Birds of a Feather | WWF Hong Kong

Birds of a Feather

Posted 08 August 2013
John Allcock
© WWF-Hong Kong
Ten years ago, John Allcock came to Hong Kong from the UK to work for an ecological consultancy. He joined WWF-Hong Kong in March 2012. He carries out behind-the-scenes work at Mai Po Nature Reserve with the help of a dedicated team. Together, they maintain and monitor the reserve to ensure that its wetland habitats are attractive to as many species as possible. His lifelong love of birds and nature drives his devotion to safeguard the species at Mai Po and in the South China region.

Which part of nature most appeals to you?
I’ve always been primarily a birder. I am particularly fond of shorebirds. The concept of bird migration always interests me: Why can a bird, weighing just a few grams, migrate thousands of kilometers twice a year, and find a breeding or wintering site on the other side of the planet?

One story I often tell when asked when I became interested in wildlife is that my very first word was “sparrow”. Sitting and watching birds on the roof next door, I learned that apparently even before I learned to say “Mummy” or “Daddy”!

Other species also interest me, as does research. I want to know more about what is going on around me, and I want to find ways to apply those discoveries to help protect wildlife.

I have never thought about working in a field not related to the natural world.

What do you appreciate about Hong Kong’s natural environment?
There is such a high level of biodiversity packed into a small area so close to the city. You can reach amazingly diverse habitats very easily, even using public transport.

Mai Po is completely unique. Even after 10 years visiting the site, I still can’t believe that there is a wetland that is so diverse, supports so many birds and threatened species, and is so close to the city. There’s nowhere else where you can watch a species as rare as the Black-faced spoonbill against a backdrop of Shenzhen skyscrapers!

What worries you about Hong Kong’s natural environment?
My main worry is about the spread of urbanization across Hong Kong and the loss of natural habitats to village housing and container storage. There is sometimes an attitude that nature should be kept within designated parks or reserves rather than one that tries to find a way for people and nature to co-exist in the same space.

What is your favourite part about working at WWF?
That’s easy. I get to spend all day at Mai Po! My office window overlooks one of the ponds, so I can see ducks and other birds while at my desk.

One thing that I have been very pleased with is that we now have five buffaloes at Mai Po. The work they do in habitat management is fantastic. I like going to visit the buffaloes because they can be very friendly and inquisitive, but they can be very stubborn if you try to move them!

Most memorable moment?
Because I oversee our shorebird legflagging programme, I am always really pleased when there are overseas resightings of our shorebirds. The most exciting of these was in 2012, when we got news that one of our flagged Pacific golden plovers was seen 6,000 km away in the Marshall Islands in the middle of the Pacific!*

What do you think Mai Po will look like in the future?
I hope that we can get back some species that used to occur at Mai Po but which are no longer here. The major issues we are expecting to face are sedimentation, which would lead to the ponds becoming drier, and climate change. We don’t yet know how climate change will affect us, but I expect many of the major changes around the reserve in the next few decades will be those made to cope with a changed climate.
John Allcock
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