The Bureau's Senior Policy Advisor, Mike Smart, recently made a visit to the People's Republic of China, and his trip report, written for the Bureau's files and for guidance to the Chinese authorities, provides a very good update on the status of implementation of the Convention in the PR of China and in particular at Poyang Lake, an important Ramsar site. I include his trip report here virtually in its entirety, with the acknowledgement that it was intended as a working document and not for publication. -- Web Editor.
Report on a visit to the People’s Republic of China, 23-30 November 1996
(a) To contact the Chinese Administrative Authority for implementation of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (the Ministry of Forestry), and regional authorities with responsibility for wetlands (Jiangxi Province Forest Department).
(b) To visit one of China's six Ramsar sites, Jiangxi Poyang Lake National Nature Reserve, in collaboration with the authorities of Jiangxi Province Forest Department.
(c) To contact other bodies in China concerned with conservation and wise use of wetlands, and in particular: - Institute of Zoology, Academica Sinica - The Beijing offices of Ramsar partner organizations, Wetlands International and WWF
Saturday 23 November:
Arrive in Nanchang, from Hong Kong via Guangzhou.
Sunday 24 November - Wednesday 27 November:
Visit Jiangxi Poyang Lake National Nature Reserve, in the company of officials of the Jiangxi Province Forest Department and the Ministry of Forestry, Beijing.
Thursday 28 November:
Meetings with officials of the Jiangxi Province Administration in Nanchang.
Evening flight from Nanchang to Beijing.
Friday 29 November:
Meeting in Beijing with officials of the Ministry of Forestry.
Meetings with Beijing offices of Ramsar non-governmental organization Partner organizations, Wetlands International and WWF.
Saturday 30 November: - Meeting with scientists from the Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Sunday 1 December: - Flight Beijing to Switzerland.
3. Implementation of the Ramsar Convention in China
China became a Contracting Party to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in 1992, when it designated six sites for the List of Wetlands of International Importance. The Ministry of Forestry was appointed as the Administrative Authority for implementation of the Convention in China. Vice-Minister Wang Zhibao, who headed the Chinese delegation at the 6th Conference of the Contracting Parties at Brisbane, Australia, in 1996, has informed the Secretary General of work being conducted in China to develop a National Wetland Action Plan.
In discussions with the Ministry of Forestry in Beijing on 29 November, I was given many details of the work under way, and am most impressed by China's systematic approach both to designation of additional Ramsar sites and to development of a national planning approach to implementation of the Convention.
In Nanchang and Beijing, I discussed at length my visit to Poyanghu Ramsar site, and section four of the present report gives details of my visit, with a number of recommendations.
Officials of the Ministry of Forestry suggested that Ramsar Bureau staff should in future visit Ramsar sites other than Poyang, and such visits would be of great value, both to Bureau staff who would understand better the achievements and any remaining problems at these sites, and to reserve staff who would understand better the implications of Ramsar listing.
(b) Maps and descriptions of Chinese Ramsar sites
On accession to the Ramsar Convention in 1992, China indicated the names of the six designated Ramsar sites. Subsequently, descriptions of the six sites were submitted, using the data sheets approved by the Conference of the Parties at Montreux. However, detailed maps of the six sites have not been submitted, although Contracting Parties accept, under Article 2.1, an obligation to provide detailed maps showing the boundaries of existing sites. In discussions in Beijing, the Ministry of Forestry indicated that maps of the six Ramsar sites would be provided in the near future.
I also raised the question of providing updated data sheets for the six sites by 31 December 1997, using the revised Ramsar Information Sheet, as required by Brisbane Resolution VI. 16. I offered, on the basis of my visit to Poyang, to provide a first preliminary draft of a Ramsar Information Sheet on Poyang as guidance for the Chinese authorities. On the basis of this input from the Bureau, officials of the Ministry of Forestry indicated their willingness to provide updated Ramsar Information Sheets for all six sites.
(c) Status of Mai Po Ramsar site, Hong Kong
Mai Po was designated as a Ramsar site by the United Kingdom in September 1995, and is therefore at present included on the Ramsar List under UK Dependent Territories. With the establishment of the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong as from 1 July 1997, the Ramsar Bureau will require guidance on the status of Mai Po as a Ramsar site.
At a workshop in Hong Kong on 21 November, which I also attended, Director Zhen Ren De had indicated that Mai Po would remain a Ramsar site under Chinese administration. He and his colleagues repeated this assurance in discussions in Beijing on 29 November. I pointed out the Ramsar Bureau's need for an official written statement on the position. Ministry of Forestry officials promised to provide a written statement, confirming that Mai Po would be China's seventh Ramsar site. I undertook, on behalf of the Ramsr Bureau, to inform the UK government of the situation.
(d) Possibility of designating additional Ramsar sites in China
In Hong Kong, Director Zhen Ren De and colleagues from Guangdong Province gave details of conservation measures taken at the Futian National Class Nature Reserve, which is very close to the Mai Po Ramsar site. Planned construction of a major road has been halted, pending assessment of its possible impact on the existing nature reserve. Establishment of a single Ramsar site, encompassing both Futian and Mai Po, is not realistic given the differing administrative status of Guangdong Province and the future Hong Kong Special Administrative Region; however, officials of the Ministry of Forestry indicated in Beijing on 29 November that designation of Futian and Shen Zhen Bay (or Deep Bay) as a Ramsar site was under active consideration.
Officials of the Ministry of Forestry also indicated in Beijing on 29 November that the Chinese government was considering designation of other Chinese wetlands as Ramsar sites. One site under consideration is Taolimiao-Alashan Nur, Ordos, Inner Mongolia the subject of a Ramsar Small Grants Fund (SGF) project (see below). The authorities of Inner Mongolia will definitely establish a protected area there, and on the basis of the final report of the SGF project (currently in preparation by the Institute of Zoology), the Ministry of Forestry will decide whether to designate the area as a Ramsar site.
Ministry of Forestry officials also indicated that, on the basis of the nationwide wetland survey currently being carried out, additional sites would be designated for the Ramsar List. Several provinces have indicated a desire for sites under their jurisdiction to be designated, and the Ministry hopes to make a selection in 1 997, though no precise timetable has been established.
(e) Chinese Projects funded bv the Ramsar Small Grants Fund (SGF)
The Ramsar Standing Committee has approved three Chinese projects under the SGF since the Fund began operations in 1991.
1) One project, approved in 1992, concerns development of management plans for two Ramsar sites, Zhalong and Dongdongtinghu. The plans have now been produced and are currently being published in Chinese with an English abstract. This project is therefore almost complete.
2) Another project, approved in 1993, relates to establishment of a Chinese wetland conservation manual. This project has been held up by administrative delays in transmission of the funds from a Chinese bank to the Ministry. The funds have now reached the Ministry, together with an interest payment. Because of currency control regulations, it is not possible to transfer the interest back to the Ramsar Bureau. Work on the project is now going ahead.
3) A third project, approved in 1994 and carried out by the Institute of Zoology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, relates to high plateau wetlands in Ordos, Inner Mongolia, in Northern China. The project has permitted scientific studies of the area, which is now being considered for nomination as a Ramsar site. Whether or not a Ramsar site is declared, a nature reserve will be established by the authorities of Inner Mongolia. Furthermore, the Institute of Zoology, in cooperation with the local authorities, is developing initiatives to improve the economic status of local people and involve them in the wise use of the area; outside finance to support this action has been obtained. The final report is almost ready.
China wishes to submit further projects for funding by the SGF in 1997. A Diplomatic Note (Notification 8/1996 dated 27 November 1996) incorporating the new operational guidelines for 1997-1999 has already been sent out by the Ramsar Bureau; this indicates that SGF proposals in the next triennium should be in line with the priorities of the Ramsar Strategic Plan 1997-2002, approved in Brisbane. The deadline for new proposals to the SGF is 31 March 1997.
The Institute of Zoology, following its successful project in Ordos, northern China, proposes to submit another proposal, via the Ministry of Forestry, in 1997, relating to other wetlands in northern China, perhaps in the Beidahe area. The Ramsar Bureau looks forward to receiving any such proposal that is in accordance with the priorities of the Strategic Plan.
(f) The China Wetland Conservation Action Plan
As indicated in the letter sent on 10 October 1996 by Vice-Minister Wang Zhibao to Ramsar Secretary General Delmar Blasco, China is preparing a Wetland Conservation Action Plan. I was given further details of this work in Beijing on 29 November. The plan was launched at the wetland workshop held in Yueyang in 1994. (The Ministry of Forestry presented me a copy of the Proceedings of this workshop, in Chinese with English abstracts). The plan is currently being compiled by different ministries, and an interim meeting was recently organized in Beijing, with the participation of 17 government agencies. It is expected to be completed by the end of 1997, when it will be presented to the State Council for approval.
As part of the preparation of the Plan, a survey of wetland resources has been conducted throughout the country, under the aegis of the Ministry of Forestry, which has invited other bodies (such as the Ministry of Agriculture, the Academy of Sciences and provincial administrations) to take part, and has sometimes provided funding. Officials of the Jiangxi Province administration in Nanchang noted that such a survey had been carried out in their province, with the main emphasis on Poyang Lake, which represents 80% of the wetlands of the province. Officials in both Beijing and Nanchang emphasized that the funding available for such surveys was meagre, and that more detailed surveys could be carried out if more funds were available.
(g) Role of the Ministry of Forestry in conservation and wise use of wetlands in China
In Beijing on 29 November, Ministry of Forestry officials informed me that their ministry had been designated by the State Council to coordinate wetland issues in China. In this capacity the Ministry had convened the recent meeting of 17 agencies. I pointed out that several Resolutions and Recommendations of the Ramsar Conference of Parties call on Contracting Parties to establish a National Ramsar or Wetland Committee. I expressed the hope that this group might become the nucleus of a Chinese Ramsar Committee.
(h) Ramsar Bureau support for Chinese applications for funding
As noted elsewhere in this report, there is a considerable need for funding for wetland conservation action in China. On many occasions, it was suggested that the Ramsar Bureau, with its international contacts, could act as a "bridge" between China and funding sources, so as to help to find resources for the action necessary. During the meeting in Beijing on 29 November, Ministry of Forestry Officials specifically requested the Bureau to contact the GEF in connection with a Chinese request for funds for wetland work under Block B, and to support the application. Action of this type is specifically mentioned as a priority for the Bureau in the Ramsar Strategic Plan 1997 -2002, and the Ramsar Bureau will be pleased to act as requested by the Ministry of Forestry.
(i) Chinese version of the Ramsar Manual
I learnt with great pleasure that a Chinese version of The Ramsar Convention Manual has been prepared by Chen Kelin, and that it has been widely used in application of the Convention in China. I suggest that this publication (if possible updated, to take account of the decisions of the 1996 Conference of the Parties) be given wider circulation in China, and in particular that copies be provided for the Jiangxi Provincial Forest Administration, for the administration of the Poyang Ramsar site, and for the other five Ramsar sites.
4. Poyanghu (Poyang Lake) Ramsar site
(a) General background
Lake Poyang is the largest lake in China, in the floodplain of the five inflowing rivers, and also receives backflow from the Chang Jiang (Yangtse River) at the height of the flood. It is still in a near-natural state, and the difference between low water levels in winter and high water levels at the height of the summer flood is a staggering eleven metres. During the flood, areas of higher ground, such as the promontory on which the town of Wucheng is located, stand out as islands.
From time immemorial, the whole area of the lake (170 kilometres long by 17 kilometres broad), and its floodplain has been used by human beings - for fishing, for grazing of buffaloes, for cutting of vegetation as fuel and thatching material, and for transport along the major river systems. Since the early 1980s, Poyanghu has become famous as the wintering ground of a number of world-endangered bird species; in particular 98% of the world population, totalling only about 3,000 individuals, of the Siberian Crane Grus leucogeranus winters at Poyang; other rare and endangered species occurring in numbers include the Oriental White Stork Ciconia boyciana, the Swan Goose Anser cygnoides and White-naped Crane Grus vipio. In the memorable words of George Archibald of the International Crane Foundation, Poyanghu is the "second Great Wall of China". In recognition of its exceptional importance, the Jiangxi Poyang Lake National Nature Reserve was one of the six wetlands designated for the List of Wetlands of International Importance when China became a Contracting Party to the Ramsar Convention in 1992. Not the whole of Poyanghu was designated, but the nine lakes of the National Nature Reserve, covering some 22,400 hectares.
Officials of Jiangxi Province indicated that there were three main tasks for conservation and wise use of Poyanghu:
Provincial officials indicated that work on these objectives was under way, but that experience was lacking and help from the Ramsar Bureau and other wetland conservation bodies was urgently needed, particularly as regards staff training.
The challenge at Poyang is to maintain the ecological character of the site, yet at the same time to enable local people to achieve a higher standard of living. Poyanghu could become one the best examples in the world of the Ramsar concept of "wise use of wetlands".
(b) Measures taken so far for the conservation and wise use of Poyanghu
Establishment of the reserve: A provincial reserve was established in 1983, soon after recognition of the importance of the site for cranes, and this became a National Nature Reserve in 1988, and an internationally recognized Ramsar site in 1992. The reserve’s nine lakes cover about 4.1 % of the total area of Poyang Lake. The headquarters of the reserve is in Wucheng, 90 kilometres by road (impassable in the summer flood season) from the provincial capital, Nanchang. The distance to Nanchang by river is 84 kilometres. The reserve extends over the territories of three different counties (smaller local administrative units). The reserve has a headquarters complex including administrative and scientific buildings, a concrete tower giving fine views over the reserve, and a hostel with accommodation for small numbers of visitors. The reserve has a staff of 47, half of whom have secondary school education level. The reserve administration has four sections devoted to: scientific research; administration; protection; and income generation. Particular emphasis is laid on public awareness work with local communities, and on exchanges with interested foreign scientists and conservationists.
Management activities: Most of the nine lakes are situated in shallow saucers between major rivers and water courses, and have artificial channels linking them to these rivers. Sluice gates at the outlets of these channels allow water levels in the lakes to be lowered, so as to catch fish. Lake levels are often lowered in the winter (especially before the Chinese New Year in January/February, when the price of fish rises). This has sometimes in the past meant that feeding areas for waterfowl dry out, and that the birds are forced to leave the reserve.
The Ministry of Forestry indicated, in its data sheet on Poyang submitted to the Ramsar Bureau, that it intended to establish a reserve "core area", covering two of the nine lakes, Dahuzhi and Shahu, where the Nature Reserve would have ownership of the lakes and would control the water levels. This was achieved in 1993, and I was able to see for myself that the level of these two lakes was much higher in November 1996 than that of the seven others, even though this means a reduction in fishery production and revenue of local people.
I furthermore learnt, in discussions with officials of Jiangxi Province in Nanchang, that the Governor of Jiangxi has recently approved a decree, giving the Nature Reserve power to control water levels at the other seven lakes. I was given a copy of the officially published version of the decree.
The importance of these measures for maintaining the ecological character of the Ramsar site can hardly be over-estimated. They demonstrate a very strong commitment on the part of the provincial and national authorities to their obligations under Ramsar.
A management plan for the reserve has been formulated with input from WWF Hong Kong. The Global Environment Facility (GEF) has approved considerable financial support for the reserve, together with other Chinese sites important for conservation of biological diversity.
Importance of other sectors of Poyanghu: While the Poyang National Nature Reserve is the focus for the conservation of biological diversity at Poyanghu, it seems evident that other sectors of the immense wetland, outside the 4.1% covered by the reserve, must also be of conservation value and interest. The Jiangxi Province Forest Administration is currently carrying out a survey of wetlands in the province, and Poyanghu, which includes 80% of the wetlands in the province, is naturally the principal focus of the survey.
(c) Remaining Problems at Poyanghu
Lack of facilities: As noted by the Director, the Poyang National Nature Reserve has already made considerable progress, but nevertheless lacks facilities, particularly as regards equipment. In a water-borne environment, the reserve currently has no boat, and during my visit we were obliged to hire local fishing-boats. There is a similar lack of basic scientific equipment - computers, optical instruments. Such instruments need a more secure source of electricity - power failures are frequent in the reserve headquarters.
Shortage of trained staff: While the reserve has a number of staff with academic qualifications and/or field experience, they lack training in collection and presentation of data to international standards. There is a need for systematic collection of data, throughout the winter, on water levels, vegetation, distribution and numbers of birds both within the reserve itself and in the neighbouring areas of Poyanghu. Research plans exist, but cannot be fully implemented for lack of equipment and experienced staff. The lake is potentially a natural laboratory, with few equals in the world. It deserves more detailed long-term study, and the results of such study would make an invaluable contribution to international surveys, such as Wetlands International's census of waterfowl populations, which provide a basis for Ramsar work. Annex 2 of the present report gives a summary of observations made during my visit.
Enforcement of existing regulations: As indicated above, there is a delicate balance to be struck with fishermen over the water levels in the nine lakes. Local fishermen lower the water so as to harvest the fish. The new powers to control levels, granted to the reserve by the Governor of Jiangxi's decree, will need to be applied carefully and sensitively, with much consultation of local communities.
While many bird species are protected by law, local communities continue to hunt them, generally using agricultural pesticides in the form of small pellets. These are swallowed (especially by swans, geese and ducks) in mistake for grit, which they require to grind their food. During my visit a number of poisoned Ruddy Shelducks Tadorna ferruginea were found, while local people were observed collecting bodies of poisoned Tundra Swans Cygnus columbianus. Apart from the effect on the waterfowl themselves, such poisoning could affect predators which eat dead or injured birds -- while some falcons and harriers were seen during my visit, I observed no eagles and very few carrion eaters; possibly they are already being poisoned. The poison could also of course affect human beings who eat the birds, either by poisoning them or by affecting their reproductive capacity (as illustrated by WWF's Barbara Rutherford in her Themes for the Future presentation at the Brisbane Ramsar Conference in March 1996).
Effect of Three Gorges Dam on Poyanghu: A considerable amount of the water and sediment flowing into Poyanghu currently comes from backflow from the Chang Jiang (Yangtse) at the height of its flood. The construction of the Three Gorges Dam seems likely to have some effect on this inflow. Officials of Jiangxi Province suggested that this effect would be negligible.
(d) Suggestions for future action
Transport: There is an urgent need to provide the reserve with boats, and officials of Jiangxi Province indicated that this is envisaged under the GEF project. They emphasized that appropriate craft are expensive, but expressed confidence that, in early 1997, a rapid patrol boat for 2-3 persons, and a general transport craft for 7-8 persons would become available. This must be regarded as an extremely high priority.
Application of management plan: One of the actions to be funded by the GEF project is implementation of the management plan, and during my visit I met a GEF consultant, Mr. James Thompson, who was providing technical advice. Concrete measures for implementation of the management plan (a high priority in Ramsar's 1997-2002 Strategic Plan) must be regarded as very important.
Need for training of specialist staff: In order to assist and train reserve staff, I suggest that an experienced field worker should spend a whole winter season (September 1997-March/April 1 998) at Poyang. The expert would help in organizing field surveys of water levels, vegetation and waterfowl, both in the reserve and if possible in neighbouring sections of Poyang Lake, with a view to producing a baseline document on the evolution of the reserve, and the Lake in general, and its biological diversity throughout one whole winter. He/she should receive support from the Chinese scientific community, in particular the Institute of Zoology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
This idea was warmly welcomed by officials of the Poyang National Nature Reserve, the Jiangxi Provincial administration, and the Ministry of Forestry. The Institute of Zoology and WWF also expressed enthusiasm. I understand that no provision for such an expert, whose remit should also include training of reserve staff, has been made in the GEF project. I therefore propose that the Ramsar Bureau and WWF should work together to find the necessary funding. Officials of Jiangxi Province indicated that, if salary and overhead costs could be found, accommodation and local costs at Wucheng could be covered at little or no cost. If possible, a Chinese graduate student should be associated with the expert; he/she could work towards a three year M.Sc or Ph.D. degree on Poyang.
Furthermore, there is already a strong tradition of training for officials from the Ministry of Forestry and provincial forestry administrations by WWF Hong Kong at the Mai Po Ramsar site. I suggest that staff from Jiangxi Province in general, and Jiangxi Poyang National Nature Reserve in particular, should benefit from such courses.
More publications about Poyanghu: The work of the expert proposed above should lead to a detailed publication on the biological diversity of Poyang. This should be published in Chinese to serve as a model for future publications about Poyang and other Chinese wetlands. It should also be available in English, as a contribution to international surveys conducted by Wetlands International. In addition, an article on Poyang should appear in the next issue of the Ramsar Newsletter. I will be happy to author such an article.
Enforcement of existing regulations: There is a clear need to increase education and public awareness measures for local communities of the implications of using pesticides for hunting, and for stricter enforcement of existing legislation and regulations by provincial and county authorities. The authorities in Nanchang indicated that such measures were under way.
Effect of Three Gorges Dam on Poyang: I suggest that this needs further study.
(e) Documentation on Poyang
I was given two publications on Poyang:
An illustrated leaflet in English and Chinese on "Jiangxi Poyang Lake National Nature reserve";
An 82 page booklet on the reserve, mainly in Chinese, which includes a map of the reserve boundaries.
I also consulted the article by D. S. Melville on "Management of Jiangxi Poyang Lake National Nature Reserve, China", published in Mitt. Internat. Verein. Limnol, Stuttgart, Feb 1994, pages 237-42.
5. International Workshop on Wetland and Waterbird Conservation
The Ramsar Bureau has been informed by Wetlands International Asia-Pacific that an international workshop on wetlands and waterfowl is to be held in Beidahe, in Northern China from 4-7 March 1997. The meeting is to be held at the invitation of the Chinese Ministry of Forestry, in association with the Environment Agency of Japan, and is intended to bring together several countries of northeast Asia, including several states which are not yet Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention. The workshop will deal with a number of wetland and waterbird conservation issues, including implementation of the Ramsar Strategic Plan 1997-2002 in the region.
At the meeting on 29 November, I indicated that the Ramsar Bureau would like to be represented at the meeting by the recently appointed Technical Officer for Asia, Ms Rebecca D'Cruz (who on 1 January 1997 will take over from Dr Satoshi Kobayashi, now at the Kushiro International Wetland Centre, Hokkaido, Japan) and if possible by another senior officer of the Bureau. The Bureau would welcome a formal invitation to this meeting from the Chinese authorities.
6. Contacts with other organizations
(a ) Institute of Zoology. Academy of Sciences.
I visited the Institute in Beijing and had the honour and pleasure of being received by Prof. Cheng Tso Hsin, whom I had previously met at several international scientific conferences. I then visited Dr He Fen-Qi and saw the famous bird collection, before having a long discussion with Dr He and his colleagues. I was most impressed by their knowledge of Chinese wetlands and waterfowl, and their very practical concern for wise use of wetlands, involving local communities.
As a result of our discussions I suggest that there would be great value in strengthening the input of the Institute, and the Chinese scientific community in general, into the implementation of the Ramsar Convention in China. As in many other Ramsar Contracting Parties, there is a need to distinguish between two quite separate functions:
While the Chinese scientific community (and in particular the Institute of Zoology) is regularly consulted by the Ministry of Forestry on scientific issues, I suggest that it might be even more closely involved in the wetland surveys currently being carried out, in monitoring of ecological character of wetland sites, and in the establishment of a central database on Ramsar sites and their flora and fauna. I suggest that they be involved in the consultations with other agencies already initiated by the Ministry of Forestry, and that they form an essential part of the future Chinese National Ramsar Committee.
(b) Wetlands International Office. Beijing
I visited the newly established office of Wetlands International, in a building close to the Ministry of Forestry office at Hepingli, and discussed the office's future plans with Chen Kelin, who has been seconded from the Ministry of Forestry to run the Wetlands International office.
(c) Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF). Beijing
In the company of Chen Kelin, I visited the new WWF office, and its Director, Dan Viederman. Mr Viederman indicated considerable interest in wetland conservation in China, and in particular the possibility of visiting Poyang and in my suggestion of recruiting a specialist to spend winter 1997/98 there.
7. Summary of Action Points
This section of the report summarizes the action points suggested in the report above.
(a) Suggested Action Points for the Ramsar Bureau
(b) Suggested Action Points for the Ministry of Forestry
(c) Suggested Action Points for the Jiangxi Province Administration
Senior Policy Advisor