China has unveiled a guideline for improving the protection of nature reserve areas, with the aim of reaching world-leading management and preservation levels by 2035.
According to the guideline, released by the State Council late last month, a new mechanism for the management and protection of nature reserve areas, including national parks, will be built.
It is expected to provide systemic protection for natural ecosystems, relics, scenery and biodiversity, and also safeguard the country’s ecological security.
The guideline calls for the establishment of a batch of national parks and a unified management system for the country’s nature reserves－at all levels－by 2020. The next step will be the building of a protection mechanism, with national parks as a major component, by 2025.
“The guideline is a move by the country to advance sustainable development,” a top official from the National Forestry and Grassland Administration said in a recent interview.
According to the administration, China has established more than 11,800 nature reserve areas at different levels that are protecting 18 percent of the country’s land and 4.6 percent of its territorial waters.
In a report delivered at the opening of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2017, President Xi Jinping said China would develop a nature reserves system composed mainly of national parks as part of the effort to build a beautiful China.
The primary purpose of establishing nature reserve areas is to protect a fragile ecosystem, which has been under constant attack from human activities.
In national parks, for example, development and construction that could hurt the ecosystem will be prohibited, and those engaging in practices such as illegal mining, the discharging of pollutants and poaching will be punished.
“But the overall planning of the country’s nature reserve areas is imperfect and the management system also needs to be improved to keep pace with the rapid development of the country,” the administration official said.
“The guideline marks a milestone in the country’s comprehensively deepening reform on nature reserve areas. It will support China’s overall ecological protection work and lay a foundation for our sustainable economic and social development.”
Under the guideline, there will be three kinds of protected areas－national parks, nature reserves and nature parks－based on their ecological value.
Overlapping nature reserves or ecologically-connected areas that used to be managed separately by different departments will be integrated, with management and protection work enhanced, and the total area covered by the three kinds of protected areas will be no smaller than the previous areas.
The habitats of some endangered wild species and regions with representative geological conditions will be included in the nature reserves. Nature parks will be those regions holding natural scenery or relics with potential for scientific or cultural study.
National parks will be regions that can showcase typical Chinese ecosystems.
Since 2015, China has approved the construction of 10 pilot national parks covering more than 200,000 square kilometers across the country, including the Giant Panda National Park, which includes parts of Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces; the Qilian Mountains National Park in Gansu and Qinghai province; and the Northeast China Tiger and Leopard National Park in Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces.
In national parks, the strictest protection occurs within “red line” zones, a key government strategy putting designated areas under mandatory protection.
The pilot program will end next year and the administration will then release a national standard for the recognition of national parks and their management. By the end of next year, a batch of national parks under the new standard will be unveiled.
Last year, a research center for national park planning was established in southwestern China’s Yunnan province in an effort to facilitate the protection of China’s nature reserves.
With more than 70 researchers specializing in zoology, botany, wetland and nature reserve protection, and landscaping, the research center is building on work conducted by an institute that has been dedicated to national park research since the 1990s.
To simplify management, the guideline says each nature reserve area will receive uniform management from one administrative body, and management and control will feature a range of restrictions on human activities.
National parks and nature reserves will have core protection areas and general control areas. Human activities will be prohibited in the former and be subject to strict restrictions in the latter. Nature parks will be defined as regular control areas and be subject to less stringent restrictions.
The guideline includes several principles to guide protection work, with government departments to play a leading role and input from social organizations and experts from research institutes also welcomed.
It also emphasizes that the new mechanism will be formulated according to the law and the interests of the people. International experience will also be factored into the new mechanism.