Yancheng planning to become a world-leader on coastal wetland conservation

Just three years ago, Taozini, the recently-discovered and most important known staging site for the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper, was under grave threat from land reclamation projects. At that time, already around 70% of the Yellow Sea’s intertidal mudflats had been lost and much of the remaining 30% was under threat of a similar fate.

It is astonishing, and illustrative of how fast things can change, that today it is a World Heritage Site (WHS) with hard commitments for protection and management.

Readers of Birding Beijing will know it was on 5 July that saw Phase I of China’s two-phase, serial nomination “Migratory Bird Sanctuaries along the Coast of Yellow Sea/Bohai Gulf of China” inscribed on the list of natural World Heritage Sites in recognition of its critical importance to migratory waterbirds. The Phase I inscription comprises Jiangsu Dafeng National Nature Reserve (NNR), the experimental zone of Jiangsu Yancheng NNR including Dongsha Radial Sands, Jiangsu Yancheng Tiaozini Wetland Park, Jiangsu Dongtai Gaoni Wetland Nature Reserve Plots and Jiangsu Dongtai Tiaozini Wetland Nature Reserve Plots.  At least 14 additional sites will be included in the Phase II nomination, scheduled for 2022.

Last weekend I participated in the 2019 Yellow and Bohai Sea Wetlands International Conference: Natural World Heritage, Conservation, Management and Sustainable Development to celebrate the inscription of this special part of the coast as a WHS and to help develop ambitious plans for management and public engagement.

Terry making the case for Yancheng to become the “mission control” for tracking shorebirds along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway as a way of engaging the public, especially schools, about the wonders of migratory birds and the importance of China’s coastal wetlands.

The thing that struck me most was the language and tone of the senior officials, including the Mayor of Yancheng and representatives of the national and local Forestry and Grassland Bureau, who spoke clearly and passionately about the importance of protecting coastal wetlands in line with President Xi’s “ecological civilisation” and “beautiful China”. This kind of language would have been unthinkable from such officials three years ago.

The commitment of the local government was illustrated by the lengths to which they had gone to secure the participation of international experts in the fields of science, policy, management and communications. There is no doubt they are serious about making Yancheng, including Taozini, a world-class natural World Heritage Site and to become a leader in coastal wetland conservation.

Chinese and international experts gather to celebrate the inscription of Phase I of China’s serial World Heritage Site and to develop plans for effective protection, management, research and outreach.

Whilst there is a long way to go to secure the long-term future of these coastal wetlands and many challenges to overcome, it is important to acknowledge this progress. And it is testament to the scientists, especially Professor Theunis Piersma and his team of Chinese and international scientists, who have provided robust evidence about just how important these coastal wetlands are for migratory waterbirds, to the local birders, including Zhang Lin and the local NGO Spoon-billed Sandpiper in China led by Li Jing, who first discovered the importance of Taozini for the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper, to the academics and policy makers in China, especially those led by Professor Lei Guangchun at Beijing Forestry University, who have been building and promoting the case for coastal wetland protection, to the Paulson Institute who developed a hard-nosed economic analysis of the value of coastal wetlands, to the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership for promoting cooperation along the Flyway, to the international conservation community, including BirdLife International, offering support and expertise along the way. And most importantly, to all the individuals who have supported and provided encouragement to all of the above. To get this far has been a remarkable national, international and multi-disciplinary team effort that has changed the fate of the most threatened Flyway in the world.

Seeing the huge sign at the header of this post towering over the main road to the coast, somehow made it feel real.

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Experience World Class Yellow Sea Migration And Support The Local Conservation Effort

Are you free in mid-April, want to experience the world-class migration along the Yellow Sea coast AND support the local conservation effort?  If so, keep reading…

A local NGO called Spoon-billed Sandpiper in China (SBSC) is organising a special eleven-day tour for birders to showcase the spectacular migration of the Yellow Sea, connecting with some very special birds, including Spooner, whilst contributing to the effort to preserve this globally important habitat.

For background, the East Asian Australasian Flyway is the greatest flyway on the planet, stretching from the Taimyr Peninsula and Alaska in the north through China, Japan and the Koreas to Australia and New Zealand in the south.  In total, the flyway passes through 22 countries and is used by more than 50 migratory species.  The Yellow Sea is of vital importance to these birds, comprising a series of stopover sites where they can refuel, rest and moult their flight feathers during these mind-boggling journeys.

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As most readers will know, much of the important intertidal mudflats along this stretch of coast have been reclaimed, causing the populations of many shorebirds to decline, most prominently the ‘Critically Endangered’ Spoon-billed Sandpiper.  Thankfully, there is a large conservation effort dedicated to saving what remains of the intertidal mudflats and, importantly, there are an increasing number of local organisations and NGOs leading this effort.  One such organisation is “Spoon-billed Sandpiper in China (SBSC)”, a Jiangsu-based NGO led by the impressive Li Jing.  Established in 2008, SBSC focus on conserving the biodiversity along the Jiangsu coast. The team conducts regular waterbird surveys, promotes birding and nature observation activities, introduces people to the unique marine culture and improves conservation awareness among local communities, including schools, fishermen unions and business.

SBSC is a key partner of the China Coastal Waterbird Census Group (CCWCG).  The Census Group was established in 2005, training birdwatchers in bird identification and counting methods.  Surveys have been conducted by volunteers every month since September 2005, and it is widely recognised as the most successful example of citizen science in China.

To help promote the area to international birders and raise money to support the conservation effort, Li Jing and her colleagues have arranged a special tour for birders this April.  Running from 11-21 April, the tour will start and finish in Shanghai and will take in Rudong, the most important site in the world for Spooner, as well as a day’s pelagic trip and visits to nearby sites in Wuyuan, Nanjing hills and Huangshan.  The mouthwatering list of species likely to be encountered includes Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Nordmann’s Greenshank, Asian Dowitcher, Little Curlew, Far Eastern Curlew, Great Knot, Saunders’s Gull, Black-faced Spoonbill, Reed Parrotbill, Blue-crowned Laughingthrush, Masked Laughingthrush, Hwamei, Grey-sided Scimitar Babbler, Short-tailed Parrotbill, Dusky Fulvetta, Chinese Bamboo Partridge and many others including Pied Falconet.

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The “Magic Wood” at Rudong can be buzzing with migrants in spring and autumn.

Participants will have the added bonus of being guided by the best – Li Jing, Chen Tengyi, Han Yongxiang and Shanghai’s finest, Zhang Lin.  These birders have been surveying this part of the coast for more than 10 years and discovered the importance of Rudong for Spoon-billed Sandpiper.  Birders could not be in better hands!

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Li Jing, leader of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper in China NGO

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Zhang Lin, Shanghai’s leading birder and discoverer of Rudong as the most important stopover site for Spoon-billed Sandpiper

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Chen Tengyi, from Chongming Island and an accomplished bird-whistler, skills learned from former hunters.

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Han Yongxiang, a wildlife illustrator from Lianyungang

At the time of writing there are 6 places available on the trip and interested birders are invited to contact Li Jing via email at info@sbsinchina.com for more information.

It promises to be a wonderful experience and, as well as seeing some special birds, participants will be helping the local effort to save these globally important sites.

Cover photo of Spoon-billed Sandpiper by Chen Tengyi.