A corner of Tram Chim National Park, an important bird area, in Dong Thap province (Photo: VNA)

Hanoi (VNA) – Site support groups (SSGs) have been set up in Vietnam by BirdLife International since 2002, proving effective in conserving important bird areas (IBAs) of the country.

IBAs are forest or wetland areas important for the conservation of bird populations and other fauna and flora species.

There are 63 IBAs in 37 provinces and cities across Vietnam at present, covering nearly 1.7 million hectares or 5 percent of the country’s natural area. Each IBA in the country spans between 2ha and more than 100,000ha.

Central Quang Binh province and the Central Highlands provinces of Dak Lak, Lam Dong and Gia Lai are home to 19 IBAs – the most in the country – and were selected as prioritised areas for conservation.

Current threats to birds are poaching and cross-border smuggling, which mainly impact big bird species living in flocks such as hornbills, trerons and junglefowls. These illegal activities have been reported in some IBAs such as in Ke Go in Ha Tinh province and Chu Yang Sin in Dak Lak.

Intensive cultivation and logging have also affected bird habitats in 43 IBAs, especially Ha Tien and Kien Luong (Kien Giang province) and Lang Sen (Long An province). 

Meanwhile, the habitat and growth of birds were also influenced by the construction of dykes and canals in many IBAs like Phong Nha and Ke Bang (Quang Binh) and U Minh Thuong and Kien Luong (Kien Giang). Aquaculture and overexploitation of aquatic species have also exhausted food sources for birds in the Mekong Delta.

The problem is attributable to low public awareness of biodiversity and law, poverty in rural areas, demand for birds as food or pets, a shortage of forest rangers and researchers and lax law enforcement.

The SSGs model has been successfully applied by BirdLife in many countries such as Cambodia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Indonesia, India and Malaysia. It aims to involve local residents in conservation activities in IBAs.

Twelve SSGs have been established in IBAs in Vietnam so far, including one in Yen Hung (Quang Ninh province), one in Xuan Thuy (Nam Dinh), one in Mu Cang Chai (Yen Bai), five in Truong Son/Khe Nuoc Trong and Khe Net Nature Reserve (Quang Binh) and four in Bac Huong Hoa and Dac Rong (Quang Tri).

They gather locals, village leaders and representatives of local organisations such as women’s unions, youth unions and war veterans’ associations. 

Each group, instructed by a local official and a staff member of BirdLife, has a team responsible for forest patrol and another in charge of communications. Information collected by patrol teams will be reported to forest resources management agencies while communication teams will hold training courses to raise public awareness of bird conservation and forest protection.

Simple communication methods have been used by SSGs to disseminate information about bird species and forest protection to residents. As a result, bird poaching has reportedly reduced. Locals have also pledged not to illegally exploit forest resources or hunt endemic species in IBAs.

Meetings with local communities helped officials better understand the aspirations of people living near IBAs. Through SSGs, BirdLife International has also helped locals earn a living by exploiting non-wood forest products or practising forest farming so as to minimise impacts on bird habitats.

BirdLife is set to expand the network of SSGs in IBAs nationwide soon.-VNA