In 2015 China announced its pilot program which will see 10 new national parks created throughout the country, and although the Covid-19 pandemic slowed progress, the project saw major success last year when the first two of the new National Parks, the Giant Panda and Sanjiangyuan National Parks, opened their doors. So where will the parks be, and what will they do?
1. The National Park system in China
According to Xinhuanet, currently at least 18% of China’s total landmass (over 3.7 million square miles) is protected by national conservation regimes such as national parks, reserves, and natural spaces. The 10 new parks will cover 12 Chinese provinces and around 85,000 square miles, a total of 2.3% of China’s land. The planned parks aim to protect dozens of endangered species and their habitats and are a significant step in conservation of land, water and wildlife.
2. Management of the parks
There will also be a new entity created to manage the parks, although it is still unclear how they will be staffed. The National Forestry and Grassland Administration has been set up by China to manage the new parks as well as future developments, and to oversee conservation and law enforcement. They will also manage smaller reserve areas which will now be under one larger management umbrella instead of provincial and local governments, according to the People’s Daily. Hopefully this will result in effective management of the areas, although this of course remains to be seen. Originally the National Forestry and Grassland Administration hoped that all 10 parks would be finished by the end of 2020, however the pandemic has slowed progress so the timescale is now unsure.
Tourism is of course expected to play a major role in the new National Parks, and the project’s creators, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, hope this will spur economic development, providing important business and jobs to communities living in and near the parks and improving their quality of life. Both the incredible natural environment and their wildlife should provide popular attractions for both domestic and international tourists, although no guidelines for recreation (camping, hiking and other recreational activities) within the parks have yet been released, visitors will be able to tour the parks.
4. Criticism and hopes
The hopes for the park are positive, to protect nature, wildlife habitats and several endangered species, however there are criticisms. The parks must be effectively managed and actively increase habitat for these species, as well as employing a sustainable tourism model which balances conservation efforts with education and recreation. There are also social concerns for those residents in the new park locations, who may be offered voluntary relocation by the government, and National Geographic notes that 99 percent of China’s impoverished counties are located within 60 miles of some sort of previously existing nature reserve. There is also the concern of how the wildlife in the parks will be regarded, for example in the Giant Panda National Park the Panda is very much marketed as the tourist attraction, and it is the animal that seems to be prioritised over its environment.
5. China’s 10 pilot national parks.
The 10 new pilot National parks are:
- Sanjiangyuan (literally “Source of Three Rivers”) National Park: The first park to be established, located in the northwest province of Qinghai. The largest of the parks it sits in the Tibetan Plateau and protects the sources of three of China’s largest rivers: the Yellow, the Yangtze, and the Lancang (or Mekong). Home to many different types of vegetation such as coniferous forest, broad-leaved forest, bush wood, and marshy grassland.
- Giant Panda National Park: stretches across parts of Sichuan, Ningxia, and Shaanxi provinces. A conglomeration of 80 different protected areas that are home to the majority of China’s wild giant panda population, including 67 previously established panda reserves. In addition to giant pandas, it is home to more than 8,000 other wildlife species including Sichuan snub-nosed monkeys.
- National Park for Siberian Tigers and Siberian Leopards: Spans across the southern region of Laoyeling between Jilin and Heilongjiang Provinces, bordering Russia in the northeast. Aims to protect Siberian tigers and leopards and covers 25% of the total area of the Siberian tiger and Siberian leopard habitats in China, including more than 75% of the animals’ total wild population.
- Shennongjia National Park: Located in the west of Hubei Province, well-known for its vast expanse of primeval forests. Home to a number of the world’s endangered species including the clouded leopard and Sichuan snub-nosed monkey and a huge variety of medicinal herbs, also listed as a world heritage by UNESCO in 2016. The forested area attracts large numbers of tourists every year because of legends about the mysterious “Wild Man or Man Monkey)” said to be found in the mountains.
- Qianjiangyuan (literally: the source of Qiantang River) National Park: In Zhejiang Province at the source of the Qiantang River features a wide range of primary forest. Home to threatened animals such as the Elliot’s pheasant and tufted deer, both native to China and also has a variety of seed plants.
- Mount Nanshan National Park: Located in central Hunan Province, this area is well-known for its complete ecological system and abundant fauna and flora resources. It’s also a stopover site for tens of thousands of migratory birds.
- Mount Wuyi National Park: Dubbed as “one of the most spectacular mountain regions of southeastern China,” Wuyishan Nature Park in the Fujian Province is well known for its abundance of deep canyons, dense forests, waterfalls, and some endangered animals and is home to the South China tiger and hairy-fronted muntjac.
- Great Wall National Park: The only historic relic in the 10 pilot parks and located in Yanqing District, Beijing, this area protects the World Geopark, the Badaling and Ming Dynasty Tombs, the Badaling Forest Park, and the Badaling Great Wall world cultural heritage.
- Pudacuo National Park: Located in Yunnan Province, about 40 minutes’ drive from central Shangri-la this is home to more than 20 percent of China’s known species of flora and renowned for its well-preserved primitive landscape, including lakes, wetlands, forests, meadows, streams, brooks, rare plants and rare animals. Tibetan culture and customs are also important parts of the park.
- Mount Qilian National Park: Qilian Mountains are a rugged mountain range on the border of Qinghai and Gansu provinces, with an ecosystem home to snow leopards and white-lipped deer. The altitude of Qilian Mountains ranges from 4,000 to 6,000 meters and mountain snow forms a glacial and imposing landscape with snow covering the mountain tops all year long and livestock herds grazing in the well-watered valleys.