1. Present situation
1.1. Why did you start this project?
We are now in the middle of the 6th and fastest mass extinction this planet has experienced. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) 21% of mammals, 12% of birds, 30% of amphibians, 28% of reptiles, 37% of freshwater fishes, 70% of plants, and 35% of invertebrates are under threat. Moreover our own species faces the extraordinary challenge of climate change.
Horoka Tomamu is a very small project and we don't expect to be able to save much wildlife (or absorb large amounts of CO2), but if we can encourage some other people to use land responsibly then maybe we can achieve something worthwhile.
References: Holocene extinction (Wikipedia)
Extinction crisis continues apace (IUCN) 3 November 2009
1.2. What have you called the project?
We have called it the Horoka Tomamu Montane Forest, using the name of the river (and former village) rather than the mountain, Mt Maru (Maruyama). Horoka is more distinctive than Maruyama (a common placename in Japanese). It is an Ainu word meaning 'inverted, upside down or backwards', the sense here presumably being 'the place on the other side'.
We originally intended to use the words 'Nature reserve' as part of the name, following the classification of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas, however according to the 1972 Law on Natural Environmental Protection, non-governmental projects in Japan are only allowed to be called 'shizenhogoku' (the Japanese term for 'nature reserve') by special permission.
1.3. Did you participate in the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity?
Yes, we registered with the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (United Nations Environment Programme). We are now displaying the logo of the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity 2011-2020 (see below).
1.4. Do you have advisers?
We've been receiving advice from various scientists, naturalists and IT specialists, including wild land experts at the John Muir Trust in Scotland, and the Sapporo branch of Chiikan (also known as Regional Environmental Planning Inc.), a company specializing in environmental and conservation surveys. The well-known naturalist Mark Brazil is helping us survey birds, and the botanical consultant Ben Averis is advising us on plants.
Yes, Chiikan has set up a geographical information system (GIS) using a programme called Quantum GIS, and they have helped us with GPS recording as well.
1.6. Is the area considered a 'sato-yama' or an 'oku-yama'?
In Japanese terms, Horoka Tomamu is 'oku-yama' (faraway mountain), rather than 'sato-yama' (village mountain), as it is relatively distant from the nearest settlement and has only suffered limited human impact, and only (as far as we know) during the 20th century.
In the main book on the subject, 'sato-yama' is defined as ''low mountains or uplands in or around rural areas. The term describes woodlands of rural Japan that have been coppiced and/or used for the harvesting of litter for agricultural fertilizers.'' (Satoyama, The Traditional Rural Landscape of Japan by K Takeuchi et al. Springer Verlag, Tokyo 2003)
In British terms, the mountain would be described as 'wild land' of the kind that exists in Scotland, rather than belonging to the cultural landscapes found in England.
2. Plans for 2011-2012
2.1. What paths are you making?
We made a 1.6 km high path, from south to north over the top of the mountain, between 22 July and 27 September 2010. Cut through dense dwarf bamboo (sasa), the path is two metres wide. (The dwarf bamboo was cut back again in July 2011 and may require further work in 2012.)
We hope this route will eventually connect with another, as yet unmade, two-kilometre, lower-level riverbank walk along the west side, however this depends on local government permission.
2.2. Are you surveying animals?
We have installed two permanent automatic cameras to take video of the large and medium-sized mammals, and we've experimented twice with four (and five) still, film cameras left in situ for periods of two and three weeks. The results have been interesting. We've published a checklist of species showing our progress.
2.3. Are you surveying birds?
Yes, we have done some initial surveys this year (2011). We have a provisional bird list on this website.
2.4. Will there be a plant survey?
Yes, probably in 2012. This is important, perhaps the most significant of all the surveys we will do. We will be using the phytosociological classification system, based on the work of the Swiss botanist Josias Braun-Blanquet (1884-1980). The reason for using this approach is to give us information that we can use in practical ways. A less descriptive survey with simple lists of species would not be so useful.
2.5. Will there be a soil survey?
We are considering taking a few samples for testing. According to the official Kamikawa soil map (1:200,000) the hills have 'brown forest soils', though it's doubtful whether any local checking has ever been done.
2.6. Will you be making a management plan?
Yes, we intend to make a comprehensive management plan, but it may take three or four years to gather all the necessary information. Initially we need to look broadly at the geology, soil, plants, insects, animals and birds, as well as the recent history of the area, in order to identify special areas of interest to concentrate on later, as well as any problems that need to be addressed.
2.7. When will you open Horoka Tomamu to the public?
We would like to open to the public, but that will not be possible until we have reasonably good paths. (Scotland has a policy of making all wild land accessible to walkers which we think is a good one to follow.)
Meanwhile, as a first step to developing a contributing membership we have started a free signup 'friends' group.
3. Long-term plans
3.1. Will your project be listed/accredited/affiliated with other organizations?
Yes, if and when we qualify. There are now more and more international organizations listing (and giving recognition to) individual projects that meet agreed standards. The Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance is well-known but there is also Birdlife International's 'Important Bird Areas' (IBA) network which has been introduced in Japan by the Wild Bird Society of Japan. There are now 31 IBAs in Hokkaido. Plantlife International have a similar 'Important Plant Areas' (IPA) scheme, though Japan is not yet included. Other lists are being developed for areas with reptiles, amphibians etc etc. These lists are inspired by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN)'s Red List and other international efforts to protect biodiversity.
3.2. Will you remove the dwarf bamboo (sasa)?
It is commonly known that cutting the understory dwarf bamboo (sasa) allows other plants to develop. There are also scientific studies of the effects of removal (e.g. Kobayashi, Tsuyoshi et al. Understory removal increases carbon gain and transpiration in the overstory of birch (Betula ermanii) stands in northern Hokkaido, Japan and Takahashi, K et al (2003) Effects of understory dwarf bamboo on soil water and the growth of overstory trees in a dense secondary Betula ermanii forest, northern Japan).
However we will be extremely cautious about starting any kind of major intervention. The first priority will be to see which types of dwarf bamboo are involved (probably dominated by Sasa senanensis or 'Kumaizasa'). There are also issues to do with carbon absorption and the stability of the mountain slopes, and indeed the practicality of removing any significant amount of the dwarf bamboo from over half a square kilometre of land.
3.3. Do you plan to add facilities for visitors etc.?
Eventually we would like to have a visitors' centre and accommodation for visitors (including ourselves) and researchers etc. Any electricity we use will be from micro-generation. We don't intend to install mains electricity, and we don't want any unsightly above-ground wiring etc.
3.4. Will Horoka Tomamu Montane Forest remain a private project?
We are working towards the permanent and irreversible protection of this land. It is possible that we may set up some kind of non-profit organization, or public trust. We are also considering applying to the government for 'forest reserve' status (Hoanrin). The surrounding National Forest has this special protection, so this is an interesting possibility.
SCH and MMH, 5 December 2011