Chinese wetlands protection extended

Wetland conservation in China has received a boost in the form of nine new protected sites, covering a total of 400,000 hectares.

Officially classified as Ramsar wetlands of international importance, eight of the nine sites are high-altitude marshes and lakes in the provinces of Quinhai and Yunnan, as well as the Tibet Autonomous Region. The ninth site is the Shuangtai estuary on the Liao River in north-east china, which makes up part of what has been called “the world’s largest reed bed”.

The designation of the sites is an important milestone in promoting the environmental protection of Chinese wetlands, according to the WWF, and is in line with the international initiative supported by WWF, the Ramsar Convention and China, Wetland conservation and wise use in the Himalayan high mountains.

“This move will help safeguard the freshwater source of Asia’s most important rivers,” spokesman for WWF China, Jim Harkness stated. “We congratulate the government of China for its commitment to protecting these crucial areas for people, wildlife and water.”

China currently has 3.43 million hectares of wetland protected under the Ramsar Convention, with the Chinese government having established 353 protected wetland areas by the end of 2003, covering a total of 1.45 million hectares – around 40% of the country’s natural wetlands.

The protected sites are especially important for migratory birds, according to Mr Harkness, such as the endangered black-necked crane. Considered to be a holy bird amongst the local people, villagers in Shangri-la, Yunnan Province are currently working on eco-tourism projects with WWF to try to conserve the birds’ habitat.

Reaching heights of between 1,500m and 5,400m above sea level, the Shangri-la region is characterised by the deep valleys and tall mountains that have created a diverse climate, soil and vegetation patterns, as well as unique and fragile ecosystems.

The announcement coincides with World Wetlands Day, celebrated around the world last week.

By Jane Kettle

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