27 Oct 2011

Triple figures of Spoon-billed Sandpiper in China

By Martin Fowlie

Up to 103 Spoon-billed Sandpipers were observed earlier this month at Rudong, in Jiangsu Province just north of the Yangtze Estuary in China. This is a significant proportion of the remaining global population of this Critically Endangered shorebird, and one of the highest counts of the species in recent decades. What is surprising is that Rudong was only discovered to be an important shorebird site in 2008, by a team from the China Coastal Waterbird Census, which is supported by Hong Kong Bird Watching Society and the BirdLife China Programme.

The area is currently not under protection of any kind. The mudflats where the waders feed are threatened by several industrial development projects, as well as by an introduced species of spartina grass. The grass is rapidly covering the estuarine mud. This is reducing the feeding areas for the waders but is also restricting the opportunities for local people to seek out their traditional living from shellfish. Protecting and managing these coastal areas will benefit local people and wildlife.

BirdLife’s China Programme, the Hong Kong Birdwatching Society and Wild Bird Society of Shanghai have been working at Rudong, thanks to a grant from  Disney’s Friends for Change, a global initiative that encourages kids and families to join together and make a lasting positive impact on their world by helping people, communities and the planet. Conservation education at local schools and awareness-raising events have been a crucial part of this work, which aim to rapidly increase understanding amongst local communities of the importance of the coastal wetlands for migratory birds and people.

This approach has worked well at other sites in China, not only for Spoon-billed Sandpiper but also for Chinese Crested Tern, the country’s rarest bird. In August, a conservation education training course targeted at teachers and local environmental groups was organised. About 40 teachers from Jiangsu Province, Shanghai and neighbouring Zhejiang Province attended this workshop. Barrie Cooper from RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) helped to lead the workshop. The plan is for student conservation groups to become ambassadors for Spoon-billed Sandpiper, informing local people and the government about the importance of conservation and protecting wildlife and the benefits it can have to local livelihoods.

A meeting held with government officers and the local mayor during August was encouraging. There is understanding of the importance of the coastal mudflats for migratory shorebirds and an acceptance that the spread of spartina needs to be controlled and there has been a discussion about the possibility of developing a nature reserve. There are huge pressures from development at Rudong and elsewhere along the Chinese coast.

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Hopefully, increasing environmental awareness will lead to the protection and sustainable management of key areas for Spoon-billed Sandpiper and other shorebirds. Birdfair- Global Sponsor of the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme, Heritage Expeditions, WildSoundsThe Dutch Birding Association and VBN (BirdLife in the Netherlands)The David & Lucile Packard FoundationDisney Friends for ChangeThe CMS SecretariatThe MBZ FoundationSave Our Species, Ed Keeble and the many other generous individuals have all become BirdLife Species Champions or Programme Supporters under the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme helping this species.