Dr Nial Moores, Birds Korea, January 24th 2020
It was a really ambitious program: a week-long visit from the UK by Trevor Rose of Rose Design Services Ltd. to the Republic of Korea (ROK), to share his expertise on amphibian conservation achieved in part through the manufacture and installation of frog ladders and shared through several meetings and formal presentations in Yesan and Yeoncheon Counties and on Baekryeong Island. His presentation aptly was entitled, “The Great Escape!”. Mine was entitled, “Wonderful Baekryeong”. And what a great week it was!
First, a massive thanks to all those who helped make this hugely successful week possible: to Director Trevor Rose for donating his time and expertise so selflessly; to Livia who advised on using the Lush fund to help build community for conservation; to Birds Korea National Coordinator Park Meena, for translation and logistical support; to the wonderful GO and NGOs bodies in Yeoncheon County for supporting a day of field work on 15th, followed by a major workshop on 21st; to Dr Kim Su-Kyung, Birds Korea co-founder and now lead researcher on Oriental Storks, who skillfully arranged two meetings for us in Yesan, including at the Yesan Oriental Stork Park on 16th, as well as helping liaise with some key people on Baekryeong Island; to Dr Bernhard Seliger and Dr Choi Hyun-Ah of the Hanns Seidel Foundation (Korea office) for supporting the visit to Baekryeong between January 17th and 20th, and for contributing so much both to bird research and to frog ladder manufacture while there; to Jinchon Church Minister Kim Ju-Seong for organizing lunch and a more formal meeting on17th with ten or so other Christian ministers on the island, as well as for subsequent meetings with us on 18th and 20th (and in addition, especially for his openness of mind and heart to the science and to our concerns); to the Baekryeong-myeon office for attending the presentation on 17th and for permitting the installation of the first six frog ladders in Jinchon; to Incheon KFEM; and of course to KFEM Deputy Secretary-General Kim Choony, who – like always – worked tirelessly to bring many people together, this time both in Yeoncheon, and on Baekryeong.
Much was achieved through this sincere collaboration. Dozens of activists and organic farmers in the ROK now know how to make and install frog ladders as designed by Trevor Rose; six trial ladders were installed on Baekryeong and three trial ladders were installed in Yeoncheon County, including one in a gully pot; and for Baekryeong Island we believe we now have a growing coalition of actors both on and off island who are willing to listen and respond to conservation concerns. Much of the progress that was made is evident in the images below – but first some more essential background.
The routes taken by amphibians as they move between wintering sites and breeding ponds are increasingly getting blocked by drainage systems. Easy to step across for us humans, even a 30cm high roadside kerb is an impassable Great Wall for frogs and toads. The sides are too steep for an amphibian to climb. As they move along these kerbs, amphibians fall into gully pots, set into the road to help drain water following rain. Once caught, they cannot climb out. There is no escape. The result: mass mortality of amphibians; locally failed breeding; population decline; and likely local extinction.
These kinds of infrastructural drainage problems are sadly not confined to urban areas only. Here in the ROK there are in addition already probably tens of thousands of km of open, steep-sided concrete drains in rice-field areas that similarly act as barriers, prisons and death traps for amphibians.
The declines in amphibians caused by this form of habitat fragmentation and increased mortality of adults in turn inevitably impacts wider ecosystem health and potentially even the economic conditions for some farmers. This is because amphibians prey upon insects in rice-fields, helping to save farmers’ money on other insect controls; and they are also preyed upon by many species of bird, and by some reptile and mammal species.
There is another aspect to this problem – a moral and an emotional one. Back in 2015, it was genuinely distressing to see hundreds of frogs trapped in a newly-constructed drain in Jinchon on Baekryeong Island. We wanted to do something.
We talked with amphibian experts (including Dr Amael Borzee) and researched the cost of retrofitting concrete drains with frog-friendly ramps. With labour, these costs were likely to be between 1,000USD and 2,000USD per ramp. We also scoured the internet for more cost-effective solutions, and learned about a new design of frog ladder being trialed by the British Herpetological Society which would likely cost only 30USd per unit to make and install. This ladder was designed by an engineer called Trevor Rose living in Scotland. Research suggested that ~80% of trapped amphibians could escape gully pots if these simple ladders were installed. We therefore prioritised the installation of this kind of frog ladder into a proposal which eventually became the Lush-funded Wetlands Biodiversity project, and late last year we contacted Director Trevor Rose directly, to ask if he could come to Korea to help teach us how to make and install these ladders.
In addition to calling for and installing these ladders, the Wetlands Project aims to support conservation and restoration of many of the island’s wetlands. Towards this end, as most of our members know already, (as above) we published our innovative Birds Korea report in Korean in August 2019, with publication funded largely by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. Our report includes dozens of proposals for the 16 most biodiversity-important areas on the island, ranging from converting rice-field areas to organic farming; reducing use of plastic in fields; restoring key wetlands; and promoting farm stays and local produce.
These proposals are presented as a starting point for discussion and for a participatory planning process. They highlight the potential added values of conservation, though enhanced ecosystem services; increased ecotourism; island branding; and the increased possibility of funding support from central government for habitat restoration.
We started distributing copies of our report at national meetings in September, and on Baekryeong Island itself in late October and early November 2019. This included passing over several copies to Minister Kim Ju Seong, the lead proponent for Bible Land.
So with this background, more of the past week in images…
Again, thank you to all who participated in the week’s events. Let us all continue to work together to help improve biodiversity conservation opportunities throughout the ROK and the wider region.