Rob Ewers reports on what happened when the Stability of Altered Forest Ecosystems (SAFE) project in Borneo received a visit from the Royals
Dr Rob Ewers (Life Sciences) is the lead scientist of the Stability of Altered Forest Ecosystems (SAFE) project – one of the world’s largest ecological experiments – based in Sabah, Malaysia. The study is designed to understand how forest ecosystems are affected by human pressure, and examines what happens when a forest is logged and then fragmented. Rob reports on what happened when the project received a visit from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge this summer.
“I was visiting Malaysia to check on the progress of the project in July and heard that we were going to receive a visit from the royal couple. They were visiting the Danum Valley conservation area, which is located nearby and operated by the Royal Society Southeast Asia Rainforest Research Programme, an important partner for the SAFE project.
The Duke and Duchess flew to Danum by helicopter, taking a tour over the SAFE project site. Then they visited Danum Valley, where we met in a room in which shoes aren’t allowed, which I wasn’t expecting – I was wearing odd socks but I don’t think they noticed!
I was leading one of the research groups they spoke to, along with my wife Dr Cristina Banks-Leite (a newly appointed lecturer at Imperial), and we discussed aspects of SAFE, for example, how we were investigating the responses of more than 3,000 species to human pressures, as well as tracking changes in carbon emissions, water quality and disease vectors, like mosquitoes.
Kate and William were highly intelligent and very personable. William said he appreciated the pragmatic approach we take and that it’s important to avoid extreme positions. SAFE’s project philosophy is to accept that industry has pressures and cannot simply ignore them to improve conservation. We work in collaboration with industry to improve the impacts of agriculture on forest ecosystems, as opposed to locking horns with them in battles over conservation issues. Kate was interested in how the project linked with other studies around the world. I’d like to think they were impressed with what we were doing.”
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