Sichuan Forest Biodiversity Project
To enhance networks of protected areas in China and engage local people in their sustainable management
In 1998 the devastating floods along the Yangtze River led to the introduction of the National Forest Protection Programme. This moratorium outlined changes to logging practice and land management policy within the upper Yangtze basin. Consequently these changes presented conservationists with a unique opportunity to encourage protection for the important broadleaf forest habitat and its endemic animals and plants within southern Sichuan Province. The conservation significance of this forest is highlighted by its inclusion within the Mountains of South-west China Biodiversity Hotspot (Conservation International) and the Chinese Subtropical Forest Endemic Bird Area (Birdlife International). However, prior to 1998 this ecosystem was largely ignored, with the majority of primary forest being divided into forest farms destined for commercial logging. These broadleaf forests are home to the endangered Sichuan hill-partridge (Arborophila rufipectus), which is confined to forest in central southern Sichuan and has been the subject of detailed research since 1995. Through this research it became clear that the area contained a high diversity of birds and was important for a number of other endemic species. The area is also home to the southernmost surviving population of giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) as well as several other significant threatened mammals, amphibians and plants. Surviving populations of these were seriously threatened with doubts to their long-term survival. Thus, what began as a Liverpool John Moores University research project, focusing on the endangered Sichuan hill-partridge, has evolved into a multi-faceted conservation project supported and co-managed by Chester Zoo. In partnership with the Sichuan Forest Department, the Sichuan Forest Biodiversity Project is developing a network of protected forest areas within the Liang Shan region, which engages local people in their sustainable management and cultivation.
At present there are eleven nature reserves (four supported by the project) across the Liang Shan and several of these share boundaries. However, these areas remain under threat from human pressures. One major problem is the extensive use of wood for fuel which, together with the increasing demand on land for grazing and agriculture, has led to widespread clearance and degradation in many areas. A high demand for forest products such as bamboo shoots and medicinal herbs has attracted people from outside the region and causes massive disturbance and over-exploitation at certain times of the year. Economic developments in the wider region have increased demand for electricity and natural resources such as coal and minerals, consequently causing the encroachment of hydroelectric schemes, mining activities and polluting industries. More recently the increase in wealth and income of people in many parts of China has led to a rise in the demand for tourism and this brings added pressures to beautiful areas like the Liang Shan.
The overarching aims of the project are to enhance the network of protected areas for forest biodiversity in the Liang Shan region of southern Sichuan, especially through building capacity of the local reserve staff, and to engage local people in their sustainable management and development.
At the beginning of 2009 ten objectives were outlined as part of the current three year block plan:
- Establish effective monitoring programmes for wildlife to evaluate management practices and detect population changes due to environmental change.
- Carry out research on key species such as red pandas (Ailurus fulgens) and endemic birds in order to ascertain population density, conservation status and habitat requirements.
- Work with the local communities living in and around the reserve to support more sustainable ways of exploiting forest resources or to find alternatives. Each reserve should develop at least one project that is fully evaluated by the end of 2011 to show that it is making a quantifiable difference to local resource use.
- Find ways of controlling and managing the bamboo shoot collection activities that are currently causing massive disturbance in spring and autumn.
- Further improve the physical infrastructure so that each reserve has a fully functional office and at least one field station that may also be used as a base for scientific study.
- Improve local awareness of the significance of the reserves and their wildlife by evaluating current awareness and introducing further measures to inform.
- Establish environmental education in the curriculum related to the local protection of wildlife for schools in and around the reserves.
- Develop a visitor management strategy for each reserve to inform them about the value of the wildlife and minimise their impact on the environment.
- Achieve national status for at least one of the currently supported reserves and extend the network of supported protected areas within the Liang Shan region.
- Disseminate the work of the project more widely.
In addition a set of strategic objectives have been outlined in the conservation strategy for the whole Liang Shan region, which is being developed in collaboration with the Sichuan Forest Department. The strategy addresses four basic themes through its strategic objectives:
- Establishing an effective ecological network: Maintain and enhance the ecological network of forest habitats throughout the Liang Shan to ensure maximum connectivity of the ecosystem.
- Improving evidence base for conservation: Improve our knowledge of the region's wildlife so that environmental conservation is evidence-based and effective.
- Supporting sustainable communities: Improve and sustain the quality of life and living standards of the local community in ways that are in harmony with their environment.
- Raising public awareness: Promote a better understanding of the beauty and importance of the region's natural resources locally, nationally and internationally.
WAZA Conservation Project 10023 is implemented by Chester Zoo and Liverpool John Moores University. Other stakeholders involved in the project include the Sichuan Forest Department, Chengdu Giant Panda Captive Breeding Base and World Pheasant Association.
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