“Forest Bird Workshop”, March 21st-23rd, Seoul, ROK

Nial Moores PhD, March 24th, 2013

Eastern Crowned Warbler - in rapid decline
Eastern Crowned Warbler Phylloscopus coronatus Copyright Kim Shin-Hwan.
A migratory forest species that is apparently in very rapid decline…

Much of Birds Korea’s higher-profile work has focused on waterbirds. However, we have also conducted much research over the years on migratory land- and forest birds (see the 2010 Blueprint, and e.g. the Gageo Island habitat page at: http://www.birdskorea.org/Habitats/Other/Gageodo/BK-HA-Gageodo.shtml); we have gathered and published information online on forest-bird records (see e.g. our Bird Year reviews, first in 2002: http://www.birdskorea.org/Birds/Birdnews/BK-BN-Birdnews-archive.shtml); and we have worked hard to encourage the growth of popularity in birdwatching and citizen-science driven conservation work in all habitats – from making a video on birds in 2000-2001 to eco-classes and eco-camps, to birdwatching events like birdathons and participation in the global Pledge-to-Fledge Initiative.

As part of our work for landbirds, we have already identified population declines in many forest- and “open country” dependent migrant (and resident) bird species; identified likely drivers of population changes; and proposed some of the steps that we believe need to be taken in order for our nation to meet existing obligations toward their conservation. These obligations include, of course, those contained within the Millennium Development Goals and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets – the latter calling for substantial improvements in the conservation status of threatened species and natural habitats (including forests) by 2020. These targets are likely to be the focus of much discussion and policy development in the near-future here in the ROK, especially as the nation prepares to host the 2014 Convention on Biological Diversity conference.

As a legally-registered ROK bird conservation NGO deeply involved in landbird conservation, Birds Korea was therefore especially keen to participate in the first ever workshop on East Asian forest bird conservation to be held in the ROK. We thank the co-hosts (the Ministries of Environment in the ROK and in Japan) for enabling our participation.

This “Forest Bird Workshop” (held at the Korea National Park Service’s Bukhansan Eco-learning Institute in Seoul from March 21st-23rd, 2013) was intended as the first step in the development of a formal East Asia-wide forest bird conservation initiative. From now on, forward-momentum is expected to be rapid. As stated by Dr. Kim Jin-Han (of the National Institute of Biological Resources within the ROK Ministry of Environment), the 2014 CBD conference would likely provide a very useful opportunity for the formal launch of any such initiative.

In total, there were more than 40 workshop participants, including many familiar and welcome faces. The majority were from the ROK and to a lesser degree Japan, with representatives also from BirdLife International (as co-organisers with the NIBR) and BirdLife partners in Thailand and the Philippines. In addition, three staff from the Secretariat of the East Asia-Australasian Flyway Partnership were in attendance, including the Chief Executive Spike Millington and the new Science Officer, Dr. Judit Szabo. The majority of ROK participants were from GO bodies, with a lesser number from academia (including Professor Lee Woo-Shin and Dr. Choi Chang-Young), and single representatives from a conservation network (Dr. Lee Kisup from the Korea Waterbird Network) and from the domestic NGO community (myself, on behalf of Birds Korea).

After a series of presentations, much time during the workshop on the second day was spent usefully in trying to define the scope and scale of any such future forest (or landbird) initiative – and on seeking the best balance between science and advocacy/CEPA. There were two main threads to the discussion.

Forest Bird Worskshop, Seoul, March 2013
Participants in deep discussion at the Forest Bird Workshop, March 22nd 2013.
Image Nial Moores / Birds Korea.

First, all agreed that a new regional conservation initiative is needed for landbirds, in addition to those already focused on seabirds and waterbirds. However, it was unclear whether any new initiative should be confined only to species of forested habitats or whether it should include species of more open habitats too. The consensus of the workshop was that any such initiative should be inclusive rather than exclusive. We support that position. Many of the migratory species likely to be in most rapid decline in North-east Asia (including Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica, Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus and Tiger Shrike Lanius tigrinus, and Rustic Emberiza rustica, Chestnut E. rutila and Yellow-breasted Buntings E. aureola) are species more typical of open habitats and/or forest edge rather than closed canopy forest.

The two most threatened landbird species in Northeast Asia are also species of open habitat, namely the globally Endangered Jankowski’s Bunting Emberiza jankowskii (see: https://www.justgiving.com/Jankowskis-Bunting) and the presumably close-to-extinction Speckled Reed Warbler Acrocephalus sorghophilus.

Within the ROK and Northeast Asia, while some forest species like Eastern Crowned Warbler Phylloscopus coronatus are strongly suspected to be in rapid decline (perhaps in that species due in large part to loss of closed canopy forest in the wintering range: Dr. David Wells, pers. comm.), there are by contrast few species of heavily forested habitat presently listed as globally threatened. In the ROK itself for example, there are no globally Endangered forest species, with the exception of the scarcely annually-occurring Japanese Night Heron Gorsachius goisagi (a species that should already be covered under Ramsar and the EAAFP); only two or so regularly-occurring globally Vulnerable species (Fairy Pitta Pitta nympha and Yellow Bunting Emberiza sulphurata – the latter a species of forest edge in the ROK); and only a small number of Near-threatened breeding species. Moreover, an analysis of the literature suggests that between 1910 and 2009 there were major declines (presumed in many cases to be of 90% or more) in rather more bird species of grassland and agricultural landscapes (13) and wetlands (12) than forest dependent species (six), with substantial declines suspected in many other species of open habitats too.

From a CEPA perspective also, it might well prove to be rather more challenging to raise interest among a largely urban population in forest species that are hard to see because they typically remain deep-in-cover – while species like Barn Swallow of more open habitats are already well-known and easy to include in citizen-science led projects.

The second discussion thread was focused on the order of work that needs to be done. Clearly, there is both the need for detailed inventory and long-term monitoring of sites and species; and also for a rapid improvement in the conservation response. Concerns were expressed that the development of a conservation initiative, if rushed, might lead to wasted effort and also to reduced investment of time and effort in longer-term scientific programs vital to effective and well-focused long-term conservation strategies and policies. At the same time, there is a need to make rapid progress in trying to stem loss of forest habitat and avian biodiversity. Thanks to the skilful work of the Chair and participants, these important differences in emphasis were resolved, again resulting in agreement by all parties:

Noting the urgent need to make inventory of Forest and Grassland bird (species), Forest and Grassland bird conservation with specific concern for migratory flagship species is the scope
(Draft version of meeting minutes, shared with participants).

This Workshop was a useful first step. We are especially encouraged by the willingness of all participants, especially the ROK Ministry of Environment, to pursue a cooperative initiative of this kind. We also believe that as long as waterbird conservation issues are not underplayed as a result that the CBD COP in 2014 will provide an excellent opportunity to help focus minds and hearts on a large group of bird species (landbirds) that are presently under-represented in conservation initiatives.

We again congratulate the co-hosts and Chairs and participants for their excellent work, and look forward to contributing further to the development of this important initiative.

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