Conservation and Biodiversity Enhancement

[GRI 3-3, 304-1, 304-2,304-3]

Our plantations are spread across some of the world’s most biodiverse ecosystems.

The forests, seas, and freshwater ecosystems in the countries where we operate support a rich and diverse array of flora and fauna ranging from the Bornean orangutan, pygmy elephant, Sumatran rhino, and the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing butterfly. However, years of development on oil palm plantations have led to forest and biodiversity loss and the degradation of peatlands. As a responsible operator in these regions, our environmental management practices aim to minimise impacts on the environment and focus on conserving our world’s natural habitats.

Our RAC outlines our approach to safeguarding the environment, and we continuously strive to meet and exceed our commitments therein. We have expanded our efforts beyond legal and certification requirements to focus on positive contributions to forests in key landscapes through our many conservation and restoration programmes. These nature-based solutions enhance the environment and ecosystems and offset SDP’s carbon footprint.

Managing conservation areas

Our strict no-deforestation policy has been in place since 2014. We adhere to the latest Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) criteria to assess land for high conservation value and high carbon stock using the High Conservation Value-High Carbon Stock Approach (HCV-HCSA) Toolkit for any new development and only engage licensed assessors.

We have not developed any land in Indonesia and Malaysia for many years, and our only areas of expansion have been in Papua New Guinea (PNG) which are low carbon developments in line with the RSPO New Planting Procedures and HCSA requirements. The most recent of these expansions was in an area of 373.51 hectares in Poliamba, PNG. In 2020, we submitted our plans for development to the RSPO New Planting Procedure (NPP). Based on our assessments, we plan to develop 206 hectares and have set aside 168 hectares – or 45% of the total area – for conservation.

As of December 2021, a total of 46,892 hectares – two thirds the size of Singapore – have been identified as HCV and conservation set-aside (CSA) areas. About 87% of our total conservation area is at our Indonesia, and PNG and Solomon Islands operations. Our conservation areas have remained largely unchanged over the years. However, some areas in Malaysia were reclassified in 2020 and 2021 due to HCV and CSA verification assessments carried out at two estates after the revised Toolkit was published in 2018.

All HCV and CSA areas identified to date have been set aside for conservation and are subject to dedicated management and monitoring plans. Measures include regular surveillance and patrolling for encroachment to prevent illegal development, poaching, and hunting. We also work collaboratively with the Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) to conduct biodiversity surveys to monitor wildlife within these areas, including endangered, rare and threatened (ERT) species. In PNG and Solomon Islands, New Britain Palm Oil (NBPOL) has implemented a Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART) across all HCV sites. We also perform spot checks using Landsat and Sentinel imagery to identify disturbances and land-use changes within HCV areas and follow up with on-site inspections to implement the necessary remediation plans.

The Malaysia protect-restore-connect programme

SDP has identified a total of 17,913 hectares of land classified as ‘unplantable reserves’ in Malaysia. These unplantable reserves are made up of HCV and CSA areas, as well as other areas rendering them non-productive or unsuitable for oil palm planting, such as terrain with slopes greater than 25 degrees, abandoned stretches, bunds, cemeteries, buffer zones, ponds, ravines, swamps, rocky areas, water catchment areas, football fields, and forest tree planting areas. The total unplantable reserve area makes up about 5.03% of our total upstream landbank in Malaysia.

Whilst we manage these areas in line with sustainability certification criteria, we are exploring a new initiative in a concerted effort to increase and enhance them. Under the SDP Conservation and Biodiversity Area (CBA) initiative, we can determine whether a particular site needs to be protected, restored or connected with other important landscapes, and draw up appropriate action plans. All conservation and reforested areas are monitored and maintained by the operating units where they are located.

In 2021, we identified a total of 7,764 hectares of land within our operations in Malaysia that can be converted into CBAs. Based on the CBA approach, 33% of these areas fall under the protected category and are subject to a dedicated site-specific monitoring and management plan that includes biodiversity assessments, boundary marking, maintenance and surveillance to prevent illegal activity. The remaining 5,172 hectares will be classified as restored, connected, or both.


of 'unplantable reserves' land identified


CBA-convertible land identified


classified as restored/connected/both

In 2022, we will begin setting up new satellite nurseries to supply tree saplings to the identified areas. We will then plant endemic forest species and fruit trees at each of these sites. Where possible, we will also introduce ERT species with a planting density of 600-1,000 saplings per hectare.

The CBA programme will be supported by existing SDP tree-planting initiatives, such as our Plant-A-Tree and Sapong Forest Rehabilitation projects. We have also identified new external partnerships, such as Project RELeaf with Nestlé Malaysia, Plan4Tawau with 1StopBorneo and the SDP-BORA Stream project.

We will also develop similar programmes for non-plantable areas in Indonesia, and PNG and Solomon Islands.

See Forest restoration for an overview of our tree planting initiatives

SDP’s Conservation and Biodiversity Area approach

Managing peat

Since 2014, we have implemented a strict policy on no new planting on peat. Peatlands store twice as much carbon as the rest of the world’s forests and are more susceptible to fire. For this reason, we conduct drainability assessments at existing operations on peat and use the results to plan the future replanting and phasing out of oil palm cultivation. When oil palm is phased out on a given plot of land, it is replaced with suitable crops for a higher water table or rehabilitated with natural vegetation. For peatland, it is crucial to maintain an optimal water level to prevent CO2 emissions and peat burn which could subsequently minimise peat subsidence.

We currently operate plantations on 32,798 hectares of peat across all operations. Our operating units continuously implement best management practices in compliance with the RSPO Principles and Criteria (P&C) and our internal agriculture reference manual (ARM). In addition, we maintain existing vegetation in and around our oil palm plantations and engage with local communities to educate their members on sustainable management of peat areas to prevent slash and burn activities.

Enhancing conservation areas through dedicated programmes

We are engaged in various conservation initiatives across all our sites, including protecting biodiverse ecosystems, restoring forests, reforesting landscapes, and rehabilitating orangutan habitats. To date, SDP has supported over 20 conservation programmes in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea.

Forest restoration

We are committed to restoring and reforesting areas where there has been historical degradation on HCV or any non-compliant land clearing within our estate boundaries. Where possible, we have planted rare, threatened, and endangered (ERT) trees to create wildlife corridors linking patches of degraded land. Through dedicated programmes across these sites, we plant and monitor new trees to increase the biodiversity value within and around our plantations.

Together with government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), research institutes, universities, local communities and customers, we have collectively and cumulatively planted 1,892,182 trees as of December 2021 across all operations.

More than 136,000 of these trees were part of our Jentar Plant-A-Tree Programme, which concluded in 2018. Over the course of five years, we planted over 126 species of trees, including 60 that are classified as ERT, across 136 ha at our Jentar estate in Pahang, Malaysia, in partnership with Yayasan Sime Darby (YSD), the Pahang forestry department (PFD), and the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM). The Jentar programme hosted the largest collection of ERT tree species in a single oil palm plantation area in Malaysia. The project concluded with the publication of a guidebook for researchers, students, NGOs, and government agencies that includes references on the tree species planted. Since 2019, we have provided conservation expertise to the (PFD), including knowledge transfer and resource sharing on reforestation efforts.

We completed two more restoration initiatives in Malaysia in 2020 and 2021, Project RELeaf with Nestlé Malaysia in Kinabatangan, Sabah, and a research programme in Sarawak to restore a riparian reserve in Rajawali and Semarak. A total of 10 forest restoration initiatives are currently ongoing.

Ongoing forest restoration programmes

Plant-A-Tree Programme, 2013–2021

Location and identified area in Malaysia:
Jentar Estate (160 ha), Kamuning Estate (95 ha), Anak Kulim Estate, West Estate, Mentakab, and Sarawak region (200 ha), other estates (ha unknown)

Trees planted: 907,152

Partners: YSD, FRIM, UPM and Forestry Sarawak

An extension of the first Plant-A-Tree programme at our Jentar estate, these projects span across multiple SDP estates in Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo. Aside from enhancing natural habitats and biodiversity, we hope that by utilising unplanted areas, the project can become a model for sustainable plantations supporting the Malaysian National Policy on Biological Diversity.

Plant4tawau, 2021–2022

Tawau, Malaysia

Trees planted: 50

Identified area: estimated 25 ha

Partners: 1StopBorneo

In March 2021, we collaborated with a local NGO to rehabilitate selected areas within SDP’s Tawau estates. The project aims to connect the forest reserves of Tawau Hills, Bukit Gemok, and other smaller parks by planting various Ficus tree species. The project is also an educational tourism programme that educates locals and visitors on best practices for restoring the damaged forest to the original biodiversity of Borneo’s native forests.

SDP-BORA Stream Restoration Project, 2021–2023

Segaliud Estate, Sandakan, Malaysia

Trees planted: 519 saplings

Identified area: 9.4 ha

Partners: Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA)

In 2021, SDP and BORA agreed to collaborate on rehabilitating a designated area within SDP’s estates in Sandakan. The project’s primary goal is to initiate a simple, cost-effective method that plays a long-term role in supporting wild orangutans to co-exist in a mixed oil palm forest landscape. This project also meets the MSPO and RSPO requirements on riparian management.

Sapong Forest Rehabilitation project, 2020–2025

Sapong Estate, Sabah

Trees planted: 900

Identified area: estimated 280 ha

Partners: Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS)

This project is a collaboration to enhance ecosystem services and restore the biodiversity and carbon sequestration capacity of the secondary forest area at Sapong Estate. The project will conduct baseline assessments on the flora, fauna, and existing ecosystems within the estate and use the results to help SDP better understand and develop these potential conservation areas into educational sites for research work.

Project RELeaf, 2021–2023

Sabah and Sarawak, Malaysia

Trees planted: 588,981 planted in 2020 (1 million expected)

Identified area: estimated 1,200 ha

Partners: Nestlé Malaysia, Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) and Tropical Rainforest Conservation & Research Center (TCRC)

In December 2021, we signed an agreement with Nestlé Malaysia to plant over 1 million trees across 1,200 hectares in riparian zones and steep slope areas within SDP’s oil palm operation areas. Project RELeaf aims to restore riparian and forest ecosystems across the Kinabatangan Wetlands and Merisuli Forest Restoration Areas in Sabah and forest reserves along the Central Forest Spine in Peninsular Malaysia.

Riparian and coastal reforestation

New Ireland Province, Papua New Guinea

Trees planted: 69,911 trees

Identified area: 80 ha

Partners: PNG Provincial Forestry Authority

Our Poliamba site signed a memorandum with the PNG Provincial Forestry Authority to collaborate on a reforestation programme in the New Ireland Province’s Kaut nursery. In May 2018, we began a tree-planting programme at the Sicacui Plantation. NBPOL worked with community members to educate locals on the importance of buffer zones. With their assistance, we were able to plant 212 trees. Our long-term objective is to create a tool to strengthen the buffer area.

Ramu Tree Nursery

Ramu, Papua New Guinea

Trees planted: 96 trees

Identified area: 80 ha

Partners: International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia

A key implementing partner of the ACIAR programme, Ramu Agri Ltd.’s sustainability department commissioned a four-year forestry research project to support PNG’s Forest Policy Medium Term Development Plan to increase the area of planted forests in PNG from 62,000 hectares to 150,000 hectares by 2025. Over ten technical and tree nursery training sessions involving more than 100 local participants were conducted in 2018 and 2019, and participating families established upwards of 10 family-owned nurseries. The programme also empowered farmers to become champions who could train other interested local participants.

Mangrove restoration at Numundo Coastline

West New Britain, Papua New Guinea

Trees planted: 10,914 mangrove seedlings

Identified area: 7.2 ha

Partners: Mahonia Na Dari

We are working with Mahonia Na Dari, a local NGO, to encourage mangrove rehabilitation along the Numundo shoreline at our West New Britain operations in PNG. The programme aims to restore the Kimbe Bay shoreline, slow down erosion, correct the buffer areas near our plantations, and encourage a supportive marine habitat. Between the launch of the programme in 2017 and November 2019, NBPOL staff, marine science researchers, Numundo’s surrounding community, and student volunteers from 23 local schools worked with Mahonia Na Dari to plant over 5,000 seedlings along the Numundo shoreline. Local community awareness sessions contributed to the success of this programme, and we have also erected signs to communicate the project’s benefits and discourage vandalism of the plants.


Total trees planted as of December 2021

Conserving the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Butterfly

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is home to the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing butterfly (QABB), the world’s largest butterfly, with a wingspan of 19cm to 30cm. It is endemic to northern PNG and has an extremely limited home range. Certain forest areas in the company’s lease area have been designated to preserve its habitat so that the butterfly can thrive in a legally protected environment. Furthering our commitment to conservation, and with support from the Yayasan Sime Darby (YSD), we have built and equipped a dedicated laboratory, flight cages and foodplant nurseries within our secure residential and operations compound in an attempt to breed the QABB in captivity. Our objective is to eventually release these insects into previously inhabited areas enriched with additional food plants with the long-term aim of removing the QABB from the endangered species list. As of December 2021, attempts to breed have commenced. We will also be constructing a new flight cage which will improve the success rates of the breeding programme.

A key project partner is the Swallowtail and Birdwing Butterfly Trust (SBBT), a UK not-for-profit organisation focused on protecting the swallowtail group of butterflies. SBBT supports NBPOL with technical and scientific advice on the project.

Rehabilitating riparian area at SDP estate with orangutan food plants

In 2021, SDP and the Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA) entered into an agreement to rehabilitate a riparian area within a conservation area at SDP’s Segaliud estate with orangutan food plants. The project’s primary goal is to create a simple, cost-effective long-term strategy that supports wild orangutans co-existing in the mixed oil palm forest landscape in Kinabatangan. This strategy also supports MSPO and RSPO requirements on riparian management. Under this collaboration, BORA is responsible for supplying and planting seedlings, and SDP staff and workers participate in planting, weeding, and monitoring activities over two maintenance sessions every month.

The first stage of the project focused on experimenting and testing the survival rate of different species of plants in different types of soil at the BORA nursery. It concluded that species of Ficus, commonly known as fig, is a suitable genus. The team also discovered that, based upon on-site conditions, saplings, seedlings, and poles need to be at least one metre in height before being planted to prevent weeds from outgrowing them. Based on lessons learnt, the figs must be supported with poles to grow. Alternatively, the planting material can consist of one metre or taller Ficus poles cut from mature Ficus branches. To minimise the risk of severe dehydration and ensure ample roots are sprouting, poles cut from old Ficus plants must mature in the BORA nursery before they are planted at the project sites.

As of December 2021, about 200 points have been planted, and the surviving plants have almost doubled their height within eight months.



Compared to other growers, SDP is an established company committed to implementing high-level sustainability and conservation processes. The company is systematic and well-organised, and the BORA team and SDP’s managers work well together because our goals are aligned. I must commend the sustainability team’s comprehensive road maps for delivering on conservation commitments. However, SDP’s willingness does not always translate into action at ground-level operations, resulting in implementation gaps. For example, we see substandard maintenance work by SDP workers at the project site, and this is problematic because the elimination of fast-growing weeds is critical to the project’s success.

In my experience, these issues arise due to various factors. As is the case at other companies, not all employees are enthusiastic about conservation projects as it is not part of their job description. Consequently, restoration work can become a low priority once BORA staff leave the site. Another contributing factor is the relatively high turnover of estate and assistant managers due to rotation programmes. Lastly, long-serving estate managers may not be receptive to newer programmes or to focusing on desired long-term impacts. To address this issue, SDP should make room for younger managers at estates to work with the SDP sustainability team.

We have discussed these issues with SDP, and the company has agreed to support one of two options. (1) Assign workers to the project in 2022, where SDP will also offer overtime pay and other incentives to workers who perform regular weeding once the budget becomes available. BORA can help to supervise the work. Or (2) Have BORA source workers outside the estate, on a contract basis, with BORA supervising the work.

We hope that SDP will address these issues to improve its performance and better contribute to our collective efforts and the overall project objective of supporting orangutan subsistence in the Kinabatangan region.

About: Dr John Payne is the executive director of Borneo Rhino Alliance (now known informally as Bringing Back Our Rare Animals or BORA), a Sabah-based NGO. Supported by a team of 15, BORA aims to effect a paradigm shift in endangered species management in Malaysia through measures such as habitat improvement and conservation breeding projects.

In response to BORA’s feedback, the Group is looking into enhancements its Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) to help resolve the concerns being raised. Efforts to increase awareness and compliance to SOPs are also currently underway to better improve practices on the ground.

SDP is also a founding and Steering Committee member of the Palm Oil NGO (PONGO) Alliance. We have contributed to multiple projects with other oil palm growers, businesses, and conservation practitioners to create viable habitats for orangutans within oil palm plantations in Malaysia. With support from companies and plantations, PONGO Alliance is developing guidelines for best management practices (BMP). PONGO Alliance initiative aligns with SDP’s ambition to achieve a deforestation-free palm oil industry, and we look forward to implementing the BMP at our estates.

Managing human-elephant conflict

Asian elephants have become endangered due to competition with people for space and resources. In Malaysia, elephant numbers have dwindled in recent decades due to a combination of habitat loss, poaching, and human-elephant conflict. Wild elephants have large home ranges outside protected forest areas, so their long-term survival is interlinked with conserving remaining forest landscapes. Elephant conservation in Malaysia in the 21st century will require ensuring coexistence outside protected areas, especially alongside commercial oil palm plantations.

Since 2011, SDP, Yayasan Sime Darby (YSD), Management and Ecology of Malaysian Elephants (MEME), and the University of Nottingham Malaysia (UNM) have jointly conducted human-elephant conflict research and built scholarly capacity and public awareness to mitigate the social, economic and conservation impacts of human-elephant conflicts in Malaysia.

In July 2020, we published our SOP for Human-Wildlife Conflict Mitigation to guide the management of human-wildlife conflicts at SDP-owned and adjacent oil palm plantations, and other third parties, including researchers, academics and NGOs. It also supports the national wildlife conservation initiative for local and international sustainable certification requirements. YSD has committed MYR2.85 million to support MEME from 2020 to 2022 in its efforts to develop conflict management approaches that cater to smallholders and other growers. This grant will aid the development of science-backed mechanisms that support the co-existence of human beings and endangered species. The project’s long-term goals are to increase capacity-building and understanding amongst communities, smallholders, and plantations, promote human-elephant co-existence on a national scale, and enhance the protection of wild elephants and their habitats.

The publicly available SOP has been used by elephant researchers WWF-Sabah in the Kunak Landscape, Seratu Aatai in the Kinabatangan Landscape and MEME in the Johor Landscape as a reference during their engagement with other palm oil plantations. Internally, the SOP has been adopted by all our operating units.

Sanctuary for the Santa Cruz Ground Dove in Solomon Islands

In 2020, NBPOL partnered with the Toledo Zoo to build and run a conservation breeding centre for Santa Cruz ground doves, a bird species native to a small island in the Solomon Islands at serious risk of extinction. In 2017, 110 of these birds were saved from being sold illegally by poachers. Whilst these birds were successfully rehabilitated, they could not be returned to Tinakula because a volcanic eruption had destroyed much of that island’s forest habitat.

In 2020, NBPOL donated an area of land in Tetere to construct the facility and agreed to provide basic amenities and other in-kind support to the project. The zoo is financing the construction and upkeep of the facility and will recruit and train a team of animal keepers. In March 2020, construction began on the new breeding centre, and it was further upgraded by NBPOL in 2021. Unfortunately, since March 2020, strict international travel restrictions and local movement controls have stalled progress on moving the birds to the new facility. Restrictions are expected to ease in the first quarter of 2022. The long-term plan is to reintroduce birds bred in captivity into the wild, establishing additional populations when islands within the birds’ historic range have been cleared of invasive predators, primarily rats.

Best practice sharing on HCV management and monitoring

The Malaysian National Interpretation for the Management and Monitoring of HCVs was published in January 2022. As a member of the Technical Working Group (TWG) of the HCV Malaysia Toolkit steering committee, SDP contributed to the publication. In addition to sharing our practitioner expertise and experiences, we also submitted a case study on HCV 411 management at our Bukit Kiab, Jentar Estate which is featured in the publication.

The document is available here: MYNI Management Monitoring HCVs Jan 2022.pdf

In November 2021, our conservation and biodiversity teams organised our first public HCV webinar. This online event was attended by growers and forestry departments across Malaysia, Indonesia, and PNG and Solomon Islands. The webinars shared a practitioner’s perspective on implementing management plans in HCV areas and included a case study of HCV forest management at the state level, presented by the Sabah Forestry Department.

Updates on remediation and compensation plans in Indonesia and PNG


Our Batang Ara Estate (Division III) at our Indonesia operations, Minamas, comprises 442.50 hectares of oil palm planted from 1994 to 1996. In 2016, 227.53 hectares of our total planted land was identified to previously be in HCV areas with a high potential value for rehabilitation with tree species endemic to the area. As part of our commitment to the RSPO and the Remediation and Compensation Procedure (RaCP), SDP will restore these areas with newly planted forests. This effort will support diverse and interconnected habitats for wildlife, thus increasing the biodiversity value of the land. SDP has submitted our Land Use Change Analysis (LUCA) for the 19 units in our remediation plans to the RSPO. As of December 2021, only 12 of the 19 LUCA reports have been approved, and seven are awaiting reviews and clarifications. To prevent any hindrances to RSPO surveillance and re-certification audits, the RSPO issued an Advisory Note in April 2021 approving critical non-conformities regarding the areas under review. We continue to support the RSPO in the process to determine any further need for compensation.

Papua New Guinea

One site in Papua New Guinea was also subject to an RaCP from 2018 to 2019, which the RSPO approved in February 2020: the recently acquired estates was previously owned by the Markham Farming Company Limited (MFCL) at our Ramu operations. Before the acquisition, MFCL used the site for 60 years of cattle, peanut, coconut, and cocoa farming before converting it to oil palm cultivation. This development occurred without any prior RSPO-compliant HCV assessments. The LUCA identified 53.37 hectares of degraded lowland forests and the calculated liability area was 74.71 hectares. However, NBPOL’s restoration plan exceeded this number and covered 79.03 hectares – an additional 4.32 hectares – to account for smallholder blocks. NBPOL is afforesting this land with native species, mirroring the natural forests in the area to increase indigenous tree cover. We also plan to establish a satellite nursery at MFCL to provide seedlings for the ongoing restoration of the site. The LUCA further identified a 304.53 hectares degraded buffer zone area requiring remediation. NBPOL will remediate the site according to best management practices, restoring it as closely as possible to a natural habitat.

Response to claims in 2021 Greenpeace report

In October 2021, Greenpeace Indonesia released a report on oil palm companies whose plantations are located within designated national forest estates in Indonesia. Prior to the report, Greenpeace reached out to several growers, including our Minamas Plantation. The growers grouped our responses and formally responded to the claims through the Indonesian Palm Oil Plantation Companies Association (GAPKI), making it clear that we have complied with prevailing laws and regulations, including obtaining land-use permits for our respective operations. We have also followed the latest government regulations addressing oil palm plantations located within forest zones. However, we were unable to confirm the data presented in Greenpeace’s analysis as the Government is still in the process of verifying the area in question. We will continue to strive for sustainable and responsible operations that respect the prevailing laws and regulations of the countries in which we operate.