This is the start…
Everyone knows that China is one of the most important and biodiverse countries on the planet. It is blessed with stunning wildlife, much of it found nowhere else in the world. China has, according to one measure, 7,516 species of vertebrates including 4,936 fish, 1,269 bird, 562 mammal, 403 reptile and 346 amphibian species. In terms of the number of species, China ranks third in the world in mammals, eighth in birds, seventh in reptiles and seventh in amphibians. In each category, China is the most biodiverse country outside of the tropics. Many species are endemic to China, including the country’s most famous wildlife species, the Giant Panda. In all, about one-sixth of mammal species and two-thirds of amphibian species in China are endemic to the country.
However, not surprisingly, with rapid economic development and a human population of 1.3 billion, the environment in China is coming under huge pressure and, in addition to the obvious and well-publicised air pollution, China’s water and soil are both in a desperate state, not to mention the ongoing destruction of valuable and biodiverse habitats, not least along the Yellow Sea coast where tidal mudflats – so important for millions of long-distance migratory shorebirds – are being lost at an alarming rate. In fact, at least 840 animal species are threatened, vulnerable or in danger of local extinction in China, due mainly to human activity such as habitat destruction, pollution and poaching for food, fur and ingredients for traditional Chinese medicine.
Despite the recent high-level political rhetoric about the importance of “ecological civilisation” and “green development”, decision-making, particularly at the local level, is still not effectively taking into account the environmental cost. One reason for this disconnect is the low level of environmental awareness among the general population, in turn caused by an almost complete lack of environmental issues in the Chinese State Curriculum.
That is why education on the environment is so important and it’s the main reason why EcoAction has developed an “Environmental Curriculum”. The curriculum, focusing on migratory birds, has been piloted in two Beijing schools during the 2015-2016 academic year. Given the pressures on students in China, there was no room to fit in the lessons during normal school time, so these classes have been an optional extra for the participating students. It is testament to the thirst for knowledge of the children involved that they have committed to participate and seen it through to the end.
The curriculum has involved classroom-based lectures, field studies (including birding trips to Miyun Reservoir and Yeyahu Nature Reserve) and lectures by national and international experts, including leading ornithologist Professor Per Alström.
The students have also been encouraged to carry out an “investigation”, for example visiting Beijing’s wild bird markets to find out who are the buyers and sellers, where the birds come from and what can be done to accelerate their demise.
This week it was time for the participants to receive their certificates for completing the course.
Our hope is that we can expand the pilots to involve more schools in Beijing later this year and, if we can secure the resources, to train teachers to be able to deliver the course in other parts of China. Eventually, our aim is to do ourselves out of a job by having the Chinese government incorporate this course into the State Curriculum!
I’d like to pay tribute to EcoAction’s Luo Peng for driving the development and delivery of the course and to BirdLife International and Zoological Society of London for their support. Can’t wait for the 2016 course to begin!