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Transferring knowledge and best practice to conserve Malaysian rivers

River Trusan article image

Professor Chris Gibbins from University of Nottingham Malaysia (UNM) works to help conserve the rich biodiversity of Malaysian rivers and sustain the livelihoods of people who rely on them for food and water. An important part of his work involves using knowledge developed as part of international collaborations to help inform the management and conservation of rivers in Malaysia.

Professor Gibbins works with companies such as Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB) and NGOs such as WWF and The Habitat Foundation on projects in East and West Malaysia, and has a number of long-term international partnerships with environmental agencies and scientists in Europe. The significance of these international partnerships, both in their own right and for how they can inform river management in Malaysia, was highlighted in June this year.

For the last 15 years Professor Gibbins has been the lead scientist on a project to restore the River Ehen, an ecologically important river in Northern England. The Ehen project is funded by the UK Environment Agency and United Utilities, the latter a UK equivalent of Air Selangor, and includes collaborating scientists from the University of Lleida in Spain and University of Aberdeen in Scotland. In June, the importance of the work on the River Ehen was emphasised with the announcement that, as part of Her Majesty The Queen's Birthday Honours, Jane Atkins from Environment Agency is to be awarded an MBE (Member of the British Empire) for her services to river conservation, and specifically for the restoration of the River Ehen. Jane will receive the award at a ceremony later this summer.

“The news of Jane’s MBE is truly wonderful. She has been instrumental in the success of the River Ehen restoration project, and the MBE is recognition both of Jane’s dedication and of the importance of river conservation. It has been a great pleasure to work with her over the years,” said Professor Gibbins.

“We have learnt many important lessons from work on the River Ehen and other projects in Spain and Scotland, and we are now using what we have learnt to help inform our work in Malaysia. With the support of our Malaysian partners and Spanish collaborators, we now are adopting the tools and techniques used in Europe to help develop sustainable hydropower in Sarawak, and to reduce flooding and riverbank erosion in parts of rural Sarawak where local communities are very vulnerable” he explained.

There are additional long-term benefits of such international collaborations. Two of Professor Gibbins’ post-graduate (PhD) students are currently working in Lleida with their Spanish co-supervisors.

“The knowledge and skills these students develop in Spain will remain with them throughout their professional careers, so they will be able apply what they have learnt to help manage and conserve Malaysian rivers. Our rivers help shape the landscape, are home to a diverse range of living organisms and provide many vital resources for people, so we need to take care of them. The exposure these and other students have to international best practice is an important part of ensuring a safe future for our rivers ” Professor Gibbins explains.

(Article image caption): An aerial view of the River Trusan, Sarawak. Local communities rely heavily on the river. Their rice paddies sit on the river floodplain, and they use river water to help irrigate rice and other crops.  However, riverbanks are being eroded by high flows and rice crops damaged by frequent floods.

(Thumbnail image caption): Professor Gibbins (top left) along with colleagues from University of Nottingham, WWF and local community members after a successful day using local materials to build riverbank protection structures in the Trusan. 


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Note to editors: The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. Ranked 103rd out of more than 1,000 institutions globally and 18th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings 2022, the University’s state-of-the-art facilities and inclusive and disability sport provision is reflected in its crowning as The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2021 Sports University of the Year. We are ranked eighth for research power in the UK according to REF 2014. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally. 
Posted on 20th July 2022

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