The world’s largest bird table? – emergency food aid for the Endangered Great Knot

I am currently back at the Yalujiang National Nature Reserve, Liaoning Province, China working with the Fudan University Bird Research Team. Last winter was one of the coldest since 1949 and seems to have had a major impact on the clam populations on the tidal flats – such that the number of individual clams is only c5% of the average over the past 6 years! This is particularly bad news for the Great Knots as they feed almost exclusively on small clams and snails – the nature reserve is the most important migratory staging site for the species, supporting nearly a quarter of the world population – IUCN list Great Knot as ‘Endangered’, while the Australian Government consider it to be ‘Critically Endangered’. A few Great Knots have already arrived – more, including several satellite-tagged individuals, are on the way from Australia as I write.

We are not sure what food stocks are like elsewhere in the Yellow Sea this year, but we know that the tidal flats at the head of the Bohai Sea, off Panjin/Gaizhou, had much less suitable prey for Great Knots in 2016 than in 2015 and, even less in 2017.

We have a choice – either, we watch and study the natural situation with the expectation that potentially many birds will die (the loss of feeding grounds at Saemangeum, South Korea in 2006 due to reclamation resulted in a significant drop in the world population, indicating that the birds did not find anywhere else to go), or we attempt to help the birds through supplementary feeding.

The Fudan team, in conjunction with the nature reserve management authority, have worked up an emergency response involving obtaining farmed clam stocks from further south (from a source which will not impact shorebirds) and placing these on the tidal flats at Yalujiang. This will not only provide an emergency food supply for the birds, but also an opportunity for detailed research – which will contribute towards future management of the site.

This, however, comes at substantial cost – to purchase clams and transport them.

We are looking for RMB 2.68 million (GBP300,000; USD 425,000).

We recognise that this is a huge ask, and we are needing to act fast – the seeding of the clams has to take place on the spring tide series in mid-April – or not at all.