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.