A Focus On Nature

A Focus On Nature, Issues in conservation

A Focus On Indonesia – Laura Richardson

I was given a reason that sent a chill down my spine and made my heart drop in my chest. It was not cloud – it was smoke.

In September 2015 I went to Borneo to take part in a Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition with other graduates of my degree (Marine & Natural History Photography at Falmouth University). We teamed up with Indonesian students and carried out what was effectively a photographic survey of a community-owned area of rainforest in North Kalimantan.

The trip was everything I hoped it would be and more. Before we even left the UK I was wide-eyed and excited. In-flight entertainment? Brilliant! Breakfast in-seat? Fantastic. For a mere 16 hours of flying we could pretend it was a holiday. A four-hour wait in Dubai airport introduced the first sign that we were going somewhere quite different when we discovered squat toilets and two of us accidentally walked into a prayer room. United with the Indonesian wing of our team, we travelled inland and began to experience the incredible wildlife. Birds flew and called overhead, geckos chirped in our rooms and we watched them catch some of the many beautiful insects that visited the buildings we stayed in.

It took us four planes, a boat, a jeep and a canoe to get from the UK to the basecamp. Our lives quickly became wild ones with bunk beds, roofs and access to electric being three of the only familiar facilities. Food was traditional and delicious, we washed and cleaned in rivers, and we worked hard. Mornings were spent walking in the jungle; afternoons were either the same again or photographing smaller subjects in makeshift studios. Evenings were for editing and at night we walked the rivers in search of amphibians.

The rainforest was staggering, the trees so tall and beautiful. We definitely take for granted how much sky we get to see in the UK. In preparation for the hot temperatures I had packed factor 30 and 50 sunscreen and two sun hats, certain I would at least get a tan by the end of it. Surprisingly, this was not the case, and another surprise: it wasn’t just the trees blocking out the sun. Indonesia was a very cloudy place! At least that’s what I thought as I looked down at it from planes and up from its ground. But my eyes were ignorant and when I commented on this I was given a reason that sent a chill down my spine and made my heart drop in my chest. It was not cloud – it was smoke.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, that isn’t a surprise. World news is currently covering comparatively small disasters: a plane crash, a collapsed building and a fire in a Romanian nightclub are all newsworthy events. Apparently the burning of an entire country is not. It is developers who want to quickly clear land for other uses, such as palm oil plantations, who start these fires. Licences to do this are given by the government, but many are started illegally and since the size of the rainforest is so vast it is extremely difficult to police. Surrounded by primary lowland rainforest and clear crisp river water, it was tough to imagine it all being ripped apart and burnt to the ground. But a quick glance at the sky confirmed everything. Even though we were safe in our location, we could see the haze every time we looked up and this just made it hit home even more for me – the scale of these unseen fires had to be huge.

In fact a recent report by the National Space and Aviation Agency estimated that two million hectares of Indonesian Rainforest have been burnt down since June this year. That’s the same as 10% of the United Kingdom’s total area, or the whole of Wales (speaking of which, check out this website I found while looking up statistics).

We had a job to do in Borneo and I think it’s been done well. The final edits are nearing their completion and soon they will be being used to help a community promote their area for its wildlife, to protect it and themselves from the effects of developers. For now this area is safe and we all wish we could go back but I think it would be a very different experience.

Why isn’t this a priority in our news? Why is nature as a whole overlooked and undervalued in general society? Bland words like money, relevance and target audience come to mind. The issues are clearly there and I praise anyone with compassion for nature to speak up and let it be known that this is something we care about and the whole world needs to know about it.

Why not text in to a radio station? Tweet, Facebook, or email major news organisations?

There are also petitions like the one below and many wildlife charities that need monetary support if you can afford it.


I am personally cutting palm oil from my diet for awareness along with raising money for OuTrop – The Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project.


For more info on the Borneo RAVE check out the Facebook page.

Laura Richardson has recently graduated from the Ba (Hons) Marine and Natural History Photography degree at Falmouth university. Follow her on twitter @LJPRichardson