A few months ago, I wrote a short article with some ideas for how Beijing could become better for wildlife. The article was prompted by the fact that, in 2020, China is due to host the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and, with thousands of delegates from 180+ countries due to descend on the country, including many journalists, it would be a brilliant opportunity to help improve China’s image on the environment by devising and implementing meaningful plans to make the country better for wildlife. And what better place to start than Beijing?
A few weeks ago, I was contacted by the Beijing government and delighted to discover that they were a step ahead; a significant amount of money (I have heard 20 billion CNY) has been allocated to develop and implement a strategic plan to make the city better for wildlife. The government has commissioned Peking University to help develop plans.
In the last two weeks I have participated in two meetings with the Beijing Municipal Government and Peking University during which we have discussed many ideas, including those put forward in my original article from last year. And last week I was invited to deliver a lecture to all staff in the Beijing Forest and Parks Bureau after which I was formally invited to be part of the team working on this project.
Beijing has a solid foundation. The Chinese capital lies on the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, a major migratory route for birds, and has recorded around 500 species, a total that is better than almost all other major capital cities in the world. Additionally, in the mountains around the city, mammals such as Siberian Roe Deer, Raccoon Dog, Wild Boar, Hog Badger and Leopard Cat can be found. It is not a stretch to imagine the return of the Common Leopard, a species that was present in Beijing until just a few decades ago and is now thought to be making a comeback via the mountains to the west in Hebei and Shanxi. One was recently caught on camera less than 50km from the capital’s boundary. How many major capital cities have multiple species of wild cat?
As is often the case in China’s policymaking, projects are likely to take place on a pilot basis to test the feasibility, practicality and effectiveness before, if successful, being scaled up.
One such pilot will involve part of the Wenyu River, traditionally one of Beijing’s best birding spots but which has recently suffered from the clearance of vegetation, planting of inappropriate trees and, in places, reinforcing the banks with concrete.
The pilot, which will include a stretch of over 10km of Beijing’s “Mother River”, will aim to show the benefits to wildlife of shallow banks, muddy fringes and natural vegetation. This pilot is important for another reason – it will be the first major collaboration between the Beijing Forest and Parks Department (which manages the land) and the Water Bureau (which manages the reservoirs and rivers, including the margins). We know that rivers are important corridors for wildlife and this project, if successful, will hopefully influence the way the Water Bureau manages Beijing’s rivers and could open the way for some exploratory discussions about the future management of Miyun Reservoir.
The idea of “10% Wild” – allowing 10 per cent of some of Beijing’s major city parks to grow wild – seems to be gaining traction and it’s something that we’ll be discussing in more detail over the next few weeks.
“Urban oases” or a series of stepping stones for migratory birds, possibly linked by a “wild ring road”, a ‘wildlife audit’ involving local schools, restoring habitat in the mountains and plains and introducing biodiversity criteria into Beijing’s vociferous tree-planting campaign are all ideas being discussed.
I have been struck by the enthusiasm and sincerity of the Beijing Municipal government, in particular Director Wang Xiaoping and his staff, and I am excited to work with them and Peking University over the next few months and years to support the city’s efforts. Suddenly, the vision of Beijing being the “capital of biodiversity” doesn’t seem such a long way off.
I’d like to thank James Phillips from Natural England who passed on some excellent information about biodiversity and agriculture projects that have worked in England.
Header photos (by Terry Townshend unless stated otherwise): Amur Hedgehog, White-naped Cranes, dragonfly sp, Leopard Cat (Peking University), Oriental Plover (Zhang XiaoLing) and Eastern Marsh Harrier.