New Chinese alliance creates world’s largest nature reserve group

Zhang Yingying, assistant editor, chinadialogue’s Beijing office

Western China’s four national nature reserves have unveiled plans to work together to protect the environment of the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, according to a report from state-owned news agency Xinhua.  

The four reserves – Tibet Qiangtang Nature Reserve, Qinghai Hoh Xil Nature Reserve, Qinghai Sanjiangyuan (Three Rivers) Nature Reserve, and Xinjiang Altun Mountain Nature Reserve – have agreed to establish a joint administration in order to coordinate conservation efforts. With a total area of 543,000 square kilometres, accounting for 58.3% of the total area of China’s national-level nature reserves, combined this can be considered the world’s single largest nature reserve group.

Situated on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, with an average altitude of 4,000 metres, the reserves are the sole habitat of several species unique to China, including rare wild animals such as the Tibetan antelope, the wild yak, and the Tibetan wild ass.

Western China’s ecological environment has become increasingly fragile over the past few decades, as demonstrated by a report published in 2002 by the State Environmental Protection Administration. It revealed a sharp decrease in biodiversity in the region, coupled with a rise in the frequency of natural disasters. Around 60% of the nation’s land area affected by soil erosion lies in Western China, with areas of soil erosion accounting for more than half the territory of some Western provinces. Desertification in Western China also accounts for more than 160 million hectares – 90% of China’s desertified lands. Deforestation and the burning of grassland is another serious problem, with more than 90% of new arable land a result of the destruction of forest and grassland. As well as the continual decline in area, grasslands are suffering from deteriorating quality and serious damage caused by vermin.

In March last year, the State Council passed the “Regional Plan on Ecological Construction and Environmental Protection on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau (2011-2030)”, in accordance with which, from 2011 to 2015, the region’s focus is on solving its problems of ecological decline and environmental pollution, working on plans to further improve the ecological environment and to markedly improve the environmental quality of parts of the region.

The alliance between the four major nature reserves may be seen as part of the implementation of these plans, and a positive step in the right direction. Samphel Wangyel, deputy director of the Protection Division of Tibet’s Regional Forestry Department, said: “mutual inter-collaboration will have a great impact in terms of safeguarding biodiversity, the living habits of rare species, and migration patterns in the region.” 

Translated by chinadialogue volunteer Charlotte Foster.