I love this quote from one of the most progressive Senators in the US Congress, Ed Markey – “Although children are only 24% of the population, they’re 100% of our future”. In China, a country that is growing fast in terms of economic power and global influence, the children here will perhaps have a disproportionate influence on the world this century. And with the environment relatively absent in the Chinese curriculum, it’s of utmost importance to engage with young people if China’s wildlife is to prosper in this rapidly urbanising and developing country.
Luo Peng, a young Chinese environmentalist and entrepreneur, has set up a company called Eco Action Now to promote environmental education and sustainable tourism, focusing on benefiting local communities and working with scientists, nature reserves and ordinary people.
One aspect of their work is to develop educational programmes for schoolchildren in Beijing. It’s a great initiative that aims to connect urban children to their environment. I was honoured to be invited to help lead a birding trip for Beijing’s 13th Middle School to the Botanical Gardens this weekend and what fun we had!
On a beautiful, crisp and pollution-free Saturday morning we arrived at the entrance gate at 0730 and, after a short briefing to hand out the binoculars, the tailor-made birdwatching guide and the election of ‘scribes’, we split into four groups and began to explore… The first birds we saw were Magpies (Common and Azure-winged) and they were soon followed by Tree Sparrow, Naumann’s Thrush, Japanese and Marsh Tits, Spotted Dove (“they look fat!“) and Chinese Nuthatch…. and later we were to enjoy stunning views of Plain Laughingthrushes (“they really do laugh!“) and Siberian Accentors, the headmistress’s favourite bird! It was great to see these young people so enthused during their first ever birdwatching trip and enjoying the sight and sound of their local birds. Inevitably, as the groups met up periodically to compare notes, a little competitiveness crept in and we even had a mini ‘twitch’ at the end to ensure all of the groups saw the Little Grebes on the main lake..
It was fantastic to meet the students of Beijing’s 13th Middle School and I can’t wait to do more… Even if none of them become birders, their appreciation and understanding of wild birds has been increased and, in a country home to around 1/6th of the world’s bird species, that’s a wonderful reward in itself. Big thanks to Luo Peng for making the arrangements and for inviting me along…
All photos by Luo Peng.