Country Profiles

Bhutan - Country Profile

Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

Bhutan is located in the Eastern Himalayas which have been identified as a global biodiversity hotspot, and counted among the 234 globally outstanding eco-regions of the world in a comprehensive analysis of global biodiversity undertaken by the World Wildlife Fund (1995-1997). Bhutan has six major agro-ecological zones corresponding with certain altitudinal ranges and climatic conditions (e.g. alpine, cool temperate, warm temperate, dry subtropical, humid subtropical, wet subtropical). The country is endowed with vast forest cover, comprising 70.46% of the total land area, that is relatively well-preserved, as well as tremendous inland water resources, consisting of an extensive network of rivers, rivulets and streams arising from a high level of precipitation, glaciers and glacial lakes. Bhutan is also characterized by strong species diversity and density, with about 5,603 flowering plant species, under 220 families and 1,415 genera, close to 200 species of mammals (which is extraordinary for a country which is one of the smallest nations in the Asian region), 800 to 900 species of butterfly and 50 freshwater fish species (with overall fish fauna not yet properly assessed in the country). Also, according to herpetological survey training conducted in the Royal Manas National Park in 1999, 23 species of reptiles and amphibians exist in the country. In particular, the country is enormously rich in bird and crop diversity, with 678 bird species recorded, 78% of which are resident and breeding, 7% migratory and 8% winter visitors. Crop species is quite impressive, with about 80 species of crops known to occur in the country, including cereals such as rice, maize, barley, millet, wheat, and buckwheat (pseudo cereal); fruits such as apple, orange, and pear; vegetables such as potato, bean and cabbage; and spices such as chili, cardamom, garlic and ginger.

According to the fourth national report, most the country’s ecosystems are safeguarded under various protected areas. In terms of globally threatened mammal species, Bhutan notably counts one critically endangered mammal species, 11endangered species and 15 vulnerable species. Bhutan is enormously rich in bird diversity, with 678 species recorded, of which one is critically endangered, one is endangered and 13 are vulnerable. Medicinal plants and other non-wood forest product species, such as ferns, bamboos and canes, etc., which used to be collected in abundance, are rarifying. Local and seasonal water shortages are becoming more frequent and there is evidence of increasing sediment loads in the river system. In regard to natural forest habitats, relevant analyses of trends of changes in the status of forests are mixed. One analysis indicated that the area under closed forests has increased significantly while those under open forest categories have decreased. Another analysis shows the exact opposite trend, and points out that the loss of natural forests between 1978 and 1989 was much more accentuated than over the two previous decades. In 1991, the Ministry of Agriculture estimated that 231,000 ha of forest area is degraded, with an estimated annual degradation rate of 0.5%.

A good example of benefits derived from nature is the relationship between the Bhutanese society and its forests. With 69.1% of the population living in rural areas, farming and forest resources (including timber, fuel wood, fodder and non-wood forest products) form a major source of livelihoods, as well as a considerable source of cultural identification and traditional practices.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

Main threats to wild species diversity include land conversion, overexploitation, dependence on wood for fuel, pollution by domestic sewage, climate change and forest fires. Forest biodiversity is threatened by the state of the country’s development process and their associated needs for forest products, infrastructure development, population growth and living space requirements, rapid urbanization, agricultural expansion, grazing pressures and forest fires. Likewise, pressure on water resources is bound to increase as a result of growing urbanization and industrialization (the city population is likely to increase by 50% by 2020). Finally, specific threats to domesticated biodiversity include unsustainable cropping practices, agricultural land conversion, cultivation of exotic agricultural crops and land degradation in the form of erosion.

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

Bhutan has developed and implemented three Biodiversity Action Plans, the first in 1998, the second in 2002 and the third in 2009, with implementation in regard to the latter still in process. It is Bhutan’s intention to develop national targets in line with the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and to incorporate these targets in the BAP (2009). National targets and an updated Biodiversity Action Plan will be integrated into Bhutan’s next Five-year Plan (2013-2018) and sectoral plans.

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

The most significant outcome achieved as a result of BAP implementation is the establishment of protected areas constituting 42.70% (protected areas) and 8.60% (biological corridors) of the country’s total land area. The protected areas system encompasses a continuum of representational samples of all major ecosystems found in the country, ranging from the tropical/subtropical grasslands and forests in the southern foothills, to temperate forests in the central mountains and valleys, to alpine meadows and scree in the northern mountains.

Forest cover comprises up to 70.46% of the total land area and an additional 8.60% of the country is now included in biological corridors, which is consolidated with protected areas into a macro-level natural landscape called the “Bhutan Biological Conservation Complex” (B2C2). Parallel to this ambitious protected areas policy, Bhutan has engaged in several conservation programs or projects for vulnerable species. Strategies have been developed to control the unsustainable harvesting of medicinal plants (including through farming medicinal plants to reduce pressure on wild plants), and conservation of species such as the tiger (Tiger Action Plan, 2006-2015), snow leopard (Snow Leopard Information System, together with WWF Bhutan), elephant and non-wood forest species. All species included under Schedule I are protected andtrade in endangered species is restricted in accordance with the CITES Convention. Furthermore, on-farm conservation of crop genetic resources was initiated in 2001, along with the establishment of botanical gardens, medicinal gardens, a gene bank for ex situ conservation (storing 408 accessions of crops), as well as 131 community forests for the conservation of degraded and cleared forests and reforestation purposes. As of 2012, 135 community forests exist covering 52,020.48 hectares and benefitting 20,078 households. The Renewable Natural Resources Research Centre has collected over 300 rice varieties and the conservation of indigenous livestock breeds is underway.

In addition, Bhutan prepared its National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) in 2004 and mitigation measures are in place to reduce all forms of pollution through vehicular emission tests, reducing tax on electrical appliances, compliance monitoring of industries, etc.

Indigenous rights over traditional knowledge are explicitly protected under the Biodiversity Act of Bhutan enacted in 2003. Indigenous communities are involved indecision-making related to the use of traditional knowledge and activities such as community-based natural resources management projects. A nation-wide land management campaign has been launched to raise awareness and understanding about land management techniques to address site-specific land degradation problems. The campaign carries out on-the-ground demonstrations and uses a broad-based participatory approach, bringing together local communities, dzongkhag staff as well as professionals from various disciplines relevant to rural land use and management.

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

Biodiversity protection and sustainable development is one of Bhutan’s top priorities. As Article 5 of Bhutan’s Constitution makes clear, every Bhutanese person is considered a trustee of the Kingdom’s natural resources and environment. As a result, the Royal Government is constitutionally enjoined to conserve and improve the environment and safeguard the country’s biodiversity, notably by ensuring that a minimum of 60% of Bhutan’s total land area is maintained under forest cover for all time. Bhutan has even adopted a development philosophy of “Gross National Happiness”, one pillar of which is environmental sustainability.

As for biodiversity protection mainstreaming, Bhutan’s 10thFive-year Plan stresses that “environment is a cross-cutting use that is intimately intertwined with poverty reduction”, therefore all sectors and relevant departments and levels of governments should integrate environmental issues in their policies, plans, programs and projects. Examples of sectoral policies integrating biodiversity targets as part of their objectives include the Strategic Framework for Spatial Planning (for the 10thFive-year Plan), Forest and Nature Conservation Act (1995), National Environment Strategy entitled the “Middle Path”, Mines and Minerals Act (1995) and the National Poverty-Environment Initiative.

Besides, the enactment of the Environmental Assessment Act in 2000 and the Regulation for Environmental Clearance of Projects in 2002 imply that all development activities, including those of the private sector, are subject to regressive assessment to reduce and mitigate adverse impacts on the environment. At the administrative level, a special unit called the Nature Conservation Division (NCD)has been created within the Department of Forestry Services, with a mandate to oversee and manage the protected areas system. Sustainable development and biodiversity protection are ensured by a high-level autonomous agency of the Royal Government of Bhutan, the National Environment Commission (NEC), which is responsible for monitoring the impact of development on the environment, coordinating inter-sectoral programs, implementing policies and legislation with regard to the environment and ensuring that all projects, be they public or private, take environmental aspects into consideration. Another key institution is the National Biodiversity Center, serving as the implementing agency for the CBD and responsible for coordinating biodiversity conservation and sustainable use programs in the country.

In regard to financial matters, most conservation programs are currently supported by donors (e.g. WWF, DANIDA, UN, SNV, Helvetas, JICA, NORAD, GTZ, GEF, FAO, IFAD, EU, SDS). Also, an Environmental Trust Fund was established through a Royal Decree (1992) for promoting social welfare through the environmental conservation of forests, flora, fauna, wildlife, diverse ecosystems and biodiversity.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

Monitoring initiatives and tools developed within the framework of the Biodiversity Action Plan include: the publication of the first-ever Field Guide to the Mammals of Bhutan, which provides brief accounts of the physical characteristics, social behavior, habitat and conservation threats of some 200 mammal species found in the country; field studies on the white-bellied heron (Ardea insignis) initiated in 2005 by the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature (RSPN), as well as research and monitoring of the black-necked crane (Grus nigricollis) as a part of their conservation management program in the Phobjikha Valley; and the first Bhutan Snow Leopard Information Management System (SLIMS), with training and field surveys conducted in Thimphu and Jigme Dorji National Park by the Nature Conservation Division (NCD), in collaboration with the WWF Bhutan Program and the International SnowLeopard Trust. As for floral resources, Bhutan has published three volumes of the “Flora of Bhutan”; work onferns and their allies is ongoing and the Red Book of Bhutan’s flowering plants is in preparation. The National Information Sharing Mechanism (NISM) is also in place and constitutes a valuable tool for the transparent and effective monitoring of the implementation of the Global Action Plan for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (PGRFA).