Paju Sannam wetland and Imjin River from Paju to Yeoncheon, December 10

A rather spontaneous decision to do some birding brought me rather late (around 11.30 a.m.) to Sannam wetland. I thought it might be rather empty during daytime and a weekend, but there was a lot of disturbance from walkers and bicyclists nearby (plus the never-ending cars roaring by the wetland). However, there were still four Eurasian Spoonbills, which obviously decided to stay there the whole day, but also more than 800 Tundra Bean Geese and Greater White-Fronted Geese in the wetland plus in one field at the back side of the buildings around the place. They seem to have crowded out ducks, because only one pair of Mallards and Eastern Spotbilled Ducks was seen, and no other ducks. However, goose-wise a pleasant surprise: a pair of Swan Geese among all the Tundra Bean Geese. Also, a nice selection of raptors: Eastern Buzzard, Northern Goshawk, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, a beautiful male Hen Harrier and – along the Han river – a White-tailed Eagle and three Cinereous Vultures.

Two Swan Geese Anser cygnoides 개리 © Bernhard Seliger
Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis © Bernhard Seliger

At Imjingang, more eagles and vultures, as well as (the expected) White-naped and Red-crowned Cranes, and more geese. However, here like almost everywhere in the country, the conservation of biodiversity becomes a more and more urgent issue: habitat is disappearing by the day, with everywhere construction (including at some of the well-known roosting and feeding places of cranes), and even more hothouses and ginseng fields, effectively closing off the space to birds. This might be the reason that currently there seem to be fewer White-naped Cranes along Imjin River than usual. Hothouses have encroached year by year on the rice paddies needed by cranes to feed.

White-naped Cranes 재두루미 Antigone vipio along the Imjin river – disturbance, for example by fishermen, and by ubiquitous construction, made these cranes fly off soon again © Bernhard Seliger

Red-crowned Cranes 두루미 Grus japonensis – like in this place, in many places hothouses and other agricultural buildings rapidly take away vitally-needed habitat for these beautiful and rare birds © Bernhard Seliger

Essentially, there are three ways the ROK could counter this:

  • The government could buy land and create sanctuaries on this land. This should not only include wetlands as roosting places, but also rice paddies, which then can be farmed in a way beneficial for birds.
  • The government could force (by law) farmers to farm these areas in a specific way, maybe combined with a subsidy for doing so, making farmers by law wardens of the environment.
  • The government could conclude individual contracts with farmers stipulating a certain way to farm their land (no hothouses, no small-scale rural industries, no ginseng, no buildings, for example), again combined with a subsidy to do so. In this way, tens of thousands of farmers in Germany, in particular in areas adjacent to protected nature reserves, are farming.

Most likely, the ROK should try a combination of the three approaches, each were it is most suitable. However, if the ROK does not act quickly, it will not need to do it at all – because by then biodiversity will be gone. This would not only go against the ROK´s international commitments, e.g. as signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity, but would also mean an incalculable loss of natural and cultural heritage. Hopefully, it is not too late to work harder to conserve it.

You can see the complete list of birds seen here:

Birds in Sannam wetland:

Birds seen along Imjingang:

Hothouses and ginseng fields effectively close spaces for birds. In sensitive areas along the Imjin river, where cranes need rice paddies to feed, they contribute to the loss of biodiversity. © Bernhard Seliger

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