As birders well know, September is a peak time for autumn migration. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that millions of birds must pass over Beijing, most undetected as we sleep, from their breeding grounds in the vast forests and tundra of Siberia to wintering grounds in China, SE Asia and some as far away as Australia and New Zealand. As well as being an exciting time for birders (as can be seen from the Latest Sightings page), this is also a time of peak activity for poachers – those who wish to capture these miracles of nature and put them into cages.
Last weekend Marie and I found an illegal mist net on the local patch. The poacher was almost certainly targeting Siberian Rubythroats and Bluethroats, birds that command a decent price (CNY 200-300 each, GBP 20-30) in the now mostly underground bird markets scattered around the capital. Petrified we’d call the police, he willingly helped us release the birds in the net and freed those he had already caught and bagged, before making a run for it as we destroyed the nets and poles.
We called the police in any case and sent them the photos before publishing the images on Chinese social media. Just an hour or so later, a journalist from the Beijing Evening News (one of Beijing’s most popular newspapers) called and asked some questions before writing an article about the incident. The link was published on the popular social media platform – WeChat – and was soon picked up by the Shunyi Forestry Police, who subsequently issued this public notice.
For those of you who don’t read Chinese, the notice refers to a British “bird protection volunteer” who found some illegal nets, dismantled them and reported the incident to the police. It then warns poachers that the police will increase their patrols in the area, requests that anyone who sees illegal nets to call the police and commits to increasing education and awareness about wild bird protection.
That’s a pretty good result and shows how attitudes are changing, both among the media and with the law enforcement authorities. When I arrived in China seven years ago there was little chance the police would have responded to reports of people catching wild birds. Now they act positively and swiftly. And whilst this is Beijing, and other parts of China almost certainly lag behind, it’s nevertheless another good sign for China and bird conservation. Well done, Shunyi Forestry Police!