Story | 10 Apr, 2019

Good governance is the key to success in Van Long Nature Reserve

The recent assessment using the IUCN Green List Standard has illuminated a unique natural and cultural landscape in Van Long Wetland Nature Reserve in Vietnam.

The IUCN Green List Standard is a unique and holistic approach to nature conservation, it examines protected and conserved areas across a number of components covering governance and equity, design and planning and management effectiveness. In March 2019, staff from the Global Protected Areas Programme and the IUCN Hanoi office travelled to the Van Long Wetland Nature Reserve, located south of Hanoi, as part of the IUCN Green List assessment process.

The Van Long reserve, the largest wetland in northern Vietnam, is a place of immense natural beauty, with limestone karst outcrops up to 400m high overlooking a wetland area of lakes, rivers, streams, sinkholes and caves.   The Van Long management board, has opted to join the growing community of global Green List candidate sites.  This initiates a multi-stakeholder “assessment” process which takes place over a prolonged period of time, bringing together a community of practice.  The standard contains criteria and indicators for good governance, sound design and planning and effective management, practices that lead toward long term successful conservation outcomes.  The IUCN teams were joined by map specialists from GRID-ARENDAL, members of the national Vietnam Green List EAGL team as well as several other national conservation and social science experts.

The Green list assessment uses a mixed methods approach combining quantitative data gathering with qualitative methods.  The initial focus of the Green list examined the governance aspects: the decision makers, their processes and how others can get involved in the decision making for Van Long, but also examines the history, culture and land uses from both local village residents and other stakeholders. The conservation specialists then presented the ecological setting and natural values. Van Long contains rich biodiversity with more than 735 species of both terrestrial and aquatic plants (14 listed as threatened), and an astonishing range of fauna from amphibians, reptiles, fish, invertebrates, 100 species of birds and 39 species of mammal (26 are listed are threatened). The highlight of Van Long is the largest global population of the endemic Delacour’s langur which despite its rising population to about 140 from just over 50 in the last two decades, remains critically endangered according to the IUCN Red List of species. The assessment team also examined the values related to ecosystem services and cultural and spiritual practices. This was done during a week-long participatory workshop consisting of key informant interviews, focus group discussions including meetings with leaders of the local women’s unions to listen to their concerns and hear how they participate. The management units of the reserve consist of a core zone, and an outer zone, with different levels of use and activities permitted. Participatory mapping led by GRID-ARENDAL revealed a wide range of land uses, including the presence of a large number of religious temples and burial sites.

The preliminary results of the assessment show that the success of Van Long is due to the simultaneous recognition of multiple values: natural, ecosystem services and cultural all of which are rooted in the good governance component. Van Long is clearly IUCN/CBD governance type 1, governance by the government, and it is largely successful due to a multitude of local actors all playing their part. In the past two decades, the management board have been able to successfully reduce or eliminate the local threats emanating from hunting, over-grazing, unregulated tourism and electric fishing practices. This has been through successful engagement of local people, village residents and others who can continue sustainable use practices such as fishing, grazing, medicinal plant collection, clam collection and tourism activities adjacent to Van Long.  For some, Van Long provides a revenue stream - bamboo rowing boats bring international and national tourists around to spot birds and langurs, and to experience the peace and stillness of the nature reserve. The government also provide financial incentive schemes for people living inside the boundary of Van Long to contribute to conservation. For others, Van Long represents a place to walk through and pay respects to those who have gone before.  The reserve is well guarded by two teams of forest and community rangers who speak of relationship building with local people rather than strict enforcement.  It is through these successful local partnerships that generate a local sense of pride that Van Long can hope to build its long term and sustainable future for both people and nature conservation.

 The activities took place as part of the project “Protected Areas Solutions”, which is funded by the International Climate Initiative (IKI) of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB).  

Article by Jenny Kelleher