One of the most encouraging signs for the future of China’s biodiversity is the emergence of local organisations across the country dedicated to environmental education and wildlife protection. And almost without exception these organisations are being run by groups of passionate, dedicated and highly educated young people.
Last weekend I was invited to participate in the “I SEE” celebration of biodiversity in the city of Beihai in Guangxi (广西) Autonomous Region.
Located in mountainous terrain in the far south, Guangxi is bordered by Yunnan Province to the west, Guizhou to the north, Hunan to the northeast, Guangdong to the east and Vietnam to the southwest. With a sub-tropical climate and magnificent scenery, dominated by spectacular karst mountains, Guangxi is perhaps most famous for the picturesque tourist towns of Guilin and Yangshuo, through which the Li river slowly meanders.
Ornithologically, Guangxi cemented its place on the map with the recent (2005) discovery of a new species – the Nonggang Babbler – by Chinese ornithologists Zhou Fang and Jiang Aiwu. Less well-known, at least outside China, is that every autumn Guangxi plays host to a spectacular migration or raptors. In October and early November, large numbers can be seen following the mountains as they make their way from China towards southeast Asia.
It is this concentration of birds that attracts not only local birders and photographers but also poachers. Every autumn the mountains around Beihai are tainted by the sound of gunshots. Illegal hunting was one of the drivers for the creation of the Guangxi Biodiversity Research and Conservation Association, known as BRC. This small, but growing, organisation was behind the establishment of an annual raptor watching festival during which birders and interested members of the public descend on the area to watch and count raptors.
The festival is inspiring change. First, it’s helping to raise awareness among local people about, and connecting people with, the spectacular bird of prey migration in the region. And second, it’s acting as a big deterrent to the poachers; it’s now the norm for the guns to fall silent during the festival. Sadly, the guns can still be heard before, and after, the festival despite a recent documentary on Chinese State Television exposing the illegal manufacture and use of guns. However, BRC is clearly making a difference and the direction of travel is in the right direction. I can’t wait to visit next October to offer my support to the volunteers.
BRC’s “I SEE” biodiversity day was the latest in a string of events designed to engage the public and I was honoured to take my place in the line up of speakers addressing 300 schoolchildren alongside their parents and teachers at the public library in Beihai on Saturday morning.
The stories of the Beijing Swifts and Cuckoos were greeted enthusiastically and there was clearly an appetite to explore similar ‘citizen science’ projects in Guangxi to complement the ongoing public engagement work.
It was brilliant to see so many local people participating in an event dedicated to biodiversity in a part of China that is so rich in wildlife and yet suffering from illegal poaching. It’s these young heroes that will consign illegal hunting to history.
I have huge admiration for BRC’s Tao Jingru, Zhao Hongxu, Xiao Xiaobo and Lin Wuying for inspiring so many people and big thanks for the wonderful hospitality.
Title image: The BRC stand at the Xishuangbanna Birding Festival in Yunnan Province.