According to Jeju provincial government data, the old-growth Gotjawal forest covers some 109 square kilometers of the island. Unfortunately, that’s only 6 percent. Still, its importance in terms of conservation, biodiversity, and Jeju’s geological heritage cannot (and should not) be understated.
Sections of Gotjawal are located around the island, mainly at an altitude of between 200 and 400 meters. The most pristine areas are found in the Hangyeong, Andeok, and Aewol areas of west Jeju and Jocheon, Hamdeok, Gujwa and Seongsan in the east.
Did you know? To islanders, the word “Gotjawal” elicits an image of an uninhabited, dense forest made up of trees and brush growing on rocky ground. “Got” means forest and “jawal” means rocks or rubble in the local language.
Much of the original forest is now gone, modern farming and construction methods (using heavy machinery to clear space for development) have seen to that.
In light of this, however, the government has initiated a number of conservation programs, including buying up private land to protect the Gotjawal. Even local landowners are now seeing the merits of ensuring the forest in their area remains as intact as possible, so as to benefit future generations.
A case in point is Hwansang Forest Gotjawal Park along the Nokchabunjae-ro Road in Hangyeong-myeon. This is a small, relatively new private park which offers guided tours of its Gotjawal forest. It’s a perfect size for families and more accessible than some other Gotjawal forest areas, though if you have the time Jeju Gotjawal Provincial Park is also in the area.
As you walk through the park, which can take from 40 minutes to over an hour, you can observe up close how the island’s volcanic terrain influenced forest growth. Evergreen and broad-leaved trees and flowering plants of Jeju’s temperate climate adapted to its rocky, barren surface.
Now, over 600 species of plants, including some threatened and endangered species, grow here, according to the Korean Ministry of the Environment.
So while you take a pleasant walk among the island’s lush Gotjawal vegetation, keep an eye (or ear) out for the birds and mammals living there. You might just spot a Brown-eared Bulbul, or even a roe deer!
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