Forum on management of wetland centres, China, 2006
2nd Wetland Forum, Xixi, Hangzhou, China,
20-22 October 2006
Jointly organised by the State Forestry Administration of China (the Ramsar Administrative Authority) and the Hangzhou Municipal Government, this Forum brought together 160 people to discuss the creation, utilisation and management of wetland parks. Participants came from a range of backgrounds, including key members of China's Administrative Authority, wetland managers within China, managers and educators from wetland education centres, predominantly from Asia and Oceania, but also from other regions, representatives from the Hangzhoug municipality, and the Xixi Wetland Park management team, as well as wetland restoration experts. Two members of the Ramsar Secretariat attended and made presentations, Lei Guangchun, the Senior Advisor for Asia, and Sandra Hails, the CEPA Programme Officer.
Xixi National Wetland Park, an ancient wetland that began as a lake and was converted to fishing ponds and flooded paddy fields over 1,000 years ago, still produces and markets fish from the ponds as well as harvesting and marketing persimmons from trees bordering them. Although on a smaller scale than in past years, silk production carries on with the mulberry trees around the ponds supplying the leaves to feed the silkworms. At the same time, the wetland has been developed to allow visitors to experience the beauty of the scenery on foot and by boat, and to learn more of the long cultural history of the ecosystem. Since its opening in 2005, the park has welcomed over 977,000 visitors.
During the opening ceremony of the Forum on October 20th, participants were addressed by Mr Zhang Jianlong, Deputy Director General of the State Forestry Administration, Mr Sun Zhonghuan, the Mayor of Hangzhou, and the Hangzhou Municipal Party Committee Secretary, Mr Wang Guoping. Mr Wang noted that the 10 km2 Xixi Wetland Park is the first National Wetland Park in China. He defined wetland parks as large wetlands with a distinctive ecological, cultural, aesthetic and biological identity that are intended for conservation, leisure, education, and research, where conservation and utilisation to maximise ecological, social and economic benefits are possible. He distinguished between these and National Nature Reserves, which are natural areas intended only for conservation and research. Mr Wang emphasized that the development of wetland parks, although new to China, is considered an important component of the country's approach to wetland management. Lei Guangchun, Ramsar's Senior Advisor for Asia, made an opening address on behalf of Ramsar's Secretary General, and Sandra Hails, CEPA Programme Officer, delivered a keynote presentation on Ramsar's CEPA Programme and the roles it identifies for wetland centres and wetland parks in the conservation and wise use of wetlands.
Following the opening ceremony, participants spent the afternoon on a guided boat tour of the Xixi Wetland Park, a beautiful area, although the overcast weather limited the photographic opportunities. Participants were able to view the fish ponds as well as persimmon and mulberry trees by boat and also visited on foot, at various points, exhibitions of the cultural history of the park, including fishing and silk production, as well as the activities of a number of famous artists and writers who had lived in this wetland area centuries ago, drawing inspiration from its scenery and tranquillity.
The 21st was a full day of plenary presentations, the morning session chaired by Lei Guangchun. Ten presentations covered practical experiences in the development, management, and activities of wetland centres and wetland parks, and the topics were broad-ranging, covering methodological approaches to planning and managing parks, wetland restoration techniques, and on-the-ground approaches to managing wetland centres, including designing education programmes, approaches to maintaining financial viability, the importance of volunteer programmes, etc.
On the following morning, participants had to choose between three concurrent sessions, each with 5-6 presentations, under the themes of Programming and designing of wetland parks; Construction and management of wetland parks; and CEPA in wetland parks, the latter session chaired by Sandra Hails.
In the CEPA session, four presenters took us variously through the diversity of education programmes that a wetland centre must develop to cater for the range of visitors, developing programmes that particularly target teachers and schoolchildren, designing centres to cater for physically disabled visitors, and using interview techniques to identify types of visitors and examine their positive and negative experiences during the visit. Two presenters looked at the use of CEPA tools from a rather different perspective, one focusing on the CEPA tools used in a lake restoration project where local people were the key targets as important polluters of the lake environment, and another on an international project to rescue a flagship species - the crested ibis - and on the CEPA tools used with rice farmers to control water quality in key habitat areas.
Between sessions, the CEPA Programme Officer spent valuable time discussing the development of the Wetland Link International - Asia (WLI-Asia) network of centres, the first regional network to be set up within the global WLI network. Colleagues from Asian wetland centres who were instrumental in setting up WLI-Asia and the global Wetland Link International Coordinator, Malcolm Whitehead, had the opportunity to discuss plans for the upcoming WLI-Asia symposium in January 2007 that is being jointly organised by the Hong Kong Wetland Park and WWF's Mai Po Marshes Nature Reserve, funded by the Hong Kong government.
Overall the Forum was an ideal opportunity for the exchange of practical experiences in the many aspects involved in creating and managing wetland centres and parks. In her concluding remarks, Ms. Yin Hong, Director General of the Ramsar Convention Implementation Office in China, emphasized the importance of wetland parks and the role of wetland CEPA in promoting wetland conservation and wise use among all stakeholders, including decision-makers and local communities.
Participants seated in the plenary hall
Signboard at park entrance
Walking trails are well signposted.
Well maintained paths and bridges for walkers
Participants ready to set off on field trip around Xixi
Park workers on a well-earned tea break
Participants stop off at one of the main cultural centres
A hall dedicated to Xixi's many famous artists and writers
Central courtyard at the cultural centre
Silkworms feeding on the Park's mulberry leaves
The ubiquitous water hyacinth has to be vigorously managed at the Park
Chris Wood, who has helped the Park management with the development of an education centre at Xixi, demonstrates an electronic game.
Displays at the education centre
-- Photos by Sandra Hails