Giving nature a helping hand

Sri Nakhon Khuean Khan Park in Bang Kachao.

At a bend in the Chao Phraya, the green expanse is unmistakable. Like a verdant world amidst the grey city, the presence of Khung Bang Kachao can seem like a miracle. The ecological riches of the place, officially known as Sri Nakhon Khuean Khan Park, is a testament to practical conservation carried with care and concern, a combination of botanical insight and human understanding.

In 2013, PTT Exploration and Production (PTTEP) began working with experts from The Chaipattana Foundation, the Office of Royal Projects, the Department of Forestry and Kasetsart University, and launched the “Reforestation and Restoration Project for Eco-Learning at Sri Nakhon Khuean Khan Park”, a project to restore the natural wealth of the park and turn it into an outdoor classroom for young people. After extensive work, in 2015 PTTEP handed over the park to the local community of Khung Bang Kachao to celebrate the 60th birthday of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.

But the restoration process was a long and challenging one. In the 1980s and 90s, the unstoppable urban changes of Bangkok pressed in on the “lung of the city” – as the green area is called – while the increase in population and the encroachment of saltwater into the river brought concerns to the local community and conservationists. New houses were built and former orchards were replaced by residences. Khung Bang Kachao’s location in the ever-expanding city became its own curse, and something needed to be done to preserve its role as a haven for plants, animals and humans.

For tourists, Bang Kachao is a natural classroom where they can ride while observing ecological system.

The late King Bhumibol Adulyadej sparked the idea to save Khung Bang Kachao after the monarch saw the lush green area from a helicopter. When PTTEP and forestry experts began the project, they realized that this would be more than just “buying and planting new trees”, but a complicated ecological study and replenishment, conditioned by the diversity of flora and fauna, the principle of sustainability and the understanding of the unique character of Khung Bang Kachao.

The area is made up of three ecosystems: low-lying rainforest, mangrove forest and freshwater swamp forest. The restoration project required a thorough study of plant species in each terrain while maintaining the biodiversity as well as an equilibrium within one another. Altogether, over 2,700 new trees were planted – in the mangrove area, the aim is to provide plants that became a habitat for aquatic creatures, while the tall, dense trees in the rainforest area, such as sandalwood and champak, would cover the area with shade and provide humidity.

The bird watching tower.

From the start, the Khung Bang Kachao project wasn’t simply a scientific challenge, but also an attempt to convince Bangkok residents to visit and appreciate the value of the green area. This, it was hoped, would foster a spirit of conservation which is essential for sustainable development.

The plan to make Khung Bang Kachao a natural classroom includes nature trails for biking and walking. Today, cyclists come to the park to ride along the dirt trails that take them past tall trees, clear ponds and through light forest teeming with birds. Riders can observe mangrove forest and freshwater swampland along the way. In addition, the park supports wheelchair-bound visitors through specially design facilities that let them enjoy the nature trail and the beautiful landscape.

However, forest restoration is an ongoing, perhaps never-ending, effort. The project may have revived the vitality of Khung Bang Kachao and returned it to the community and visitors, but the team still have to monitor the growth of the plants, the degradation of leaves, as well as collect data on soil quality and carbon sink efficiency. In 2020, the project will have its final evaluation. In the meantime, a visit to Sri Nakhon Khuean Khan Park will let you appreciate the importance of environmental conservation in a city groaning under the weight of concrete and asphalt.