significantly improve land cover classifications in tropical biodiversity hotspots, improving our capacity to monitor ecosystems of high conservation relevance such as peatlands. The method we proposed is reproducible, automated, and based on open-source tools satellite imagery. 

Interviews to explore restoration of tropical peatland 

We interviewed a range of policymakers, academics, and non-governmental organisation (NGO) representatives to explore the range of perspectives on the restoration of Indonesia’s tropical peatlands. They agreed that the importance of restoration but had differing opinions on how effective restoration activities have been and what a restored peatland landscape should look like. It also highlighted areas of consensus for moving forward with peatland restoration strategies.  

Our work on smallholder farms 

We examined oil palm fruit yields and bird diversity on 41 smallholder farms in Jambi which varied in drainage intensity and showed that bird species richness, species composition and oil palm yields varied among farms, but were not detectably affected by water table depth, although ground-level vegetation was more complex on wetter farms.  

Our results suggest that current restoration initiatives to re-wet peat may benefit farmers by reducing fire risk, without affecting yields.  

Protection of remaining peatland forests from fire and clearance is key for biodiversity conservation, and for providing a source of seed dispersers and genetic material for future forest and landscape restoration efforts.  

Restoration of more biodiversity-friendly land covers will improve landscape permeability and help conserve species and the ecosystem services they deliver. 

Find out more about our work in Asia 

People involved 

Nathalie Pettorelli 

Institute of Zoology 



Indonesian Center for Agricultural Land Resources Research and Development 

Jambi University 

University of York 

University of Liverpool 

University of Leeds 


Useful links 

Sumatra's Peatland Restoration project 


Urgent action to stop the devastation of critical species and habitats by helping people and wildlife live better together, is the only way to save the natural world we love and depend upon. That’s where ZSL comes in, and where you can play your part.