UK experience on managing reservoirs for water quality and nature shared with Beijing government

It’s been a hectic autumn and I’m a little behind in writing up developments but I wanted to highlight a recent visit to Beijing by Tim Appleton of Rutland Water and, of course, founder of the UK’s BirdFair.

Tim was invited by the Beijing government to share the experience of managing England’s largest reservoir for drinking water, as a nature reserve and for leisure.

The reason for inviting Tim was to begin a conversation about the potential for reviewing the management of Miyun Reservoir, Beijing’s major source of drinking water. Situated in the northeast of Beijing Municipality against a stunning backdrop of mountains, Miyun Reservoir used to be the prime birding location in the capital, providing superb habitat for water birds, cranes, bustards, birds of prey and passerines. The site even hosted a small flock of the endangered Jankowski’s Bunting for two consecutive winters.

However, recent years has seen a tightening of security with a large fence erected around the perimeter and guarded entrances to stop members of the public from entering. That may seem reasonable for the most important water source of a major capital city. Perhaps less forgivable is the removal of the scrub, prime habitat for migrating and wintering passerines and associated birds of prey, to be replaced with trees, all the same age, planted in straight lines, creating a monoculture that not only takes away the habitat for passerines but also making the area unsuitable for cranes and many other water birds.

The site is managed by Beijing’s water bureau which has only one aim – protecting water quality. Hence the lack of consideration for any other interests.

Considering that Miyun Reservoir is located in Miyun County, a relatively poor part of Beijing, there is huge potential to manage the reservoir in a more enlightened way that would maintain water quality whilst at the same time attracting visitors to enjoy the wide open spaces and the wildlife, providing a boost to the local economy. Such a policy could include managing part of the reservoir as a wetland nature reserve with access for the public via a series of hides and boardwalks and, potentially, opening other areas for sailing or limited angling. This ‘zoning’ policy has been used successfully at Rutland Water, providing value for many stakeholders and, at the same time, bringing in millions annually to the local economy.

Tim delivered a lecture to Beijing government officials and academics about how Rutland Water has been managed to deliver multiple benefits, followed by a lively discussion. The government also arrnged for him to visit several sites, including Yeyahu Wetland Reserve and the Wenyu River pilot wetland park. There was clear enthusiasm for Tim’s experience and our interlocutors shared hope that, one day, Rutland Water’s experience could be replicated in Beijing.

Tim Appleton giving an interview during a site visit to the Wenyu River pilot wetland park

Changing the management of Miyun Reservoir will not happen overnight. It will take many discussions, internal studies and engagement with a broad range of government officials in different ministries to build the support for change. However, every great journey starts with a single step and I am grateful to Tim for taking the time to visit and share his experience. In a few years time, we may look back on that visit as a decisive moment.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Beijing had a world-class wetland reserve, providing habitat for water birds and passerines along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, boosting the local economy and providing visitors with an unforgettable experience. Simultaneously, it would significantly help to improve the international image of Beijing and what better time to do that than in 2020 when China hosts the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

If I was the Mayor of Beijing, I would say “make it so!”

Cover photo: Miyun Reservoir, Beijing’s largest reservoir and potentially a world-class nature reserve.

5 thoughts on “UK experience on managing reservoirs for water quality and nature shared with Beijing government”

  1. What an exciting project! It is allready very positive that the Water bureau is considering it at all…. and Tim’s experience must be invaluable…

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    1. Hi Spike. The Wenyu River pilot Wetland Park is part of the Beijing Biodiversity project being implemented by Peking University. It’s one of several sites piloting habitat restoration and has been spared the over-management practices all too common along the river. The vegetation in this area – along the famous ‘mile’ – has been left to grow and seed, hopefully providing food resources and shelter for wintering birds, including buntings, accentors etc. If it’s successful, similar management policies may be implemented at other sites. Cheers, Terry

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