Nearly 400 individuals, along with three schools representing more than 2,500 students have written a letter to the Beijing government to ask for a new park to be designed not only for people, but also for nature. A wonderful initiative that has the potential to change attitudes about the design, and purpose, of urban parks.
What do people want from a park? The conventional wisdom in Beijing is that local residents want somewhere “beautiful to look at, neat and tidy”. Anyone who has enjoyed one or more of the city’s parks will have noticed that they are certainly neat, tidy and well-maintained, with an army of workers collecting litter, tidying up dropped leaves, spraying insecticide and strimming any vegetation more than a few centimetres high. But what does this meticulous management mean for wildlife? In most cases, although many parks provide temporary shelter for migrant birds during spring and autumn, Beijing’s parks are generally wildlife-deprived. There are signs that this may be about to change.
As reported earlier, the government is planning to pilot the idea of leaving “10% wild” in some existing parks. If successful, this pilot could be expanded to cover more of the capital’s green spaces.
And, as part of Beijing’s ‘greening’, the government is planning a series of new parks on the outskirts of Beijing. One such park is being planned along part of the Wenyu River, a well-known birding spot, an important habitat for wintering waterbirds, and a corridor for migrants in spring and autumn. In total, more than 300 species of bird have been recorded along the river, including endangered species with Class I protection in China, such as Scaly-sided Merganser and Yellow-breasted Bunting. Parks in the capital are traditionally designed by landscaping companies with little understanding of the needs of wildlife. Fortunately, in the case of the Wenyu River park, the local government has invited Peking University and Beijing Forestry University to provide advice on how to make the new park better for wildlife. Several suggestions have been made, including using a ‘zoning’ system for activities such as fishing and recreation in order to ensure some areas are relatively undisturbed.
The academics working on these proposals suggested that a letter from local residents to make it known that they would like their park to be designed not only for human leisure but also for wildlife, would strengthen their case.
A few weeks later, the letter below has been submitted to the Director General of the Beijing Forest and Parks Bureau and the local governments of Shunyi and Chaoyang Districts (the river marks the border of these two districts and the park will include land on both sides of the river). The letter has been signed by three local schools, representing more than 2,500 students, and nearly 400 individuals.2021-03-30 Letter to Beijing Municipal Goverrnment
The hope is that the letter will demonstrate to government that the traditional view that people want parks to be places solely for human recreation is out of date and that, in a modern global city, people want their parks to deliver multiple benefits, including supporting and nurturing wildlife.
Changing attitudes takes time but, with 190 countries due to meet in Kunming, Yunnan Province, in October to thrash out a new international framework to tackle the global biodiversity crisis (the 15th Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, commonly known as COP15), it is clear that governments – both national and subnational – business, and indeed all of society will need to integrate biodiversity considerations into their operations if the world is to be successful in slowing and halting biodiversity loss. The role of cities, home to more than 50% of the world population (expected to increase to 66% by 2050), is vital not only in terms of supporting urban wildlife and providing safe spaces for migrant birds to navigate large urban areas, but also to allow the increasingly disconnected urban population to connect with nature.
We await the response of the Beijing Municipal government with interest. A huge thank you to everyone who signed and promoted the letter. It is wonderful to see the overwhelming support from local residents for Beijing’s public parks to put the interests of wildlife at the heart of their design and management.
Title image: a river providing space for people and wildlife by Madeleine Donahue