Conservation and Restoration of the Shirane-Aoi Colonies in Mt. Nikko-Shirane
Deer population in Mt. Nikko-Shirane has increased in recent years, and Shirane-Aoi (Glaucidium palmatum) colonies are on the brink of extinction due to feeding damage by deer. For over 20 years, the Gunma Prefectural Oze High School’s Natural Environment Course has been working together with the local community to protect and restore Shirane-Aoi colonies.
Shirane-Aoi, characterized by purple flowers, was named after the Mt. Nikko-Shirane region because they were once found in abundance in this region. It is the only species in the genus endemic to Japan and has been listed under Near Threatened species of the Red List created by Gunma Prefecture.
There used to be an impressive colony of Shirane-Aoi on the western slope of Midagaike Pond located in the center of Mt. Nikko-Shirane. But since 1985, the colony has suffered from looters and feeding damage by deer, so it was near destruction. That is why ever since 1993, in order to protect Shirane-Aoi the Katashina Village, Gunma Prefecture, and volunteers from the local community have helped cultivate saplings and installed electric fences around the natural habitat.
In 1996, the Oze High School Natural Environment Course was established and from the onset, they have adopted these activities as part of the curriculum. And from 2000, working with the “Shirane-Aoi Protection Society,” the school has yielded results in protecting and restoring Shirane-Aoi colonies in Mt. Nikko-Shirane. The Natural Environment Course creates a curriculum that enables students to take part in every aspect of the protection/restoration activities during the 3 years they spend with the school. The third-year students will visit natural habitat of Shirane-Aoi near Midagaike Pond in Mt. Nikko-Shirane in mid-September to harvest fruits of Shirane-Aoi, and in mid-October, the first-year students will plant the seeds removed from the fruits in the farm together with residents of Katashina Village, Ogawa District, where the headquarters of the Shirane-Aoi Protection Society is located. Then the following year, in late June, the second-year students will take the 4, 5-year-old saplings and plant them in areas in Mt. Nikko-Shirane where Shirane-Aoi used to grow. The students also survey and keep records of how these plants are blossoming.
The Shirane-Aoi saplings are planted and their fruits are harvested by members of the Shirane-Aoi Protection Society, students of the Oze High School Natural Environment Course as well as the employees of the Nippon Paper Group, the company which owns the land, and other volunteers. The opportunity to work with adults and learn about their passion for these efforts to save Shirane-Aoi enables students to realize the social significance of these activities and conservation of nature. It also provides a valuable experience that helps raise awareness for regional contribution among students.