Hoang Lien Son Conservation Initiative

Posted: 12/11/2017

Four members of Botanic Network Ireland have recently returned from a highly successful 3 week plant hunting trip to Northern Vietnam.

Working with staff from the Vietnamese Institute of Biological and Ecological Resources (IEBR) they explored areas close to the Chinese border that are to form part of a newly designated national park. Seed and pressed specimens were collected, the latter of which will be donated to the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin. The main sponsor of the expedition was Blarney Castle Gardens, and there are already plans in place to create a Vietnamese woodland in the grounds of the castle which will form part of a network of ex-situ conservation sites around the world.

Expedition members from Ireland were Bruno Nicolai, Rory Newell, Paul Smyth and Adam Whitbourn.

Below is a typical day on the mountain as told by Adam.

We were woken at around 5am by the chatter of a group of monkeys that had positioned themselves in the trees above the camp, and were clearly checking us out. Their noise gradually faded into the distance as they moved away.

I dozed for a while and listened to the porters starting to wake up and light the fire, then I got dressed and left the tent to warm up by the fire and have a coffee. Breakfast was a spicy noodle soup which helped to blow away the cobwebs and get things warmed up. I find a damp tent on the forest floor is not the best for a comfortable night’s sleep and I’m often very stiff in the morning.

By 8am we were all geared up and ready to go. We left the camp and started to follow a trail further up the mountain. The four of us were joined by 3 members of staff from the Vietnamese Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources who were working alongside us collecting specimens and helping to identify species. The weather was challenging due to the humidity and constant damp. We were at around 2400m at this point and in permanent cloud cover. All of our clothing was damp, electronic devices were malfunctioning and paper envelopes were dissolving, but we were still thoroughly enjoying the experience. The sheer diversity of plant species on these mountains is mind boggling, and every new turn in the trail revealed a new discovery.

A relatively good spring had meant that there was a good crop of fruit on many of the tree and shrub species, which resulted in some exceptional collections of magnolia, acer, oak species and many others yet to be identified. We continued to climb further up the ridge until we reached a narrow level plateau around 2800m. Here we finally cleared the woodland and came out to more exposed heath like conditions where we found vaccinium and dwarf rhododendron growing amongst grasses.

We were just a short climb from the summit at this point, but the trail became very steep and the cloud cover was so thick that it was decided to play safe and return back to camp. We made a gradual descent back and arrived just before dark to a very welcome cup of hot lemon tea. Dinner of spring rolls and pork with fried rice was a luxury in the mountains, and a glass of homemade rice wine really warms you up. We spent a couple of hours in the tent with head torches doing some seed sorting and cleaning before calling it a night.

The next day was to be a long march back down the mountain to the promise of a dry bed in a hotel in Sapa before we began our second expedition.

Download: Hoang Lien Son Conservation.pdf (2.8Mb) 

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