Korean Ambassador greets protest monks
Three of South Korea’s most prominent spiritual leaders drew the world’s attention to their country's Saemangeum wetland, by performing a symbolic walk in the United Kingdom. The ‘Samboilbae’ successfully took place at the RSPB’s (BirdLife in the UK) Snettisham nature reserve, highlighting the threat to the most important wetland site for migratory birds in the Yellow Sea region.
Saemangeum, on the west coast of South Korea, is vital for the livelihoods of around 25,000 fishermen. It also supports the world’s highest numbers of Spotted Greenshank Tringa guttifer (Endangered), which numbers fewer than 1,000 individuals world-wide, large numbers of Saunders’s Gull Larus saundersi (Vulnerable), and an estimated 10% of the global population of Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus (Vulnerable), as well as a significant proportion of the international population of 27 species of waterbirds, including an estimated 80,000+ Great Knots Calidris tenuirostris. In 1999, Ramsar asked the South Korean Government to protect the site as a Wetland of International Importance.
Despite this, the South Korean Government began the world’s largest coastal reclamation, to convert the whole 40,100 hectare wetland to agricultural land. Following protests by South Korean conservation and religious organisations, and the international community, in July 2003 a Korean court ordered that reclamation work must stop immediately. The Korean Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry appealed, and in late January 2004 came the devastating news that their appeal had been upheld.
"We toiled, wept and bled all the way from Saemangeum to Seoul." —Reverend Su-kyung
The Buddhist leaders at Snettisham included the Reverend Su-kyung, one of four religious leaders who led a Samboilbae (three steps and a kowtow) to Seoul in 2003. He said "Different people from different religions joined Samboilbae. It took 65 days to walk and kowtow 330 kms…we toiled, wept and bled all the way from Saemangeum to Seoul." His colleagues were the Reverend Do-beop, considered the most respected living Buddhist monk in South Korea, and the Reverend Lee Seon-Jong, one of the most respected living Won Buddhist monks and nuns in South Korea and a co-president of Saemangeum Life and Peace Alliance. They were accompanied on their Samboilbae in Norfolk by representatives of the Korean Federation of Environmental Movements, the Korean/UK-based conservation network WBKEnglish, BirdLife International, the RSPB, the World Conservation Monitoring Centre, and members of the public, on Saturday 31 January.
"The walk was a great way to prove to the pro-reclamation section of the Korean Government that the Saemangeum issue is simply not going to go away, and that people all round the world want it stopped." —Charlie Moores, WBKEnglish
During their visit to the UK, the South Korean delegation met the directors of BirdLife International, the RSPB, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, and Friends of the Earth.
During their visit to the UK, the South Korean delegation met the directors of BirdLife International, the RSPB, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, and Friends of the Earth. On 2 February, World Wetlands Day, accompanied by representatives from WBKEnglish and the RSPB, the Korean delegation held a scheduled 30 minute meeting with the South Korean Ambassador to the UK. In a promising sign of a possible change of heart on the issue, the meeting was extended to one-hour.