Japan looks to ancient village wisdom to save biodiversity
Monday 01 November 2010
Four decades ago the oriental white stork became extinct in Japan, the victim of rapid industrialisation and modern farm practices and heavy pesticide use that destroyed its habitat.
Today, the graceful migratory bird soars again over restored wetlands around the small town of Toyooka in western Japan, now a showcase for an ambitious conservation effort called the Satoyama Initiative.
As Japan hosts a UN conference on biodiversity this week, the high-tech nation is pushing the initiative to promote some of its ancient village wisdom as a way to heal battered environments worldwide.
The initiative draws lessons from before Japan became studded with megacities and crisscrossed by bullet train lines, when most people lived in villages near rice paddies, bamboo groves and forests.
In the pre-industrial age, woodlands gave villagers plants, nuts, mushrooms and wildlife as well as natural medicines, textiles, fuel and timber for building, all usually harvested sustainably over the centuries.
These managed ecosystems - neither pristine wilderness nor cultivated agricultural landscapes - are known as "satoyama", a composite of the words for villages (sato) and mountains, woods and grasslands (yama).
Today ecologists, somewhat less poetically, call them "socio-ecological production landscapes".
At the 193-member UN meeting in Nagoya aimed at stemming the loss of plant and animal species, Japan is seeking to sign up groups and countries to exchange conservation lessons and ideas through its Satoyama Initiative.
In Japan, as elsewhere, these human-influenced natural environments have been on the decline as many forests have vanished, agriculture has become modernised, and small farm villages have been abandoned.
Bucking the trend has been Toyooka, a town of about 90,000 people in the west of Honshu island, which prides itself on undoing much of the past damage that had wiped out the oriental white stork.
The bird, which has a wingspan of two metres and is officially designated a national treasure in Japan, became extinct in the country in 1971.
Local farmer Tetsuro Inaba, 68, remembers how when he was a child the birds were still a common sight across the country, before they slowly vanished, with the heavy use of pesticides delivering the final blow.
"When I took over the farm from my father, the farmers here were addicted to pesticides. In hindsight, we used terrifying amounts," he said.
When wild stork numbers in Toyooka fell to just 12 in 1965, the city caught a pair and started an artificial breeding programme. But the conservation attempt failed. And the rest died out in the wild by 1971.
"They had lost their reproductive capacity because of the mercury that had accumulated inside their bodies from pesticides," says Inaba.
In 1992, Inaba became a community leader, determined to "live with the storks" - a species that survived in parts of Russia, China and Korea.
Inaba and other farmers studied how to grow rice without pesticides.
They also rebuilt waterways and flooded some rice fields for longer or all year-round to bring back fish and frogs that are food sources for the storks.
"When I learnt that frogs eat noxious insects, I was very moved. I said to myself 'we can do farming without pesticides'," said Inaba.
As the local habitats slowly recovered, Toyooka released storks into the wild five years ago. They had been bred in captivity from six young birds donated by Russia's far-eastern city of Khabarovsk two decades earlier.
Now, about 50 storks live in local wetlands and fields and 100 in a public park in Toyooka, a fact that the city proudly promotes to attract tourists.
The birds have become the emblem of the local brand of "Stork-Nurturing Rice", popular with ecologically-minded consumers who can order it online.
Inaba said growing organic rice is more challenging than it was when farmers doused fields in pesticides, but said he was determined never to go back.
"I want to pass on the landscape that I saw as a child," said Inaba. "I hope our efforts here will spread to the rest of the country."
Humans are a 'plague on Earth': Sir David Attenborough warns that negative effects of population growth will come home to roost
Green village to be bulldozed and mined for lignite in Germany's quest for non-nuclear fuel
47 per cent of London is green space: Is it time for our capital to become a national park?
In pictures: Shrinking Aral Sea
Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past
- 1 Sainsbury's '50p challenge' poster telling staff to encourage customers to spend more placed in shop window instead of staff room
- 2 Five-year-old Iris Grace is raising awareness of autism through her extraordinary paintings
- 3 Isis an hour away from Baghdad - with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
- 4 Yes, the iPhone 6 is a miracle, but it's Apple's tax affairs that deserve a double take
- 5 Car tax disc changes: Two days to go - and they affect you much more than just not displaying a piece of paper
Isis, we are told, is a 'clear and dangerous threat to our way of life'. I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it
Exclusive: 'Putin's Russia has been my biggest regret,' says Nato's outgoing Secretary General
The Osborne Ultimatum: Chancellor’s benefits freeze bombshell will affect ten million households
There’s no excuse for Dave Lee Travis’s behaviour, but we need to keep a sense of proportion
Should gay sex be illegal? 16% of Britons think so
Mark Reckless becomes second Tory MP to defect to Ukip in a month
- < Previous
- Next >
Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE NQ to MID LEVEL - An e...
Highly Attractive Pakage: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - A highly attractive oppor...
£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...
£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...