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Walking for Wetlands

Prominent Korean environmentalists and spiritual leaders come to the UK to protest reclamation in South Korea…

As regular Fatbirder users will remember, Saemangeum is the name given to the world`s largest ongoing coastal reclamation. Taking place on South Korea`s west coast, the 40,100ha project has generated enormous controversy as the area supports an estimated 25,000 people`s livelihoods and some of the largest concentrations of migratory birds in Asia.

On July 15th a Korean mid-level court made a historic ruling stating that the Saemangeum reclamation project must stop, effective immediately. The ruling was welcomed by environmental groups, the 3,539 local citizens who brought the case against the government, and the majority of the population.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF), as anticipated, appealed the ruling, and insisted that work should be allowed to continue. The appeal was heard in November 2003, and a ruling is expected soon. However, hoping that international interest in Saemangeum is fading away and that people no longer care, reclamation work has apparently already started again.

WBKEnglish, a UK/Korean conservation network has been working with Korean NGO Korean Federation for Environmental Movement (KFEM) to halt the reclamation permanently, and their campaign is - literally - taking great steps forward this month.With the co-operation and support of the RSPB (the UK`s largest bird charity), they are holding a samboilbae (three steps and a bow) walk at Snettisham RSPB Reserve on Saturday January 31st - starting at about 10:30 a.m. - and of course everyone is invited. To re-enforce the importance of the Saemangeum issue it has just been confirmed that THREE of Korea`s most prominent spiritual leaders are coming to the UK to lead the samboilbae and ensure that this culturally symbolic form of protest will be reported in the Korean media. Also over from Korea will be KFEM`s International Campaigner MA Yong-un, and KFEM/WBKEnglish`s KIM SuKyung (The party arrives from Korea on January 27th and will leave on February 3rd.)After the walk, which is timed to co-incide with the Ramsar Convention`s World Wetlands Day, they will be reading a statement declaring the importance of the world`s wetlands to life on this planet, and to remind the Korean Government of their responsibilities to protect their wetlands as a signatory to the Ramsar Convention.

International protests are centering on South Korea`s apparent disregard for international conventions which it has signed, which should ensure the conservation of Saemangeum and the migratory bird populations which depend upon it.

The controversy surrounding the legitimacy of the reclamation and the anticipated impacts of this project on populations of migratory birds as well as on fishing communities and regional fisheries, continues to deepen.WBKEnglish spokesperson (UK), Charlie Moores commented: We are absolutely delighted that such prominent Koreans are coming to support this event, and we are certain that their presence will make the samboilbae at Snettisham fascinating and rewarding for all concerned. The walk will definitely be reported in the Korean media and is a great way to prove to the pro-reclamation sections of the Korean Government that the Saemangeum issue is not going to simply go away, and that people all round the world want this reclamation stopped. South Korea is a fledgling democracy dependent on exports and international goodwill. Ignoring a legal ruling by its own Courts and continuing the reclamation is an extraordinary thing for South Korea to do, and sends out entirely the wrong signal to its citizens and to the international community. International relationships at all levels clearly need to be built on the fulfilment of obligations to international conventions and treaties and to the rule of law.

4th July 2014