By: Supriya Sivabalan
The downfall of a beloved nursery
Deemed a “tree guru” who many planters consult for advice regarding their own planting ventures, James Kingham is a treasured man in the green community. Now a former planter, James was known for his rare tree nursery consisting of 3 million seedlings of rare and endangered trees.
On the night of Feb 22 2020, a Facebook post concerning Kingham’s forest of 2 MILLION rainforest trees (many which only exist here!) went viral. Alas! We wish it was gaining traction for good reasons. Sadly, the post, written by journalist and documentary filmmaker Jules Rahman Ong, shed light on the heinous crime of destroying these precious treasures. "Say we have a large collection of precious manuscripts in a library — a national treasure! Now they are burning the library,"Jules wrote in anguish about the situation.
In light of this, the Tropical Rainforest Conservation and Research Centre (TRCRC) took charge, true to it’s two-fold mission to preserve tropical rainforest plant species and lead landscape-wide protection and reforestation projects throughout the country.
How did James build such a marvellous green empire?
This now 84-year-old man spent a large chunk of his life dedicated to collecting these rare and endangered rainforest trees. “He collected them often in difficult circumstances with the help of Orang Asli and park rangers over the last 20 years.” These trees are extremely valued and the work that he does is absolutely cherished as he has worked with many big names relating to the green community.
Caring for the trees in polybags
He proceeded to grow these laboriously-retrieved trees in polybags - clearly showering them with lots of love, care and patience and then supplied them to Rimba Ilmu Botanical Gardens in Universiti Malaya (UM), UM itself (around the campus), Taman Tugu Nursery and United Plantations! Planting 2, 000, 000 (with all the zeroes typed out, it really shows you how large the number 2 million is!), James’s rainforest tree nursery is possibly the largest in Malaysia.
James’s hard work - illustrated
“...most of his collection ended up in Singapore that really treasures them”. Imagine, even going international! "Even Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) and Forestry Department of Peninsular Malaysia (Jabatan Perhutanan) go to him for his diverse exotic collection of seedings and tree saplings. These priceless trees are literally one of a kind given their endemic (only existing here!) nature - healthily and happily prospering in James’s Rainforest Nursery (Penawar Hutan) in Tanjung Malim.
So, what’s going on?
The trees were peaceful. Until the bulldozers came. Yup, you read that correctly. Right now, as you read these very words, the Perak Corporation has taken over James’s green marvel of a forest and is bulldozing every tree in their path. All for the sake of what? More monotonous looking buildings that contribute to the many types of pollution we already have to deal with? What could possibly justify obliterating a huge number of species of living creatures?
UPDATE: The secretary of Perak’s Menteri Besar actually went to the rainforest nursery and temporarily halted the bulldozing process yesterday (24 Feb)!
James’s lease on the land was not renewed and has been sold to new owners. “No doubt James can't fight for the land rights, but the forest trees do not belong to the new owner or developer. It is a national heritage that belongs to Malaysians and to humanity!”, Jules pointed out. Due to legal reasons, James’s hands are tied. It should not just be him who fights, though! Everyone should unite against this misconduct of nature.
So, what's being done now?
TRCRC Team hard at work!
Jules visited James to receive his opinion regarding the situation. No doubt, James must be disheartened having to watch his precious babies (his rainforest nursery) be torn apart - and not having the power to do anything about it. Jules mentioned that James even “showed [them] 20 species of mangosteens and other forest fruits that [they] have never heard off. Many with medicinal values and have not been researched thoroughly.”
The commendable heroes of TRCRC
"I also met Ally, the manager of Tropical Rainforest Tree Research Centre (TRTRC), who with her staff of 20 young youths whom she trained, are fighting against time to rescue the trees, often in a standoff with the tractors," Jules wrote in his Facebook post.
"They have been working every day and have managed to save only 2000 trees from 30 species. Ally is really tough but she is crying as she spoke to us. She is fighting against time to save the remaining endangered forest tree species in the collection."
Working tirelessly to quickly save and transport as many trees as they can in a safe manner
The TRCRC Team has been working non-stop to move the trees. As of now, the team is moving the trees to the sites that TRCRC has identified.
Transporting the trees that have been saved
Not easy to save even one tree, what more 2 million?
What can you do?
Since the Facebook post 3 days ago, netizens have contributed a vital role in spreading awareness regarding the issue by liking and sharing the news.
Just performing these 2 simple steps could save a nursery containing 1200 rare species from being killed:
Given that Biji Biji bags are all named after plants, we could not bear sitting back and watching this unfold before us. Here to make a change, Biji Biji pledges their support against this cruel act and is standing by James and TRCRC to save this precious land of national treasures.
All image credits go to TRCRC
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