After accompanying the Conservative Minister, Rt Hon Ken Clarke MP, on a birding trip during his visit to Beijing last winter, it seemed only right to balance Birding Beijing’s political affiliation! And so, on Sunday, I took visiting (Labour) Baroness Bryony Worthington on a trip to Yeyahu Nature Reserve as part of her visit to China.
Bryony is Shadow Minister for Energy and Climate Change and, if the elections go Labour’s way in May 2015, she could be part of the ministerial team in charge of the UK’s energy and climate change policies.
Among her many talents, Bryony is an expert in emissions trading and the main purpose of her visit was to engage with officials from the seven pilot emissions trading schemes in China to help develop advice to the Chinese government about the design of their national emissions trading scheme, due to be implemented sometime before 2020 and a key pillar of China’s climate change policy.
Her busy programme involved meetings in Beijing and Shanghai and, with just one ‘free’ day on Sunday and knowing I was a keen birder, she asked if I would take her birding… Of course, I was only too happy to say yes! The obvious choice of location was Yeyahu Nature Reserve – one of my favourite Beijing birding sites and, in Spring, host to a diverse range of China’s birds. In the company of friend and colleague Wu Qian and her husband, Calvin, we set off at 0600 from central Beijing and arrived at a sunny, warm and clear Yeyahu just before 0800.
To add a bit of extra fun to the day we had a sweepstake on the number of species we would see.. Guesses ranged from a conservative 40 (Wu Qian) to an over-optimistic 65 (Terry) with Bryony guessing 49 and Calvin 60.
On a beautiful spring morning we started off well with several Chinese Penduline Tits, Pallas’s Reed Buntings and displaying Eastern Marsh Harriers. A booming Bittern and a flock of Vinous-throated Parrotbills provided more entertainment as we made our way around the reserve…. After the 3,000 (!) visitors present the last time I was there (during Qing Ming Festival), the reserve seemed strangely quiet for a sunday but that was no bad thing!
We made our way to the new watchtower and, as the day warmed up, we enjoyed more raptors including 2 Greater Spotted Eagles, a single Short-toed Eagle, Eastern Buzzard, Goshawk and several Black Kites before we tucked into our picnic..
Bryony was impressed with the reserve and the number of birds it was possible to see in the capital.
By the time we made it back to the car, it was time to count up the species seen. The final total was 54 so, rather embarrassingly for me, the Baroness as a first-time China birder, won the sweepstake..!
On Tuesday morning I accompanied the Baroness to a meeting with Lu Hao, Chairman of the Environment Protection and Resources Conservation Committee in the National Peoples Congress.. This is the committee responsible for drafting and passing China’s environmental legislation. It’s a busy time for the committee, with much environmental legislation under development. See here for analysis of the strengthening of China’s Environment Protection Law just last week. Included in their legislative programme for this year is a review of the protected species list.. The current list is more than 20 years old and woefully out of date. For example, it doesn’t include Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Jankowski’s Bunting or Baer’s Pochard, species that are in desperate trouble and at risk of extinction.
I took the opportunity to brief Lu Hao on the work being carried out by BirdLife, the Beijing Birdwatching Society and local groups to try to save Jankowski’s Bunting and presented him with the BirdLife special edition newsletter. He confirmed that Jankowski’s Bunting would be added to the revised list and invited me to submit views on which other species should be on the list.
Extra legal protection by itself will not save Jankowski’s Bunting from extinction. However, it’s an important step and, as China works to strengthen enforcement of its environmental legislation (the amendments last week to China’s environmental law made huge progress in that regard), ensuring that the legal protection of China’s birds is as strong and unambiguous as possible will help to create the foundation for a stronger conservation movement in China.
Many thanks to Baroness Worthington for her support for the Jankowski’s Bunting campaign and also to Chairman Lu Hao for his work to strengthen China’s environmental laws and their enforcement. He is a very important man!