Forests of Hope site - Annamese Lowland Forests, Vietnam

Van Kieu house in the Annamese forest. Photo: Roger Safford.


Site name: Annamese Lowland Forests

Country: Vietnam

IBA(s): Truong Son and Dakrong

Location: Lowlands and foothills of Quang Binh and Quang Tri Provinces, north-central Vietnam; the forests are in the central part of the wider Annamese Lowlands.

Site area: c. 52,000 hectares, potentially more than 102,000 hectares

Country Programme: BirdLife International Vietnam Programme, working with Viet Nature Conservation Centre (a national conservation NGO).


Values of the site

The Annamese lowlands are a global conservation priority. They form one of the four Endemic Bird Areas in Vietnam; they also lie within the Indo-Burma Hotspot defined by Conservation International and the Annamite Range Moist Forests Ecoregion identified by WWF. They contain 13 Key Biodiversity Areas, including 10 sites earlier identified as IBAs. The forests are covered by tropical lowland evergreen and semi-evergreen rain forest with tropical montane rain forest higher up. The rarest species are restricted to the lowland forests which are of great conservation concern.

At least five restricted-range bird species are characteristic of the Annamese Lowlands. Of most concern is the Critically Endangered Edwards's Pheasant Lophura edwardsi, with no recent records but for which the project area  may offer the best hope of survival. Others are the Crested Argus Rheinardia ocellata (another threatened pheasant), White-cheeked Laughing-thrush Garrulax vassali, Short-tailed Scimitar Babbler Jabouilleia danjoui and Grey-faced Tit Babbler Macronous kelleyi.

The area also supports populations of four recently described and extremely rare mammal species; Saola Pseudoryx nghetinhensis (Critically Endangered), Large-antlered Muntjac Muntiacus vuquangensis (Endangered), Annam Black Muntjac M. truongsonensis and Annamite Striped Rabbit Nesolagus timminsi (the two latter being Data Deficient).  The Annamese lowlands support populations of five other mammal species of the wider Greater Annamites Ecoregion, all globally threatened: White-cheeked Crested Gibbon Nomascus leucogenys, Red-shanked Douc Langur Pygathrix nemaeus, Ha Tinh Langur Trachypithecus hatinhensis, Owston's Civet Chrotogale owstoni and Heude's Pig Sus bucculentus.

Other rare species also present include the butterflies Pintara capiloides and Zeuxidia sapphirus and the plants Baccaurea silvestris, Breynia septata, Calamus poilanei and Dendrobium amabile. Several other more widespread yet still globally threatened plant and animal species are present, including the Critically Endangered conifer Dipterocarpus kerrii.

The forests also make a major contribution to the livelihood security of local and indigenous people (the Van Kieu), which include some of the poorest in Vietnam; 90% of households are dependent on wild goods harvested from the forest. In 2012, a preliminary assessment of ecosystem service values was carried out at Khe Nuoc Trong and Dakrong.  Carbon storage and sequestration, water provision and flood protection were shown to be crucial ecosystem services provided by the site.

Annamese lowland forests. Photo by Roger Safford.


Key threats at the site include:

  •          Wildlife hunting and trapping for local consumption and national and international trade.
  •          Illegal logging
  •          Infrastructure and other large-scale development initiatives (hydropower plants, dams, road construction)

The overexploitation of fauna and flora through hunting and trapping is a remarkable feature of this area, and results in so-called ‘empty forests’: structurally intact but almost devoid of large animal life. This affects not only species of high value in the wildlife trade but also species of low trade value but high susceptibility to habitat loss and indiscriminate snaring, such as Saola and Edwards's Pheasant

The Annamese Lowlands have a legacy of forest degradation, fragmentation and loss. The area is bisected by both the former De-Militarised Zone the trans-Asia Corridor and the Ho Chi Minh Trail and was heavily affected by the war years of the 1960s. These forests continue to face an extremely high degree of threat because of their relatively greater accessibility and greater suitability for conversion to other land uses.

One of the root causes of the ‘empty forest’ syndrome is poverty. These areas in Vietnam are some of the country’s poorest regions, and this poverty is also reflected in a lack of resources and capacity in Government agencies for law enforcement.


Historical conservation approach

Forested areas in Vietnam are managed by the Provincial Forest Protection Department. Forest is classified into three categories: Production forest (for managed logging), Watershed Protection Forest and Special Use Forest (under Protected Areas designation).  Over the last 15 years, with BirdLife support, the Government of Vietnam has established, expanded and proposed several Protected Areas in the Annamese Lowlands. However, most Protected Area establishment has been at higher elevations, which typically face lower levels of threat than the lowland forests, where most of the elements of biodiversity unique to the Annamese Lowlands EBA are concentrated.

Some protected areas that contain lowland forest include Dakrong and Bac Huong Hoa Nature Reserves, Quang Tri Province. Recently, Quang Binh Province has proposed the establishment of two more protected areas at Khe Net IBA and Khe Nuoc Trong. Khe Nuoc Trong and Dakrong were identified as the priorities for Forests of Hope.

For Protected Areas, land use certificates are issued to a management board who manage the site on behalf of the Forest Protection Department. Logging is not permitted. In addition, there are legal requirements to protect against activities that affect biodiversity, in particular hunting.  According to national law, hunting in all forest is illegal. However, this is only enforced in Protected Areas and, even there, only where there is the capacity to do so. Non-timber forest product collection for commercial purposes is illegal in any forest but in reality is not controlled. Collection for subsistence use is permitted but is neither managed nor monitored. 

Widespread poverty resulting in continued overexploitation of natural resources by local people in the Annamese lowlands has also made the implementation of conservation activities ineffective, with no significant improvement in local communities’ livelihoods.  Thus, conventional conservation approaches that exclude local people are failing widely and enforcement costs remain unsustainable.


New conservation approach

A new mechanism for forest management and conservation in Vietnam is now provided by Forest Protection Contracts. This represents a form of co-management involving vesting rights and responsibilities over resource management with local groups. These contracts can be issued to local households, groups of households or village communities to protect important forest areas. The management board works with a group of households including the Head of the village and the elders to protect the forest.   As part of these contracts, overexploitation of forest resources needs to be managed, monitored and enforced to allow the forest and the biodiversity to recover and ensure flows of these goods into perpetuity. The understanding of local community requirements and the development of sustainable livelihoods will be a large focus of this approach.

Quang Tri Province authorities expressed interest in working with BirdLife on such a scheme in relation to Dakrong Nature Reserve, where 9,000 ha of forest have already been included under Forest Protection Contracts. Quang Binh Province authorities are similarly eager to explore this approach for Khe Nuoc Trong Nature Reserve, once it has been established.

Another conservation approach for the region is also being explored. Elsewhere in Vietnam, private businesses have leased forested land for ecotourism projects, and the Endangered Primate Rescue Center has leased forest land in Cuc Phuong National Park. The Government is also in the process of revising regulations on investment in protected areas. Thus, opportunities are increasing for new funding and management mechanisms which are being assessed at present.

Sustainable funding potential is strong for the site. The forest has high value has a carbon sink and also has great hydrological importance. Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) and other Payments for Ecosystem Services can potentially be considered as new, additional income sources for Forests of Hope projects in the Annamese Lowlands.

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