Bangkok Patana School
Private Land Stewardship for Nature
By Alexander (Coke) Smith, Curriculum Leader Environmental Science
First off, a big thank you for the positive response to this wildlife column featuring wildlife hotspots in and around Bangkok and greater Thailand. And I have been blown away by how many times I have actually ran in to community members who read these articles and are out enjoying nature for themselves! So refreshing to know there are many people in our community who love wildlife and love nature.
Today’s column is still about nature, but not a local hotspot, per se. This week I want to talk about how many of us might be able to be very active and very impactful in preserving nature and creating your very own bio-hotspot.
Let me start with my own example. About 20 years ago, my wife and I bought about 28 rai of land in Nakhon Si Thammarat, in Southern Thailand. The property is situated a few hundred meters from the border of Khao Luang National Park, an amazing place that I have featured before in my column. The plot was about 75% thrashed and very remote but included land on both sides of a stream and half of a small mountain with fairly mature trees. The previous owner had just planted rubber trees on the flat portion and there were various fruit trees.
I immediately saw awesome potential in this patch. We bought it the same day we found it! I was initially criticized for purchasing such a property. “Why are you wasting your money on this land?” “This land can really serve no purpose, why buy!?” My answer was honest although it probably did little to convince my critics that I was sane… “I’m buying the land for the birds and squirrels.” I enjoyed the looks on their faces when they knew I was dead serious.
As soon as possible, I purchased 600 tiny native tree saplings to populate the land. I hired every single willing person in our village to come and help plant trees – I think at the time it was 20 baht per tree. My new neighbors all pitched in! All 600 were planted in a single day. I also made it a point to keep all the rubber trees with the plan being to have a neighbour eventually tap the trees, sell the kee-yang, and reap profit that they could keep, in return for watching our property.
Fast forward 20 years to this Songkran holiday. As we do every time we are near the property, we stopped in for a look at it and spent a few hours enjoying its nature. Now we have a fully closed canopy rainforest (about 20% of our initial tree planting survived) complete with not only loads of squirrels and hundreds of birds, but so many other species and rainforest interactions that we could literally teach a course on rainforest restoration. This project has been an absolute success.
Our neighbour has been taking excellent care of the property and has been making a tidy sum selling our rubber. His family is benefiting by simply protecting our patch for biodiversity. It does my soul good to see this place and to know the relationship we have with local inhabitants is a positive one that helps them as well as helping maintain the ecology of this little hotspot.
My children will inherit this land and my son has already committed to keeping it the way it is… “For the birds and the squirrels.”
Coke Smith is our Environmental Science Leader and is an avid wildlife photographer and conservationist. He taught a class titled, “Private Land Stewardship” at Peninsula College, near Seattle, Washington which showed private landowners how to create and maintain their properties for the preservation of biodiversity and nature. He would love to work with anyone in our community here at Bangkok Patana who might be interested in doing the same in Thailand.