Last Friday I was invited by the Beijing Municipal government to participate in a meeting to discuss new draft guidelines for improving land management for biodiversity in Beijing. The draft included some positive language such as setting aside areas to remain ‘wild’ in parks, promoting ‘wildlife corridors’ to connect areas of habitat, the use of more native plant species and discouraging monocultures, and promoting education and awareness through on-site interpretation.
Academics from Peking University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences put forward comments and suggestions. I was able to make some points about the responsibility of Beijing to provide a balance of habitats to help provide safe passage for the millions of migratory birds that pass the capital each spring and autumn, and to highlight those resident species that appeared to be struggling in Beijing – namely grassland species, including larks and partridges. A focus on protecting and restoring wetlands and grassland, in addition to tree planting and forest cover, would help significantly.
To assess whether policies were making a difference, I suggested an audit of the capital’s wildlife was needed, with robust monitoring in order to establish which species were doing well and which weren’t, to identify trends early to help prioritise conservation actions, and to assess whether changes in land management practices were having the desired effect.
We also discussed the policy of early winter cutting of vegetation (to reduce fire risk) and covering with plastic netting (to prevent dust). Although this may help to reduce fire and dust, this had the double negative of depriving wildlife, including wintering birds such as buntings and accentors, of winter food and shelter, and also putting micro-plastics into the soil. Alternatives, such as cutting fire-breaks, rather than cutting all vegetation, and using biodegradable netting when netting was needed, were raised.
The meeting lasted three hours and ended with the Beijing Municipal government agreeing to produce another draft of the guidelines to reflect the discussion.
Everyone agreed that it would take time to change land management policies that had been in place for decades, and that education of the many workers would be vital to explain what was needed and why. Pilots would be useful to demonstrate what was possible. However, despite the note of caution on time, the commitment from the government to do better for wildlife was clear.
The fact that this meeting happened at all is a good sign of the intent on the part of the government to improve their land management for wildlife. We now await the next iteration of the draft guidelines, to be produced in the next few weeks.