Japan, it might surprise you to know, was once a land covered in moors and marshes. Many of the plants and wildlife found in these wetlands are often unique to the area. Below is a feature on Sarobetsu moor in Hokkaido. There are still remaining several wetlands which act as extremely important stopping points for migratory birds from the north to south and vice versa. Some of the moors and other kinds of wetlands in Japan are World Heritage sites, others are important enough to make it onto the conservation list called RAMSAR list. A list of RAMSAR wetlands of importance in Japan is at this URL.

A high moor in a low place

Ramsar wonders By Makoto Miyazaki Daily Yomiuri Photographer


The Sarobetsu-genya moor in the extreme north of Hokkaido is one of the most important habitats for wild birds in Japan. It is about 40 kilometers south of Wakkanai.

At about 23,000 hectares, the moor is the largest flat area of wetlands in the country–stretching between five and eight kilometers in an east-west direction and about 27 kilometers from north to south.

About 2,560 hectares of the moor in Toyotomicho and Horonobecho are on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.

Food shortages following World War II created a need for more arable land and the agricultural development of the area. Peat bogs were drained and drainage canals were dug to straighten the meandering Sarobetsugawa river to bring water levels down.

Although the amount of arable land grew, the lowering of water levels reduced the size of the wetlands area and aridity set in. About half the wetlands were lost in the following 50 years.

The moor is a natural habitat for bamboo grass, but erosion is setting in.

Authorities now are faced with a conundrum–preserving the wetlands means losing pastureland, but preserving the pastureland will cause the wetlands to dry up.

This has led the Environment Ministry and other governmental bodies to research how wetlands and arable land can coexist.

Tourists can obtain information on the Sarobetsu moor at visitor centers to the far north and far south of the moor.

Many tourists tend to be attracted to a natural flower park beside the northern visitor center that featuring a wooden walkway that takes about 20 minutes to traverse.

From the southern Horonobe visitor center, visitors can walk along another wooden walkway from the Naganuma pond to the Pankenuma pond. This is ideal for a leisurely stroll as it is not so crowded with visitors.

Every morning, Yukio Morikawa, an employee at the southern visitor center, cleans up along the path and takes photographs of flowers, which he compiles in albums.

“Visitors often ask me what the names [of the flowers] are, so I show them the [albums] and explain about them,” Morikawa said.

It would have been nice to walk the full length of the wooden walkway out to the ponds, but reeds have grown to about waist height, making it difficult to negotiate past them.

The reeds are said to have grown quickly during a spell of rain, but the aridity is also affecting them in the same way it is affecting the bamboo grass.


Facts about Sarobetsu-genya

  • Location Toyotomicho and Horonobecho, Hokkaido
  • Area 2,560 hectares
  • Special feature The site is characterized by a well-developed high moor in a lowland plain. Penkenuma and Pankenuma ponds are breeding sites for waterfowl and important stopovers for migratory birds in spring and autumn.

Ramsar Center Japan


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