A revised and enlarged directory of Important Bird Areas in China has been launched at the Society of Conservation Biology meeting in Beijing. Published in Chinese, with English summaries, the directory describes 512 sites covering a total of 1,185,543 km2 (12.4% of the land area) of China’s mainland, and a further 56 sites in Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan.
With an area comparable to the whole of Europe, China has an amazing variety of habitats and biodiversity. More than 1,300 bird species have been recorded, in nine distinct bioregions. Of the 49 Endemic Bird Areas, which BirdLife has identified in Asia, 14 are in China.
The mountain and steppes of western China are the strongholds of many Central Asian species. In the south-west, the mountains of the Himalayas interlock with the subtropical forests of South East Asia, resulting in an area of high diversity and endemism. Even on the eastern side, where millennia of human activities have greatly altered habitats, avian biodiversity is still high. The extensive wetlands remaining in the lower Yangtze basin and along the Yellow Sea coast support huge numbers of passage and wintering waterbirds.
“It is difficult to imagine what would happen to bird species in eastern Asia if there were no conservation efforts in China”, said Simba Chan, Senior Conservation Manager at BirdLife’s Asia Division. “Most birds that breed in eastern Russia and Mongolia have to migrate through or winter in China, among them the Critically Endangered Siberian Crane Grus leucogeranus, of which China holds almost the entire wintering population, and the Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus, which migrates through and probably winters in eastern China.”
The first list of Important Bird Areas in China was published as part of BirdLife’s Asia-wide inventory of IBAs in 2004. This identified 445 sites in mainland China, and was based on work done before 2003.
“In recent years, as more and more people have become interested in birds, and information flow has speeded up thanks to the Internet, we have acquired a lot more new information on distribution of species and previously unknown sites” explained Simba Chan.
In 2006 and 2007, with funds from the World Bank’s Safeguarding Important Area of Natural Habitat Programme, BirdLife organised a series of workshops and consultations to revise China’s IBA inventory. Fresh contributions came from the birdwatching societies which have been established in many parts of China in recent years, with support from BirdLife. The revised China IBA inventory is published in Chinese for the first time.
Despite the emphasis on rapid economic development in support of improved living standards for its people, China has established more than 2,000 Protected Areas since 1956. But in such a vast country, many sites important to bird conservation are not yet protected.
“China has made remarkable progress in its Protected Area system”, said Simba Chan, Senior Conservation Manager at BirdLife’s Asia Division. “Of the 512 IBAs, 320 (62.5%) are already wholly within protected areas, and 64 (12.5%) are partially protected. Only 128 (25%) are unprotected.”
In 2001, China announced the Project on Nationwide Wildlife and Plant Conservation and Establishment of Protected Areas, which aims to increase the number of Protected Areas to 2,500 by the year 2050, covering about 18% of the country’s area.
“This inventory of IBAs is intended to be a major contribution towards the identification of these important sites, and to guide policies and plans, including protected area designation, at local, national and international levels”, said Chan.
The IBA directory will also be used by the World Bank and other donor agencies, under their environmental safeguard policies, to ensure that appropriate measures are taken to mitigate potential negative impacts of their financing operations.
Created: 16th Jul 2009