Since its formation in 1989, each year the British Birdwatching Fair has donated its proceeds to overseas conservation projects recommended and managed by BirdLife International. Similarly, the proceeds of the 2019 Birdfair will support BirdLife’s work in Western Siem Pang, Cambodia: a vast area of deciduous and semi-evergreen forests through which the Sekong River flows.
One of the most amazing facts about the area is that it is home to five Critically Endangered species of bird – a higher concentration than anywhere else in the world. This makes it a vital stronghold that must be preserved.
Western Siem Pang holds 40% of the global population of White-shouldered IbisPseudibis davisoni, more than 20% of the global population of Giant Ibis Thaumatibis gigantean and 70% of the Cambodian population of vultures (up to 84 of the 121 individuals left), including the White-rumped Vulture Gyps bengalensis, Slender-billed Vulture Gyps tenuirostris and Red-headed Vulture Sarcogyps calvus.
A staggeringly biodiverse area, it is also home to Indian Spotted Eagle, Green Peafowl, Sarus Crane, Lesser Adjutant, Greater Adjutant and Great Slaty Woodpecker, as well as several globally threatened mammals such as Eld’s Deer, Clouded Leopard and the Sun Bear.
The site’s importance is enhanced by its location, connecting Virachey National Park in Cambodia to the Xe Pian National Protected Area in Laos, it creates a unique block of protected forests allowing free movement and more viable populations of some of the rarest large mammal and bird species in Asia.
This vital forest habitat is under threat from human activity such as logging, land clearance for agriculture, and hunting to fuel the illegal wildlife trade.
BirdLife International has been involved in the area for 15 years helping to ensure it was declared as a wildlife sanctuary in 2016. The money raised by Birdfair will further this work by improving relationships with local people in order to protect the species that live there, ultimately having a globally significant and sustainable conservation impact.
To effectively manage and protect the forest, conservationists are already engaging with local communities to help them understand the rules of the newly-protected areas. Authorities in the area will also be employed to tackle illegal activities and provide site management support.
“Even with this new legal protection, there’s a lot more to do. It’s critical that we support the Ministry of Environment to ensure the protected area is managed effectively. That includes helping to develop a zoning plan for the huge new site, and making sure ranger teams are well trained and organized.”
Bryna Griffin, head of BirdLife’s Forests Programme
However, it’s not just about stronger rule enforcement. The project will also expand the scope of an innovative initiative called Ibis Rice, an ethically-driven conservation enterprise that is working with Cambodian farmers to protect the precious and vulnerable ecosystem, while also offering better livelihoods and quality of life. Specifically, the aim is to expand wildlife-friendly rice farming to 200-300 families, who agree to the “no hunting, no logging, no encroaching” rules in exchange for a premium price for their produce.
Moreover, BirdLife has been working hard to improve the reproductive success of the areas’ five Critically Endangered bird species by population monitoring and wetland restoration. The hope is that by supporting the breeding efforts of these species, they will be able to expand back into more of their natural range.
Once again the artwork for Birdfair to use to promote this project has been produced by the talented Carry Akroyd. It includes several images of both the White Shouldered Ibis and the Giant Ibis.
Birdfair 2019 takes place at Rutland Water from 16th-18th August. Proceeds from tickets, exhibitor fees, sponsorship and events all contribute towards the project. The amount raised in 2018 was an amazing £322,000 and we hope to make another great contribution to help protect Western Siem Pang this year.