SLU news

New partnership to advance knowledge-driven rainforest restoration in Borneo

Published: 01 September 2023
Field work in a forest; two men holding a tape measure.

How can we restore and manage damaged rainforests in a sustainable way that benefits both people and the environment? This question has been at the forefront for the past 25 years in one of the world's largest research-driven restoration projects in northeastern Borneo, with the goal of restoring the entire ecosystem. Now, a new phase is beginning to increase the use of this knowledge and promote further research.

In northeastern Borneo, 18,500 hectares of rainforest that were previously damaged by fires and intensive logging are currently recovering. The restoration has been carried out in various ways depending on the level of damage, ranging from natural regeneration to the planting of a diverse range of local tree species to mimic the original forest's structure and biodiversity.

”From a research perspective, this project is unique. We can track how the ecosystem recovers over time and compare everything from carbon storage and biodiversity to economic and cultural values. We also compare it with both undisturbed rainforest and other types of land use, such as oil palm and eucalyptus plantations," says Ulrik Ilstedt, a researcher at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) who leads the research.

The project began in 1998, and the restoration was carried out by the local governmental organization Yayasan Sabah with funding from IKEA. Researchers from SLU, together with colleagues from Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS), Australia, and the USA, have scientifically evaluated the measures and their effects.

A living laboratory for rainforest restoration

The restoration is now complete, and the organization is transitioning into a research station – a living laboratory for rainforest restoration. Infrastructure and knowledge are in place, including well-trained staff with expertise in species identification and fieldwork in research. There is also a nursery and several ongoing field experiments.

“Now we want even more people to benefit from this – both locally and globally. We want to open more opportunities for research and for more people to use the knowledge we have gained over these 25 years," says Ulrik Ilstedt.

Following a restored rainforest over such a long period is unique. Most restoration projects are evaluated only after three or four years, if ever. In this project, many of the results have emerged only in recent years, after more than 20 years.

“The planted trees reach their greatest growth and function only after 20 years, but it may take another 20 years before the forest is entirely similar to the original, despite the restoration happening much faster," says Ulrik Ilstedt.


Through funding from IKEA and support from the Malaysian government organization Yayasan Sabah, SLU has been tasked with hosting a secretariat in a network aimed at promoting opportunities for more research in and around the restored area, as well as disseminating knowledge and experiences from both research and practice.

The network was originally initiated by Nordic universities with SLU and the University of Copenhagen at the forefront.

Collaborative partners and sponsors who actively want to participate or support this work are welcome. Increased knowledge-based restoration contributes to mitigating climate change and enhancing biodiversity, while also providing many other important benefits from the forest to society.


Ulrik Ilstedt, Researcher
Department of Forest Ecology and Management, Department of Forest Ecology and Management, joint staff, +46907868390, +46701510075