Giving back to nature

By Zhang Yiqian Source:Global Times Published: 2013-2-26 20:33:01


The Yeyahu Wetland Nature Preserve in Yanqing township. A new wetland protection regulation will come into effect from May 1.   Photo: CFP
The Yeyahu Wetland Nature Preserve in Yanqing township. A new wetland protection regulation will come into effect from May 1. Photo: CFP

When Li Li first began devoting his time to preserving the wetlands of Beijing 13 years ago, he met with a number of difficulties.

"When I was at the Yeyahu Wetland Nature Preserve in Yanqing township, at first, the locals who lived around that area didn't understand why we wouldn't let them graze their animals in the grassland or catch birds," he said. "When the protection area was first set up, there were still people who went inside and grazed their animals."

According to statistics from the Beijing Forestry University in 2010, Beijing has just over 500 square kilometers of wetland, which represents 3 percent of the city's area, a huge drop from 15 percent in the early 1950s.

Li, an artist who established the Black Leopard Wildlife Conservation Organization in 2000, has worked in nearly all of Beijing's wetland preserves rescuing animals. He said when he started working, the wetlands in Beijing were facing serious deterioration. Luckily, the situation is improving.

Starting on May 1 this year, a new wetland protection regulation, which was approved by the Beijing People's Congress last December, will come into effect. The regulation specifically states that actions such as picking wild plants, bird eggs or catching wild animals in wetlands can be punished by fines of up to 50,000 yuan ($8,025). But it takes more than regulations to protect the wetlands of Beijing, experts say.

Government support needed

Wetlands are an important part of the ecosystem, Li said.

"Take Yeyahu for example. Many migrating birds rest here for a brief period during their flight, then fly south. These birds never came here before, but as the situation improved, they chose to come here and it's becoming more and more biologically diverse each year."

Liu Xuemei, the spokeswoman for the Beijing Yeyahu Wetland Nature Reserve, said the big problem right now is that there are no supervisory laws governing wetlands.

"On wetland issues, we cannot find a responsible organization, no person in charge, and there's no clear-cut law on protecting the wetlands at the moment," she said. "It's a gray area. There's no law-enforcement organization on this issue."

Chen Kelin, the director of the China office of Wetlands International, a global organization that works to sustain and restore wetlands, said that at present, there are no laws or regulations on a national level to protect wetlands, and the process of drafting laws has been going on for a long time without any results.

However, there are many regulations on the provincial and municipal level.

Liu is excited about the new regulation, saying that even though it's not on a national level and hasn't come into effect just yet, it will have a large impact on protecting Beijing's wetlands.

"I agree with all the regulations listed in the draft," she said. "The only thing I find a bit vague is ecological compensation, since much of the wetlands we have used to be people's land and they are designated as wetland areas for better protection, but the compensation is not clear."

For Chen, a more serious issue is that areas which aren't nature reserves are not protected by the regulation.

"For example, Shidu (Fangshan district) is a scenic area, not a wetland reserve, but it has black storks, which are national protected animals," he said. "They like to live in wetland areas, so cases like that should involve wetland protection."

Improvement over the years

In fact, government support is crucial to the development of wetlands, Li said. A few of the places in Beijing weren't reserves in the past and the wetlands were facing issues brought about by deterioration, but after the government stepped in, the situation improved.

"At first, Yeyahu was a swamp next to a reservoir, a wild land. Anybody could come here and there was a lot of hunting activity going on," he said. "When it became a municipal nature reserve in 1997, people started looking after this area."

The workers at the reserve set up fences around the area so that the migrating birds would not be disturbed when resting. There are also cameras that rotate 360 degrees to monitor the area.

"We have tight security, we monitor the whole area and have 24-hour security patrols," Liu said. "Our 48 surveillance cameras operate 24 hours, and there are nine towers as well.  If anyone wants to come into the heart of the wetland, the cameras will pick up that image and we'll send staff over to deal with it."

The same situation happened at the Cuihu and Nanhaizi wetland parks. Nanhaizi used to be a field where emperors would hunt back in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), and now it is home to elks.

These areas shrank as a result of city expansion and rely on government assistance for their revival.

The main obstacle is communicating with the locals when establishing the reserves, Li said.

The residents of surrounding communities and villages think setting up a reserve will interfere with their livelihood, which depends on farming and grazing. That's when government forces are needed to set up fences and provide financial assistance in staff training and construction.

Overcoming the obstacles

One prominent issue in the protection of wetlands is balancing tourism and protection, Li said. The Juma river area in Fangshan district used to be blighted by illegal construction, such as fish ponds, small dams and an excess of river transport facilities used for tourism. These things affect the health of the river's ecosystem.

"The Juma River never used to freeze in winter, but from 2005, the river froze because the water was divided up by all the dams, fish ponds and facilities, which directly led to the black storks starving in winter, because they couldn't find food in the river," Li said.

After the July 21 floods in 2012, the Fangshan district government cleaned the river of excess human activity and banned over-tourism, restoring it to its previous condition, Li said.

It's not enough to just have regulations; the important thing is to raise awareness, Chen said.

"Many people don't realize the value and functions of wetlands, and they don't know how to reasonably interact with them. Protecting wetlands doesn't mean shutting them off to the people or building houses on them. It's somewhere in-between," Chen said.

In Yeyahu, the park is set up in layers. There's a core area where nobody sets foot and no production activity going on, and that's where the migrating birds rest. Around that area is a buffer zone. And outside these two zones is an experimental zone built into a park and open to the public for viewing purposes, Li said. This form of guided interaction with wetlands should be encouraged.

Posted in: Metro Beijing

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