BirdLife: The Magazine September 2017 - Page 28

GOING SOUTH TWINNING IS WINNING The destruction of wetlands across the Yellow Sea in China mirrors something that already happened in the UK 50 years ago. Now, a twinning agreement between two vital wetlands in Shanghai and London aims to stop the clock in China, and turn back time in Europe… Martin Harper Global Conservation Director, RSPB I n early September, Hurricane Irma tore a path through the north-eastern Carib- bean and south-eastern US, leaving horrific dev- astation in its wake. Untold damage was done, both to people’s livelihoods and to the region’s incredible wildlife. These events took place in the same week the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB, BirdLife in the UK) hosted a visit from a Chinese delegation that has been involved in a major coastal habitat restoration scheme in the Yel- low Sea. So naturally, thoughts turned to the role that coastal wetlands can play in reducing the impact of climate change. The science sug- gests that climate change increases the intensity of these storms, some of which will trigger tidal surges. Coastal communities around the world need support to help them cope with this and also, of course, future rises in sea levels. Coastal wetlands make communities more resilient by providing flood storage, storm surge buffers, erosion control, water quality improve- ments, and of course wildlife habitat. The RSPB has been involved in many such schemes in the UK and that was, in part, the motivation for the connection to the work in the Yellow Sea. 28 Bohai Gulf, China. Photo Guo Yu/Shutterstock 0 WALLASEA ISLAND AIMS TO COMPENSATE FOR THE HISTORICAL LOSS OF THE UK’S TIDAL HABITATS In recent years, China has arguably become a world leader in environmental matters — “eco-civilisation” now being at the heart of its national strategy. Gradually this policy is hav- ing real impact in real places. A prime example of this new approach is Shanghai’s Chongming Dongtan National Nature Reserve, which acts as a gateway to the Yellow Sea. The Yellow Sea, which China shares with North and South Korea, is the most important staging area for coastal waterbirds in the world. It is also the most threatened, due to the exceptional rate of development along the Chinese and South Korean coasts. Spoon-billed Sandpiper Calidris pygmaea, which has been a species recovery priority for the RSPB, and remains a focus for BirdLife’s Preventing Extinctions Programme, is among about 30 species brought to the brink of extinction because of this. For this reason, helping to conserve and restore the Yellow Sea ecosystem is also a priority for the BirdLife Inter- national Global Flyways Programme. Chongming Dongtan, established nearly 20 years ago and well-resourced by Shanghai, has been managed by Director Tang and his team. Tang has clearly provided great vision, ambition and a real focus on nature conservation as well BIRDLIFE • SEPTEMBER 2017 Spoon-billed Sandpiper Calidris pygmaea. Photo Butterfly Hunter/ Shutterstock 7 IT IS HOPED CHONGMING DONGTAN WILL FORM PART OF THE YELLOW SEA WORLD HERITAGE NOMINATION The Chinese delegation meet with key BirdLife International personnel. Photo Rosa Gleave 1 as outreach. Yet, he was also clear about what was needed to get the job done, saying, quite candidly: “We have the money; we sometimes don’t know what to do.” So, their approach is to find the best people in the world to help them achieve their vision. This search ultimately led to representatives from the Municipality of Shanghai visiting the UK to meet with representatives from both RSPB and BirdLife International. The Chinese delega- tion made the long trip west with two objectives in mind; firstly, to sign a Wetland Collaboration Agreement with the RSPB, and secondly to visit the site Chongming Dongtan is to be twinned with: RSPB’s Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project, a landmark conservation and engineering project currently under development in Essex, England. Wallasea Island is an ambitious project that aims to compensate for the historical loss of the United Kingdom’s tidal habitats, by recreat- ing nine miles (15km) of mudflats and saltmarsh lagoons. The flooding of the island is gradu- ally creating important habitat for wading birds such as Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta. The geographical parallels between this project, and Chongming Dongtan, are clear to see, and make them natural candidates for twinning. From the point of view of a migratory waterbird, the Yellow Sea plays the same role, of a crucial refuelling stop, in the East Asian Australasian Fly- way, as the North Sea does in the African-Eura- sian Flyway. Shanghai and London are both the biggest cities and at the south west corner of their respective sea. Thus Wallasea Island, situated on the outskirts of London, like Chongming Dong- tan, is the gateway to its sea. The destruction of coastal wetlands happening in the Yellow Sea now already happened in the UK about half a cen- tury ago. And that is what the Wallasea Island Wild Coast project has set out to restore through its major engineering project resulting in more hab- itat, more wildlife, protection from storm surges and new recreational opportunities. So it was a natural fit for Chongming Dongtan to approach the RSPB to partner with them in restoring part of their site from the invasive cordgrass, Spartina, which they had decided to eradicate by flooding, necessitating a major engineering project. This partnership was marked when Director Tang and RSPB Chief Executive Mike Clarke signed a twinning agreement. It is hoped that Chongming Dongtan will form part of the excit- ing Yellow Sea World Heritage nomination, which currently consists of 14 key costal sites across the Bohai Gulf and Yellow Sea. Like Wal- lasea in Europe, Chongming Dongtan will hope- fully inspire other efforts in China to protect the natural environment at the coast. Ultimately, in these volatile times, we need well-managed coasts that benefit both wildlife and people. SEPTEMBER 2017 • BIRDLIFE 29