Negros Rainforest Conservation Project


The Negros Rainforest Conservation Project (NRCP) is a joint programme of co-operative, research, education and training between the Negros Forest and Ecological Foundation Inc. (NFEFI) and Coral Cay Conservation (CCC). The NRCP is based on the North Negros Forest Reserve (NNFR), Negros Occidental, Philippines.

Negros Rainforest Conservation Project – Biodiversity Assessment and Sustainable Development Project


  1. Background of Philippines

    The Philippines comprises of over 7, 000 islands in 7 major biogeographical regions, and has a population of over 69 million people. This in itself exerts a huge pressure on the natural resources of the country, including the rainforests.

    The Philippine archipelago is exceptionally rich in species, seen as a mega-biodiversity hotspot; the Philippines has a higher percentage of endemicity than any other biogeograhic province in the whole of the Indo-Malayan Realm. For example, within the forested areas alone, 13,500 species of plant have been identified, that is 5% of the world’s total flora. 25 genera are endemic to the Philippines and within the Gymnosperms 18% are endemic. A further 5-8% of the country’s flora has not yet been identified. The fauna of the Philippines is equally diverse and rich. 1,084 terrestrial vertebrates have been named, 45% of these are endemic. Of this there are 179 species of mammal, 61% endemic, 558 species of bird, 31% of these are endemic. Out of the 558 species of bird 86 are classified between vulnerable to extinct in the wild. 45 species of these threatened birds are endemic. The levels of endemism in the invertebrates are less well known. Within the insect family endemism ranges from 44-87% with a mean of 64% for the 6 insect orders that have been inventoried. All these figures result in 57% of species in the major flora and fauna groups occurring nowhere else in the world (Oliver & Heaney, 1996).

    The high levels of endemism that are found within the Philippines is due to the fact that most of the islands have never been connected to the mainland. Palawan, West Philippines, is the only island that has ever been connected to Borneo and in turn to mainland Asia resulting in similar flora and flora of this area. Even during the ice age, 10-15,000 years ago, the sea level dropping up to 120m, land bridges connecting near islands were formed. However, land bridges to the continent never occurred. Speciation and evolutionary isolation over the last 15,000 years have insured that there are high levels of unique plants and animals to the islands of the Philippines. However, there is always a trade off – unique small island populations are more likely to go extinct than common large populations. Obvious to many, but the Philippines is a prime example of MacArthur’s Island Biogeography theories. That is why the Philippine Islands are of such an important conservation strategy.

    As part of the Philippines commitment to biodiversity, and as one of the contracting parties to the Convention of Biological Diversity signed at the UN Conference in Environment and Development in Rio, June 1992, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) conducted a comprehensive assessment of the current status of the country’s biodiversity. This included the problems, the threats and the major issues affecting it. This was the first major important step in the Philippines effort to counteract the increasingly high threat of extinctions within the country.


    As with many developing countries the loss of biodiversity is due to four main reasons – habitat destruction (usually due to population explosions and the need for farmland), over exploitation, chemical/environmental pollution and biological pollution (the introduction of exotic species). This is characterised by the rate of tropical rainforest deforestation; the cover has declined from 70% of the total land cover to 5% in the last 50 years.

  2. Negros

    The most threatened of the 7 major biogeograhic regions is the Negros-Panay region (Heaney and Regalado, 1998). This area is now recognized as one the world’s tenth priority conservation areas. This area contains the most endemic species or subspecies that are ‘functionally extinct’ or critically endangered within the whole of the Philippines. Negros itself has only 4% of its original forest cover left putting a huge amount of pressure on the remaining endemic species. Although a total log ban was imposed in Negros in 1983, as commercial logging was no longer a viable business, the islands forests still suffer from illegal logging.

    The moist forests of the Philippines, including the NNFR, are the eighth most vulnerable forest ecosystem in the world (WWF 2001). The NNFR is the largest remaining area of wet evergreen rain forest in Negros and the second largest in the Negros-Panay Faunal region. Vertebrate species that are included in the NNFR include the threatened hornbills (Penelopides panini and Aceros waldeni), the endangered (WCSP 1997) Philippine spotted deer (Cervus alfredi) and the Philippines warty pig (Sus cebifrons). These species have been extirpated from 95% of their former range (Cox 1987). Once common in the islands in the West Visayas are now extinct from the Islands of Cebu, Guimaras and Masbate, Within Negros their distribution and status is little known.

  3. Coral Cay Conservation

    Mission Statement ‘ Providing resources to help sustain livelihoods and alleviate poverty through the protection, restoration and management of coral reefs and tropical rainforests’.

    Coral Cay Conservation (CCC) is a non-profit organisation, which provides resources for the protection and sustainable uses of tropical reef and rainforests resources. CCC works closely with local communities and organisations and it is funded primarily by volunteers who pay to participate in the ongoing research programs. Establishes in 1986, thousands of CCC volunteers have helped to establish numerous marine reserves and sanctuaries around the world. Volunteers are provided with suitable terrestrial or marine ecology, species identification and survey work training by the scientists on site. Volunteers then take part in basic biodiversity and ecosystem productivity surveys from between 2 to 12 weeks. Each volunteer contributes to a large, on-going project.

    Volunteers collect data which can be used for ground-truthing remotely sensed imagery within a Geographic Information System (GIS). These base line habitat maps are a tool to assist with the establishment of protected areas, including multiple-use-zoning schemes.

    My position within Coral Cay is as the Science Officer on site in the NNFR. Responsible for the science program on the field site – Negros Rainforest Conservation Project, including, field co-ordination of the research programme and directing the survey work. Planning long-term strategies and planning for all eventualities. Training local and UK volunteers in tropical rainforest ecology, identification and survey techniques also providing advanced lectures and discussion groups on such topics as biodiversity and sustainable management.

  4. Negros Forests and Ecological Foundation Inc (NFEFI)

    Mission statement ‘ To ensure the long-term conservation of the terrestrial environment in the Philippines, including the preservation of some of the most endangered endemic Philippines mammals and Birds’.

    NFEFI was established in 1986 and is based in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental. NFEFI is a non-government conservation organisation whose main activities is the running of community education projects, tree nurseries, conservation centre. The conservation centre includes captive breeding facilities for critically endangered Philippine species, including the Philippine spotted deer, Visayan Warty pig and Tarictic Hornbills.

  5. North Negros Rainforest Reserve (NNRF)

    The NNFR was established by legislation in 1946 to protect more than 100,000ha of virgin forest. This reserve was later reduced, and then totally ignored, so that in 1996 only 9,900ha of virgin forest (10%) of the original reserve remains. 5200 hectares of the forested area is high elevation mossy forest that has no commercial value. The current size of the reserve is 80,454ha with only 16,487 ha of forest remaining. Like many forest reserves set in the Philippines the forest is still struggling against illegal logging, hunting and pet trade poachers, rebel activity and encroachment of the framing population. Seen in most islands, it is important to stress that the NNFR is the second largest sized reserve in the Negros–Panay flora region, with most of the other islands having little to no remaining forest. The NNFR is a strong hold, and can be used as an educational and research tool for other protected areas.

    Despite the small size of the reserve, the NNFR contains a varied amount of habitats due to the varying degrees of elevation. In the lower valleys Dipterocarp forest can be found, species rich Oak-Laurel forest occurs in the lower montane zone, higher still are found the mossy forest which thrives in the cloud level. In addition to this, sulphur springs, hot springs and bogs provide unique habitats that are isolated and almost pristine.

    In 1998 NFEFI asked CCC to assist with the provision of resources for the production of a sustainable management plan for the NNFR. This resulted in the Negros Rainforest Conservation Project (NRCP) being established at the end of 1999, a partnership project between NFEFI and CCC.

  6. Negros Rainforest and Conservation Project (NRCP)

The aims and objectives of the NRCP are outlined below-

  1. To obtain base line quantitative data on the biodiversity of the terrestrial fauna and flora of the NNFR, to create resource maps and environmental database for the region
  2. To conduct complimentary field research of the habitat requirements and ecology of the species which are currently included within the NFEFI captive breeding programme, the objective of which is to produce guidelines for the effective forest management to aid in-situ conservation of specific species.
  3. To provide suitable education materials and programs to improve environmental awareness amongst local communities, to offer training opportunities to host country counterparts in biodiversity assessment and management and to provide non-destructive alternative livelihood opportunities through the development of eco-tourism and sustainable forest management.
  4. To produce integrated community driven management plans for the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of biodiversity in the region.

The results from the baseline biodiversity survey work will provide vital information and increase the understanding of the ecological dynamics and community composition of the different habitat types within the NNFR. This data will quantitatively underpin the development of integrated community driven management recommendations for the conservation and sustainable use of the biodiversity of the region.

Although the aims are reasonably broad the end product of sustainable management of the forest and having grass roots level support are certainly the desired results. This is a continual process and one that will require endless energy of those that are committed to the cause. I am pleased to say I have been impressed by the communities we work with, the management of NFEFI and the staff and volunteer dedication of Coral Cay. I have every certainty at the NRCP will succeed and provide a ‘show case’ scenario to other sustainable management plans within the Philippines.

  1. Survey Methods
  1. The NRCP has established 6 permanent sample plots (PSPs) within the forest of the NNFR according to standard biodiversity assessment methods for tropical rainforests. These have been set up as 3 parallel pairs 500m by 20m (1ha) with one pair situated in each of the three rainforest habitats (old growth, secondary previously logged, and heavily logged forest) that are studied. Each of the transects have been adjusted for uneven slope terrain and subdivided in to 25 quadrants (20 by 20m). The inventories that have been chosen to work are those used in the Philippine Plant Inventory Project. This was established so that these 6 transects are comparable to other sites that are studied within the Philippines as well as those that have been set up internationally. Every tree of 30 cm diameter breast height (cm dbh) has been tagged enabling survey work to be completed on each individual tree. PSPs allow for comparisons over space and time not only in the area that we study, but also throughout the world.
  2. Botanical samples of the tagged trees are also currently being taken. Many of the trees within the NNFR have yet to be officially identified. We are currently working with counterparts in the National Museum of the Philippines, Manilla and the Royal Botanical Gardens, Edinburgh, to enable positive identification (IDS) to be made. Although many of the trees have local Illongo names, these are not always 100% accurate as different local counterparts have learnt different names. Every month the transects are walked through and the tagged trees are analysed for fruit or flower, with notes taken regarding colour and size. This data can then be coordinated with the species name and the productivity analysed.
  3. Invertebrate surveys have also been conducted. The major group that is studied within the NNFR has been the Butterflies. As good indictor species, with complex lifecycles, they show the health of the ecosystem, they are easy to spot and ID when working with volunteers. Species identification has started with impressive results to date. Samples that have been taken and mounted are currently being used within NFEFI as an educational tool.
  4. Bird surveys are another major important part of our survey work here. Using the Mackinnon list method, bird species are identified within the different forest types. The data produced is semi quantitative and is directly comparable between sites with similar vegetation cover. Mist netting for birds have been initiated. This method is used to study the understorey birds that are more difficult to see in dense vegetation and their camouflage.
  5. Mammal surveys. Live trapping using Sherman traps have been initiated within the three forest types that we sample. Mist netting for bats is also well underway, yielding positive results within the NNFR. Trailmaster cameras for monitoring larger terrestrial mammals that are subject to NFEFI captive breeding programme have been set up in the different forest types.
  6. Herpitiles (amphibians and reptiles) are the most difficult to monitor within the NNFR. Bucket lines and shelter traps have been set up within the sample plots, as well as point counts and searching techniques. These have been set up on a trial basis during my time here.

Each of these surveys is repeated every month in each of the three different forest types where the PSPs have been established. Additional surveys have been conducted in surrounding farmlands, high mountain ranges and local areas when all these surveys have been completed. This is important for the comparison between the forest and the agricultural land.

  1. Results

    With the construction of the PSPs, botanical survey work has recently been initiated. Taxonomic results have shown that some of the families present within the NNFR include – Anacardiaceae, Burseraceae, Ceasalpiniaceae, Dipterocarpaceae, Euphorbiaceae, Guttiferae, Lauraceae, Melastomaceae, Meliaceae, Moraceae, Myrtaceae, Rosaceae, Sapotaceae and Urticaceae. The fruit and flower surveys are well underway and can be used in conjunction with other data sets, for example to study the distribution and habitat use of birds.

    Invertebrate surveys have resulted in the identification of 39 species of butterfly from 9 different families. The species have also been catagorised according to their known distribution within the Philippines. Current analysis suggests that over 85% of the species that have been collected are endemic to the Philippines. 15 of these species are endemic to the Visayan region, with 4 species identified as endemic to the Negros-Panay faunal region and a further 5 species endemic to Negros.

    Bird surveys have resulted in a growing list of over 123 species from 33 families. This represents over 20% of all resident Philippine Species and approximately 65% of all species (and sub-species) recorded were Philippine endemics. Of these, 9 species are International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red Listed which represents nearly 15%of the Philippine species currently listed as ‘vulnerable’, ‘endangered’ or ‘critically endangered’. Including such birds as the Visayan tarictic hornbill, Negros bleeding heart pigeon, Flame-templed babbler and the Visayan flowerpecker.

    The mammal surveys have also resulted in a growing list of species found within the NNRF. Mist netting for bats provided a species list of Macroglossus minimus, Cynopterus brachyotis, Harpyioncyteris whiteheadi, Haploncyteris fischeri, Megaderma spasma, Rhinolophus acuatus, Rhinolophus virgo and Rousettus amplexicaudatus. Live mammal trapping has enabled us to catch palm civets and common mountain rats, as well as a few rats that are yet to identified. Sightings of Visayan warty pig, Malay civet and Crab eating macaques has also been noted, whilst the calls of spotted deer have been heard in some of the more isolated survey sites.

    In collaboration with NFEFI, the project has trained many international and Filipino volunteers in biodiversity assessment techniques and has also generated training and employment for local communities and counterparts. In achieving this the NRCP has increased environmental awareness, promoted conservation and equitable sharing of benefits of the local biodiversity. Continual work of reforestation and educational camps for schools has also lead to the establishment of strong links with the local community.

    For me, and many of the volunteers that have experience the life within the NNRF, community work is as important to the development of the project as the science. None of what has been achieved could have been done so without the participation of the community of Campuestohan (where base camp is), with invaluable knowledge of the forests, the ecology and the resources as well as the kindness they have shown us, it has been a pleasure to work here and see the project develop to its true potential.

  2. Future and Discussion

    The NRCP has produced a strong scientific background and a firm foundation for the future development of the project. The desired end result of sustainable forest management is far from being completed. Whether the future holds pure conservation, ecotourism or sustainable extraction from the forest has not yet been decided. However, whichever path is chosen, a strong knowledge of the forest ecology, its dynamic behaviour, composition, productivity and the ecology of the species within it, is needed in order to provide a successful management plan. The three main areas of forest which contain the PSPs, enable us to make informed predictions on forest dynamics within primary forest, secondary regrowth after selective logging and after total exploitation. Ecologically sound forest management, whether for conservation alone or in conjunction with sustainable resource use, will only be successful if the dynamic behaviour of the systems can be adequately characterized and predicted (Alder and Synnott, 1992). PSP studies used in combination with baseline faunal surveys for all major habitat types provide us with the opportunity to assess ecological changes along spatial and temporal dimensions. Therefore, they have a central role in many aspects of tropical forest research, conservation and management. Such information is not only important for characterizing areas for possible reserve designation but also for developing future sustainable management strategies for project partners and local communities. Science, in this respect, is necessary part of the future of the NNFR. Further information on the socio-economic situation of the area and the local population is still needed. Linking science with economics leads us a step nearer to the protection and development of the NNFR.

    The NRCP hope to integrate empirical field data with spatially referenced land cover data using arial photographs and satellite images of the main forest habitats which will be digitized via a Geographical Information System (GIS) to create a base map. Information gathered by CCC volunteers on surveys will then be overlaid on to this base map to classify the digitised features and produce detailed habitat and species distribution maps. Sustainable management will be derived from using the maps in order to officially establish reserves and /or management processes.

    I have stated at the beginning of the paper the importance of the NNFR due to high biodiversity found within it. The NNFR is one of the last remaining tracks of tropical moist forest within the Negros-Panay biogeographical zones, a strong hold of the endemic species of the area. Arguably one of the most important forest in the world, the NNFR harbours a breeding populations of some of the most endangered animals in the world, including the Visayan spotted deer, the Visayan warty pig and many bird species found nowhere else on the planet.

    But why conserve tropical rainforests? Tropical forests contains some of the oldest and richest ecosystems in the world, containing more than 50% of all species of plant and animals on some 6% of the world’s surface area. With current existing knowledge (which is far from being complete) about 15,000 different plants support some kind of non-timber use. For example, medicinal uses to manufacture drugs for malaria, leukemia, or are being screened for potential use against cancer and AIDS; others are wild relatives of important food crops and can be used for breeding disease resistance and other improvements for such plants as coffee, cocoa, rice, maize, bananas etc. keeping a healthy gene pool will allow us to utilize these important variables. Ecotoursim is currently an opportunity to gain financially through the conservation of the forests. Being the fastest growing section of tourism (tourism itself is the world’s largest civil industry employing around 127 million people) this is even more of an incentive to maintain quality areas of undisturbed habitats. But tropical rainforests are not only there for a monetary resource – they are essential for sustaining human life. Forests moderate the climate both locally and globally; they influence the composition and heat retaining capacity of the atmosphere and the heat and water exchange characteristics of the earth’s surface. Locally they protect watersheds, prevent leaching and soil erosion, they are also strongly important in the preservation of local cultures and peoples’ heritage.

    Sustainable management, the ultimate plan, is a difficult concept to grasp. The term ‘sustainable’ has been over used since the term was first coined in the Brundtland Report in 1987. Defined as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generation to meet their own needs’ seems a vague holistic idea without suitably defining the means and the complex processes that surrounds it. The idea itself should not be ridiculed. It is a marvelous concept and is a step forward in the way that conservation should be applied. Certainly more favorable than the late 70s and early 80s efforts of ‘fences and fines’ approach. This led the local people with no resources and little involvement, with huge conflicts in the third world between economics and conservation. Grass roots support is now seen as the ultimate plan in conservation strategy, and a plan that seems to promise more than hope in some of the poorest areas of the world.

    For me sustainability encompasses three main roles: to physically protect the environment, its biodiversity and habitats; to be economically viable by providing goods and services and financial values; and to be socially beneficial. It’s a tall order by all means, and one that requires a vast amount of hard work. I am proud to be working on the Negros Rainforest Conservation Project, a project that sees conservation through development. Community empowerment through self-management, economic self-reliance, ecological economic sustainability and the development of human needs are all part of the master plan. A plan that I wish every success in the future.

    The battle for conservation and development and the contradictions in between are far from being won, as the World Bank stated in 1992, ‘the achievement of sustainable and equitable development remains the greatest challenge facing the human race.’

  3. Additional Information

    Coral Cay Conservation –


    Coral Cay Conservation Expeditions, Inc

    The Alhambra

    725 North A1A Suite E-202


    Florida 33477


    Coral Cay Conservation

    The Tower, 13th Floor

    125 High Street

    Colliers Wood


    SW19 2JG


    Negros Forest and Ecological Foundation Inc (NFEFI)

    South Capitol Road,

    Bacolod City,

    Negros Occidental


    The Author; Alexia Tamblyn graduated from Trinity College, University of Oxford in Biological Sciences. She has worked for NGOs in Central America, West Africa and the Philippines, where she is currently working.

  4. References

Alder, D & Synnott, T.J. (1992) Permanent Sample Plot techniques for mixed tropical forest. Tropical Forestry papers 25. Oxford Forestry Institute, pp.124

Cox, R (1987) The Philippine spotted deer and the Visayan warty pig. Oryx, 21, 31-42

DENR/UNEP (1997) Philippine Biodiversity – An assessment and action plan. Bookmark, Inc. Philippines

Hamann, A., Barbon, E.B., Curio, E & Madulid, D.A (1999) A botanical inventory o a sub-montane tropical forest on Negros Island, Philippines. Biodiversity and Conservation, 8, 1017-1031

Heaney, L.R & Regalado, J.C. Jr (1998) Vanishing Treasures of the Philippine Rain Forest, the Field Museum, Chicago

Oliver, W.L.R. & Heaney, L.R (1996) Biodiversity and conservation in the Philippines. International Zoo News, 43, 329-337

Stattersfield, A.J, Crosby, M.J., Long, A.J., & Wege, D.C. (1998) Endemic Bird Areas of the World – Priorities for Biodiversity Conservation. Birdlife Conservation Series No.7. Cambridge.

Wildlife Conservation Society of the Philippines (1997) Philippines Red Data Book. Bookmark, Inc.

WWF (2001) The World’s Top Ten Most Vulnerable Forest Ecoregions. WWF, UK.


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