Illustrations: Chen Xia/GT
The Shanghai City Appearance and Environmental Sanitation Administration revealed at a conference last Wednesday that they would leave an area of wetland in Nanhui, Pudong New Area free from commercial development.
The move is in response to concerns from ornithologists and wildlife experts about the shrinking natural habitats for birds in the area.
The Dongtan Wetland in Pudong New Area was created at the end of the 1990s, with its 100-million-square-meter sanctuary located on a migratory route for birds traveling towards East Asia and Australia. And some 250 separate species were observed in the area between 2006 and 2008 alone.
In September, 2007, Pudong New Area authority announced that no hunting of birds would be allowed in the Dongtan Wetland. And in the following year, the area was officially recognized as an important bird habitat by BirdLife International (a global alliance of conservation organizations).
However, with the recent explosion in the local population and with these residents regularly fishing and growing crops in the area, there is far less land to be set aside to create a wetland for bird life.
Water has been pumped out of the area in order to reclaim more land, leaving birds with neither water nor food.
A local resident working at a wild animal protection station in the area told local media that the number of birds observed there has dropped by two-thirds since 2008.
It's good to hear that the local authorities would leave part of this wetland untouched and that they are considering setting up laws for wetland protection, and I think this initiative should be heeded by other authorities around the country.
The disappearance of wetlands is happening all over China due to rampant, and totally unchecked, industrial development.
In eastern coastal cities, many governments focus solely on economic development and they appropriate wetlands to build housing on. While in central and western parts of the country, hunting birds is not just a tradition, but a survival strategy and one that will need concerted efforts to eradicate.
These birds are poisoned, shot or trapped before being served up on the dinner table.
A start would be to draw up laws that would punish the killing of these birds, either by levying fines or even imposing prison sentences for persistent offenders.
But of course this will only work if the government establishes an effective compensation mechanism for people whose livelihoods depend on fishing or planting crops in wetland areas and who hunt birds in mountainous areas. If their very survival is affected by these bird life protection campaigns, the authorities have to find some other way for the residents to earn a living.
Last, but not least, I think bird lovers and bird protection associations need to work closer with local authorities in order to achieve their mutual aims. A striking example of this not happening was when activists were unable to save a group of poisoned birds in Tianjin recently because they didn't have a suitable boat to reach the stricken wildlife. The local authority should have provided the boat, but instead had to wait for one to come all the way from Beijing and which was provided by another group of bird lovers.