When I arrived in Beijing I soon discovered a small, but amazingly passionate and dedicated, group of people working to conserve birds and their habitats in East Asia. The wonderful people at Birds Korea, an independent NGO headed by Nial Moores, is one such example.
In China, at least, much original habitat remains and the volume of birds I see on migration still eclipses anything I ever saw in Europe. However, the conservation challenges in this part of the world are substantial. With rapid economic growth, large populations, a lack of credible environmental legislation and enforcement, and relatively low environmental awareness among the general public, it is tough to ensure that policymakers give the environment the consideration it deserves. And even when lawmakers and governments do show a willingness to take into account environmental concerns, there is often a lack of credible data to make an evidence-based case to protect endangered species and their habitats.
That is why the Birds Korea Status of Birds 2014 is such an important publication. It not only documents the status of the “regularly occurring” species but examines the trends based on habitats and makes concrete recommendations to strengthen conservation of birds in Korea. It’s an impressive report and will not only serve to inform the Korean government but will also act as the standard-bearer for conservation organisations in the region. Robust data, interpreted intelligently with practical recommendations for policymakers, is essential to coherent and sustainable economic planning. And until we have a more complete global measure of wealth (rather than the outdated and not fit for purpose measure of GDP) that requires governments to take into account natural wealth in their national accounts and economic decision-making, it will be up to NGOs and volunteers to provide this information.
Well done Birds Korea!
To gain a sense of the report the key messages are listed below, and you can download the full report here.
- By the end of April 2014, 535 bird species had been adequately documented in the ROK
- 365 of these species are considered “regularly occurring”, either historically or in the present century
- 87% of regularly occurring and all irregularly occurring species are migratory
- Two of the 365 species are Globally Critically Endangered (with one of these presumed Globally Extinct), seven are Globally Endangered, and 19 are Globally Vulnerable
- Five regularly occurring species were lost to the regular avifauna between 1910 and 1999
- At least 103 species have declined substantially during the present century
- Half of all regularly occurring species still have an unknown trend
- On present knowledge, 126 species are identified as “Highest” and “High” Conservation Priorities
- Some progress has been made in recent decades, especially in reforestation, afforestation and the reduction of hunting
- However, habitat loss and degradation is the main driver of decline for many of the species in decline, including birds of Grassland-type and Open Habitat and most especially waterbirds
- Three-quarters of the nation’s tidal-flats have been reclaimed and most natural freshwater wetlands have been degraded or lost
- A third of all waterbird species are in decline, and more than a third still have an unknown trend (and might be declining)
- Improved research in and especially conservation of Freshwater and Intertidal Wetland remains the most urgent priority
- An improvement in knowledge by itself will not be enough: policies and laws need strengthening