Bird Conservation in Goseong County, Gangwon ProvinceBirds Korea, November 2014
Goseong County lies in the far northeast of the ROK, in Gangwon Province. Like the province, Goseong County is divided by the DMZ into south and north. Nonetheless, the whole county is flanked to the east by the East Sea and to the west by some of the highest mountains in the country, ecologically linking Seorak National Park (in the ROK) to Gumgang Mountain National Park (in the DPRK). Like Ongjin County to the west and Cheorwon in central Korea, Goseong County is a beautiful, bio-diverse and divided county, fully sensitive to wider political and military realities.
Main bird habitats in the southern half of the county include Forest (from sea-level up to almost 1300masl), Freshwater Wetland (most especially Hwajin Po), and Marine areas. These three main habitat types are present in the DPRK part of Goseong County too. However, a review of Google Earth imagery suggests some habitat differences between the south and the north of the county. Especially, there appears to be ~100ha of Intertidal Wetland at the mouths of the Cheokbyeok and Buk rivers, a habitat-type effectively lacking in the south of the county, and stretches of river that seem suitable for Scaly-sided Merganser Mergus squamatus during migration. In addition, while much of the southern part of the county is densely forested, much of the north of the county appears to be lightly wooded, with bare mountain ridges and extensive areas of more Grassland-type and Open Habitat (as found in much of the Korean Peninsula in the early 1950s).
As noted in Status of Birds 2014, centuries of deforestation on the Korean Peninsula contributed to a poor conservation status for many forest species. Afforestation and reforestation policies in the ROK since the early 1970s, however, have led to a substantial increase nationally in forest volume. Now, more than 60% of the ROK is believed to be heavily-forested. In turn, many bird species that are ecologically dependent on forests have increased in recent decades, including now locally abundant species like Varied Tit Sittiparus varius and perhaps even the rare and locally-distributed Ural Owl Strix uralensis. The growth in population of many forest bird species indicates growth in the abundance of their food items, including e.g. insects and small mammals (i.e. other forest-dependent biodiversity). As several of the increasing bird species are cavity-nesters and others prefer nesting in low vegetation, their increase also indicates the restoration of a more complex, mature forest structure and ecological community.
In addition to helping forest biodiversity recover, reforestation and afforestation in much of the ROK, including in Gangwon Province, has also provided multiple other benefits. These benefits include the potentially sustainable production of forest goods (from wood for timber and fuel to forest plants for human consumption, both important at the local level for maintaining culture and economic well-being); a substantial reduction in soil erosion; an improvement in local (and national) air quality; a contribution to efforts to reduce the still-growing national carbon footprint; and the regrowth of beautiful landscapes capable of attracting huge numbers of hikers and a small (but growing) number of eco-tourists. The forested Sorak National Park, part of which lies in Goseong County, now apparently attracts 3-4 million visitors annually. Park visitors benefit from spending time in more natural landscapes; and the local economy, including hotels, restaurants and shops, benefit from tourist revenues.
Bird research in the county has been fairly limited in scope, with many of the county records in the Birds Korea Archives contributed by Birds Korean Barry Heinrich who lived in the area between 2009 and 2011. However, Hwajin Po was already recognized several decades ago for its importance to migrant and wintering waterbirds, including Mute Swan Cygnus olor. At peak in 1980, 145 were recorded there (Park 2002), though few, if any, have been recorded in most recent winters. Also, survey conducted by researchers in the Korea National Park Service since the late 1990s found several species breeding at the southern limit of their global breeding range, espeically in and at the edge of subalpine forest in Seorak National Park, including Dusky Warbler Phylloscopus fuscatus and Radde’s Warbler Phylloscopus schwarzi (e.g. Park & Choe 2001), and strong evidence of breeding Two-barred Warbler Phylloscopus plumbeitarsus in 2013 (Ogura in Robson 2013). Birds Korea research (as part of a project with the Hanns Seidel Foundation), also found 19 Two-barred Warbler in closed canopy forest here in late July 2014, concentrated between 1100m and 1300masl (Birds Korea Archives). At the same time, species like Japanese Bush Warbler Horornis diphone and Japanese White-eye Zosterops japonicus, perhaps neither of which have been recorded in the DPRK (Tomek 2002), appear to reach the northern limit of their range in Korea in Gangwon Province, in or close to Goseong County (Park 2014, Birds Korea Archives). In recent winters too, coastal woodland in Goseong County has also been found to support a diverse range of migratory landbirds, including e.g. Chinese Nuthatch Sitta villosa and Yellow-bellied Tit Pardaliparus venustulus, with Korea’s third Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus also recorded here (in early 2013). In recent years too, opportunistic counts of seabirds from the coast and then from boats have, since ~2007, found large concentrations of loons and alcids, including regular Yellow-billed Loon Gavia adamsii, and on occasion >10,000 Ancient Murrelet Synthliboramphus antiquus in addition to a national high-count of 105 Spectacled Guillemot Cepphus carbo (a species found regularly nowhere else in the ROK). This marine area (including offshore from the southern part of the county, the DMZ and the northern part of the county) is likely to prove internationally important for seabirds (Moores et al. 2014)
The habitats in the southern part of Goseong County are therefore already known to have high national importance for the conservation of avian biodiversity, even though there has been limited research effort to date. There is much less information available on birds in Goseong County north of the DMZ or within the DMZ proper. However, based on present understanding of bird distribution; on satellite imagery, showing ecological connectivity of some of the habitats and the presence of potentially high-quality undisturbed habitat, especially within and adjacent to the DMZ; and on DPRK records listed in Tomek (1999, 2002) it seems probable that this area will similarly be important (and in some cases, perhaps even more important) for seabirds, and some migrant waterbirds and forest-nesting species.
Positives steps for conservation have already been taken in some parts of Goseong County. These include the designation of national parkland; and more recently the construction of a sign-posted eco-trail at Songjeong Village, a project also supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation.
Although research on birds has been limited, potential threats to avian biodiversity in the southern part of Goseong County include:
- Habitat degradation, through forest cutting, road-building and construction of resort-driven development. Such development has already led to substantial degradation of Hwajin Po and existing plans seem likely to degrade the wetland further;
- Disturbance, by human activities in all three main habitats;
- Potentially inappropriate siting of wind-turbines.
In line with the sustainable provision of benefits to residents and tourists through the conservation of biodiversity (and future ecotourism), and in accordance with existing commitments to conservation laws, agreements and convention texts, Birds Korea believes that the following research initiatives would help to improve understanding and conservation opportunities for avian biodiversity in Goseong County:
- Regular, methodical survey from boats of seabirds-at-sea, at least once a month for at least a year, to assess the importance of the area to seabirds; to improve understanding of seabird usage of the area (e.g. how does the no-fish zone within the DMZ affect the distribution and abundance of seabirds and the species they feed on?); and to improve understanding of potential threats to these seabirds;
- Fuller survey of forested areas to map the distribution and abundance of breeding species;
- Fuller bird and biodiversity survey of areas included in development proposals, pre-construction, during construction and post-construction, to assess potential impacts and to propose alternatives and / or ways to mitigate some of the impacts.
- Any survey / rapid assessment, opportunistic or otherwise, in the northern part of Goseong County, in any of the main habitat types, to assess connectivity and to compare abundance and distribution.
- Moores, N., Kim, A & R. Kim. 2014. Status of Birds, 2014. Birds Korea Report on Bird Population Trends and Conservation Status in the Republic of Korea. Published by Birds Korea, September 2014.
- Park, J-Y. 2002. Current status and distribution of birds in Korea. Department of Biology, Kyung Hee University, Seoul (unpublished thesis, in Korean).
- Park J-G. & Chae H-Y. 2001. The First Breeding Record of Dusky Warbler Phylloscopus fuscatus on Seoraksan National Park. Kor. J. Orn. Vol.8. No.2: 127-129.
- Park J-G. 2014. Identification Guide to Birds of Korea. Published by Nature and Ecology. No, 12, Checklist of Organisms in Korea (in Korean).
- Robson, C. 2013. Editor. Records by Ogura T. in South Korea, in From the Field, BIRDINGAsia 19: p. 123.
- Tomek, T. 1999-2002. The birds of North Korea. Acta Zoologica Cracoviensia 42: 1-217; 45: 1-235 (in English).