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Research has helped underpin the formation of a nature reserve in Vietnam

Research has helped underpin the formation of a nature reserve in vietnam
An endangered red-shanked douc langur (Pygathrix nemaeus) photographed in Khe Nuoc Trong. Credit: Nature

Research by the University of Leeds and Utrecht University has helped secure the highest government protection for internationally-important Vietnamese forests. Over the past five years, conservation organization Viet Nature, and its partners World Land Trust, IUCN National Committee of the Netherlands (IUCN NL), Birdlife International and researchers from the University of Leeds and Utrecht University have been working to protect the Khe Nuoc Trong forests—the last substantial area of lowland forest in Vietnam.

In August, the Vietnamese government agreed to formally protect Khe Nuoc Trong’s 22,132-hectare tract of Annamite lowland evergreen forests as a Nature Reserve, the country’s highest standard of protection.

The move delivers a safer home for 40 globally threatened species brought to brink of extinction by loggers and poachers. This includes singing gibbons, the spectacular peacock-like crested argus birds and the critically endangered saola antelope. Discovered only in 1992, the saola is one of the world’s rarest mammals, earning it the nickname of the “Asian unicorn.”

Viet Nature President Pham Tuan Anh, a cofounder, said, “The watershed protection status already protected the trees from logging but didn’t have any mandates for wildlife conservation. The new status puts biodiversity protection as a key objective—the level that its outstanding biodiversity deserves. It is an inspiring achievement after more than a decade of hard work. We will now be able to access higher level of funds for conservation from local as well as national governments.”

Importance of forests

Research at Leeds and Utrecht has helped underpin this decision and highlight the importance of the Khe Nuoc Trong forests in the fight against climate change.

Suzanne Stas, a Ph.D. researcher from the University of Leeds and a guest researcher at Utrecht University, has worked closely with Viet Nature to understand the impacts of logging on the forest. Her work in collaboration with World Land Trust demonstrated that logged forests only store half as much carbon as unlogged forests. She found that if the forests could be protected and restored, they would remove and store 50,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year.

Stas says, “It was incredibly exciting to hear that Vietnam’s government is protecting these special forests. Over the past five years we have been working closely with Viet Nature and their partners to demonstrate the importance of these forests.

“Our research has shown that protecting and restoring these forests will remove 50,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year, making a vital contribution to Vietnam’s efforts to reduce climate change.”

Solid base

Professor Dominick Spracklen, also from the University of Leeds, was a co-author on the paper and co-authored a second paper that helped underpin the formation of the reserve. He said: “This has been a true collaborative effort, demonstrating what can be achieved when academics work together with conservation organizations to protect the world’s forests.”

Dr. Marijke van Kuijk, researcher at Utrecht University and also involved in this research, confirms this: “This project is a