Ambassadors for Nature is One Year Old!

The Ambassadors for Nature initiative is one year old!  To celebrate, H.E. Dr Ann Derwin, Ambassador of Ireland to China, hosted a seminar to commemorate the occasion.

Speakers included 王小平 Dr. Wang Xiaoping, Deputy Director General of Beijing Forest and Parks Bureau, 钱时雨 Qian Shiyu from the Urban Biodiversity team at ShanShui Conservation Center, Chris Liu, a grade 10 student from the Western Academy of Beijing and Irish artist Niamh Cunningham.  

H.E. Dr. Ann Derwin, Ambassador of Ireland to China, speaking at the opening of the one year anniversary event.

We heard how the initiative has expanded from 14 original members to 32 today, all of whom have signed up to the Pledge for Nature at ambassadorial level, and about the individual actions at embassies in Beijing, including:

  • The Irish embassy allocating a wild area with an area greater than 10% and, in spring, it was awash with colour and a haven for pollinators.
  • France initiating a ‘green embassy’ initiative looking at reducing emissions and supporting biodiversity to align with the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Global Biodiversity Framework
  • The New Zealand embassy piloting ultraviolet patterns on glass windows to help reduce bird collisions
  • The Swedish embassy’s elimination of pesticide and herbicide use
  • Indonesia’s planting of the embassy grounds using only native species
  • The US embassy’s creation of a wildlife pond and planting of native trees and replacing of traditional vehicles with electric vehicles
  • UNDP holding capacity building events for staff and making and erecting bird boxes and insect hotels
  • Belgian embassy hosting a seminar for embassy gardeners to help share best practice 
  • …and many more!

The participants also heard about efforts to ‘export’ the initiative to the diplomatic network beyond Beijing, with efforts underway in Seoul, Republic of Korea.

Dr. Wang Xiaoping thanked the embassies for contributing to Beijing’s biodiversity and briefed about the new guidelines for the management of parks in Beijing, in particular the recommendation that 10% of the area of parks in urban Beijing should be left ‘wild’ with minimal management, with the target figure increasing to 20% for suburban parks.  This was all part of the vision to make Beijing “a capital of biodiversity”.

Dr. Wang Xiaoping, Deputy Director General of the Beijing Forest and Parks Bureau (which manages 71% of Beijing’s landmass) briefed on the city’s efforts to make Beijing “a capital of biodiversity”.

Chris Liu, a grade 10 student at the Western Academy of Beijing, spoke about how the school had adopted the Pledge for Nature and had teams of students leading on various aspects of implementation, including ‘rewilding’ an area around their ‘duck lake’, monitoring wildlife using infrared cameras and photographing and identifying plants and insects using an APP called “Seek”, designing insect hotels and erecting swift boxes.

Chris Liu gave an overview of actions to support biodiversity at the Western Academy of Beijing

Qian Shiyu of ShanShui Conservation Center, who arrived straight from a pollinator survey in the Botanical Gardens, briefed about the ‘audits’ of embassy grounds undertaken at the German and Danish embassies and how the team was working with the embassies to implement the recommendations.

Qian Shiyu from the urban biodiversity team at ShanShui Conservation Center

Irish artist, Niamh Cunningham, presented samples of her work promoting nature through art, including ‘tree stories’, short videos produced by members of the public about special trees.

Niamh Cunningham gave a thought-provoking presentation on the power of art to promote nature

During the discussion, attention focused on how to build on the year’s achievements, including the potential for an annual award to recognise and highlight extraordinary efforts, a series of interviews with ambassadors to explore why biodiversity is important to them and to learn more about individual embassies’ activities, the potential to design a short leaflet with the pledge for nature that could be translated into multiple languages to help spread the word, and the importance of involving diplomatic children in embassy initiatives.

It was wonderful to receive a written message of support from Clare Fearnley, former NZ Ambassador to China, who was the driving force behind the establishment of the Ambassadors for Nature and who did so much in the early days to build the momentum.

With the enthusiasm and energy from the embassies, there is no doubt that year two promises to be an exciting journey!

Thank you so much to Dr. Ann Derwin, Ambassador of Ireland to China, and her brilliant team especially Fergus Scott, for hosting the event, to the Beijing Municipal Government and ShanShui Conservation Center for their incredible support, to WAB for the excellent collaboration and to all the embassies for fabulous work throughout the last 12 months.   

Ambassadors for Nature visit Miyun Reservoir

On Friday 28th April the Irish Embassy in Beijing arranged the first Ambassadors for Nature field trip.  Hosted by the Miyun District Foreign Affairs Bureau, the group of Ambassadors and senior diplomats visited the QingShui River, one of the rivers that drains into Miyun Reservoir, Beijing’s most important drinking water source and a hotspot for migratory waterbirds.  

As well as a two-hour bird walk guided by local experts – Zhang Dehuai of the Miyun Reservoir Forest and Parks Bureau and local bird photographer 安妮 “Annie”, the group enjoyed lunch at a local restaurant, two expert presentations and a discussion on how the international community can share good practice in support of the local government’s efforts.

We totalled 26 species during the bird walk – see below for a full list – with the undoubted highlight being the sighting of two Oriental Scops Owls (Otus sunia 红角鸮 Hóng jiǎo xiāo) roosting close to the path.  This species is a summer visitor to Beijing and it’s likely that this pair has recently arrived in the capital after spending the winter in S China or SE Asia.

A pair of Oriental Scops Owls roosting close to the path was a definite highlight.

The first presentation was by Zhang, including a short video of the rich biodiversity of Miyun Reservoir and a summary of the actions being taken to monitor and improve the habitat for water birds, especially cranes.

A lecture by Miyun Forest and Parks Bureau about efforts to manage the area for wildlife

The second was by Tan Lingdi, leader of the urban conservation programme at ShanShui Conservation Center, who spoke about the recent ‘wildlife audit’ of the German Embassy compound and the recommendations developed to help make the compound more friendly for wildlife.

Tan Lingdi from ShanShui Conservation Center presented the results of a ‘wildlife audit’ of the German Embassy compound.

During the discussion there was a commitment from the diplomats to identify and share good practice to help inform the actions of the Miyun local government and great demand for ShanShui to conduct similar ‘wildlife audits’ of other embassies in Beijing.  The next such audit will take place on Friday 5 May at the Danish Embassy.

Huge thanks to Ambassador Ann Derwin, Ambassador of the Republic of Ireland to China and her team, especially Fergus Scott and Li Meng, for the arrangements, to the Miyun Foreign Affairs Bureau for hosting, to Zhang and Annie for guiding the bird walk, to Tan Lingdi of ShanShui Conservation Center and to all the ambassadors for senior diplomats for participating.  

List of bird species seen during the bird walk:

COMMON PHEASANT Phasianus colchicus 雉雞 Zhì jī 
MALLARD Anas platyrhynchos 綠頭鴨 Lǜ tóu yā 
CHINESE SPOT-BILLED DUCK Anas zonorhyncha 斑嘴鴨 Bān zuǐ yā 
GREY HERON Ardea cinerea 苍鹭 Cāng lù 
LITTLE EGRET Egretta garzetta 白鹭 Báilù 
LONG-BILLED PLOVER Charadrius placidus 长嘴剑鴴 Cháng zuǐ jiàn héng 
GREEN SANDPIPER Tringa ochropus 白腰草鹬 Bái yāo cǎo yù 
ORIENTAL SCOPS OWL Otus sunia 红角鸮 Hóng jué xiāo 
COMMON KINGFISHER Alcedo atthis 普通翠鸟 Pǔtōng cuì niǎo 
GREY-CAPPED PYGMY WOODPECKER Dendrocopos canicapillus 星头啄木鸟 Xīng tóu zhuómùniǎo 
GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER Dendrocopos major 大斑啄木鸟 Dà bān zhuómùniǎo 
GREY-HEADED WOODPECKER Picus canus 灰头绿啄木鸟 Huī tóu lǜ zhuómùniǎo 
ORIENTAL MAGPIE Pica serica 喜鹊 Xǐquè 
LARGE-BILLED CROW Corvus macrorhynchos 大嘴乌鸦 Dà zuǐ wūyā 
LIGHT-VENTED BULBUL Pycnonotus sinensis 白头鹎 Báitóu bēi 
MANCHURIAN BUSH WARBLER Cettia canturians 远东树莺 Yuǎndōng shù yīng 
YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER Phylloscopus inornatus 黄眉柳莺 Huángméiliǔ yīng 
PLAIN LAUGHINGTHRUSH Pterorhinus davidi 山噪鹛 Shān zào méi 
VINOUS-THROATED PARROTBILL Sinosuthora webbianus 棕头鸦雀 Zōng tóu yā què 
White-eye sp 
EURASIAN TREE SPARROW Passer montanus 树麻雀 Shù máquè 
GREY WAGTAIL Motacilla cinerea 灰鹡鸰 Huī jí líng 
WHITE WAGTAIL Motacilla alba 白鹡鸰 Bái jí líng 
LITTLE BUNTING Emberiza pusilla 小鹀 Xiǎo wú 
YELLOW-THROATED BUNTING Emberiza elegans 黄喉鹀 Huáng hóu wú 

GRAND TOTAL 26 species


The Ambassadors for Nature is an informal network of ambassadors in Beijing committed to managing their diplomatic green spaces in a way that is consistent with the new Global Biodiversity Framework agreed by more than 190 countries at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in December 2022 under China’s presidency.  See this dedicated page for more details.

Title image: the Ambassadors for Nature group at the Qingshui River, including ambassadors and senior diplomats from Ireland, Denmark, Japan, Latvia, United Nations and United States of America.

“Ambassadors for Nature” initiative kicks off in Beijing

Last September Clare Fearnley, the New Zealand Ambassador to China, hosted a fantastic event called “Friends of the Flyway“, inviting Beijing-based ambassadors from the East Asian-Australasian Flyway countries to celebrate their shared natural heritage.  It was a wonderful way to raise the profile of the Flyway and put migratory birds on the foreign policy agenda.

At that event there was a discussion about how embassies could do more to promote migratory birds and biodiversity in general.  Recognising that diplomatic premises are important green spaces, one idea was to start an initiative to encourage embassies in Beijing to manage their green spaces in a more friendly way for nature.  Clare loved the idea and with her usual enthusiasm and drive, pulled together a few contacts and experts to develop some draft terms of reference:

Embassies and their grounds can be important refuges for urban wildlife. In recognition of the global biodiversity crisis, the Global Biodiversity Framework due to be agreed at COP15 in 2022, and the importance of contributions from all sectors of society we, as ambassadors in Beijing, intend to support nature. Our Embassies will make choices that advance biodiversity. For example, we will seek to:

– Undertake an audit of the wildlife in the grounds of the embassy and other diplomatic premises at least once in each season of the year (this can take as little as one hour per season, ideally on the same date and at the same time to enable comparisons over time);
– Keep records of wildlife sightings by staff
– When planting, choose native species of tree, shrubs and other plants. We will also assess the plant species already on the embassy grounds and, where practical, over time remove non-native species
– Take at least two of the following measures to support wildlife:
                   o Reduce and, as far as possible, eliminate the use of pesticides;
                   o Allocate an area (for example, 10% of the overall area) that can be kept ‘wild’ with minimal management and erect signage explaining this to residents and visitors;
                   o Make and erect nest boxes for birds and/or insect hotels;
                   o Help to reduce the risk of bird collisions with glass by using bird-safe glass, ultraviolet patterns or other mitigation measures.
– Promote awareness among diplomatic staff about biodiversity, including information about urban wildlife that can be found in Beijing, and the actions the embassy is taking to support nature.
– Nominate a point of contact responsible for this initiative who can report to the network on the actions of the embassy, arrange the audits and report records of wildlife.

Fast forward to Wednesday 6 July and the New Zealand embassy hosted the first meeting of the “Ambassadors for Nature” initiative.  Ambassadors and senior diplomats participated from Belgium, Cambodia, Canada, Croatia, Finland, Indonesia, Ireland, Japan, Latvia, Norway, Peru, Romania, Singapore, Slovenia, UK and the United Nations, alongside the Deputy Head of Beijing’s Forest and Parks Bureau (responsible for managing 70% of Beijing’s land), Professor Lu Zhi of Peking University and Professor Yolanda Van Heezik of Otago University and a group of young people from diplomatic families.  

The energy in the room was palpable with wholehearted support for the initiative and a raft of positive suggestions about how to take it forward.  Already sessions are being planned to provide training on how to conduct surveys of wildlife, tailored resources about the wildlife to be expected in Beijing city centre, and lists of native plant and tree species to guide diplomatic gardeners.  The Beijing Municipal government offered to host a field trip for ambassadors to showcase Beijing’s biodiversity and WeChat groups have been set up to bring together contact points from each embassy, as well as plans to outreach to more embassies to encourage them to join. 

There was even a suggestion that, once up and running, ambassadors could promote the initiative with their capitals to encourage ALL embassies and other diplomatic representations overseas to follow suit.  Just imagine, for example, if all of the UK’s 160 embassies and high commissions overseas (as well as 186 consulates) committed to do the same.  That would add up to quite a significant area of land!

It’s heartening to see this initiative getting off the ground and huge kudos must go to the New Zealand Embassy, especially Ambassador Clare Fearnley and Svar Barrington, for ensuring an idea discussed over coffee last year is coming to fruition – it is a terrific way for Ministries of Foreign Affairs to make a practical contribution towards the goals of the forthcoming Global Biodiversity Framework, due to be agreed by more than 190 countries at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity meeting (COP15) in Montreal in December.