Deforestation is a major issue worldwide but particularly so in sensitive environments like the swamp peat forests of Asia. A peat swamp forest is an extremely diverse ecosystem with about 500 species of trees which can grow up to around 30m tall. Some are valuable timber species and there are also some useful medicinal plants. From a conservation point of view these species are very important so it is an extremely large impact when this forest is cleared and burnt. All forest fires in the tropics are human related as naturally there is no fire in the system, hence the reason that the layer of plant material has built up to a thickness of around 10m.
A peat swamp forest acts like a sponge, absorbing rain and river water, helps control floods during the rainy season and releases much needed water during the dry season. It is an ecologically important ecosystem for the regulation of climate with the trees absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing this in a thick layer of un-decomposed plant material or peat. The peat in this forest is up to 10m thick, has accumulated over the last 10,000 years and is one of the most important global stores of carbon therefore regulating the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Many of these peat swamp forest are illegally cleared and burnt for agricultural purposes. Regeneration of a damaged peat swamp forest will not be easy; after all, it took some 10,000 years for the peat to form. While rehabilitation of peat swamps has been inadequately studied it may take some 50 years for a damaged forest to re-establish itself; that is, assuming that its hydrology was not significantly spoiled.