Miyun Reservoir is Beijing’s largest and most important drinking water reservoir. Until public access was forbidden in 2016, this site was the premier birding site in the capital, providing wonderful habitat for a range of waterbirds, including important numbers of cranes (incredibly, seven species – Common, Demoiselle, Hooded, Red-crowned, Sandhill, Siberian, and White-naped – have been recorded here) and the surrounding scrub attracted thousands of passerines in winter, including the first records of the endangered Jankowski’s Bunting in the capital for 75 years in the winters of 2015/2016 and 2016/2017.
Sadly, after a fire in the area, the vegetation was ripped out and replaced with trees, a disaster for wintering passerines and making the area no longer suitable for cranes and other large birds such as Great Bustard.
After some conversations with the government about England’s experience of managing its largest reservoir for water quality and wildlife, in 2019 the Beijing government invited Tim Appleton, former manager of the Rutland Water Nature Reserve, to Beijing to meet officials and share his experience. That visit took place almost exactly a year ago.
We knew that change would not happen overnight but it is heartening that, a year on, I can report some progress.
September 2020 marked the 60th anniversary of the reservoir’s creation, prompting President Xi Jinping to write a letter to local residents to thank them for protecting the capital’s most important water source. Sparked by that letter, the Beijing government convened a meeting to discuss how the reservoir should be managed in future. I was honoured to be invited and to present my ideas about how the reservoir could be managed for wildlife as well as water, explaining how important the site is for migratory and wintering birds, including the occurrence of important numbers of cranes and other waterbirds, as well as the records of the Jankowski’s Bunting (of which they were unaware). Miyun Reservoir had the potential to become a world-class wetland reserve, boosting the local economy and improving Beijing’s image in the process… and with China hosting the important meeting of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity in 2021, what better time to show how Beijing was making its contribution towards stemming biodiversity loss?
I was one of eight people in the meeting with government officials, with most of the others promoting forestry-related ideas. Although there is surely a role for forests and tree-planting, it would not be appropriate, and in fact would be detrimental to many migratory birds, to manage the site solely for this purpose.
The result of the meeting was the formation of a “Working Group” to develop proposals. I was honoured to be invited to join and we are planning our first field visit to the reservoir in late October.
We are still a long long way from securing any management changes that may be beneficial to wildlife but it is heartening to see an openness to ideas and I feel there is a genuine chance to influence the way ahead, especially with China hosting the UN conference on biological diversity, meaning biodiversity issues are probably higher on the agenda than ever.
I want to put on record my thanks to Tim Appleton for visiting Beijing in 2019 and for encouraging those first steps. I’d also like to thank Madeleine Donahue for providing the wonderful illustration at the top of this post, showing how the reservoir could be managed in future – for water, for birds and for people.
Watch this space!
Title image: an artist’s impression of how Miyun Reservoir could be managed in future – for water, for birds and for people. By Madeleine Donahue.