We’ve been working with the Laojunshan nature reserve in Pingshan, China since it established over 15 years ago, and Chester Zoo’s science director, Dr Simon Dowell has been involved in the project since the start.
Below he tells us more about his latest trip to China and how the project is developing:
“When we started this project, Laojunshan was established as the first local nature reserve in the region to protect endemic forest birds including the highly endangered Sichuan partridge. There was very little funding for conservation in those days and the small team of people who were expected to protect and manage the site had almost no experience or expertise.
Chester Zoo’s support was vital in providing training in biodiversity survey and monitoring, wildlife law enforcement and use of technology to facilitate management. In time we were also able to support community projects, public awareness campaigns and education work that has raised awareness amongst the local population and reduced damage from unsustainable activities like wood cutting and medicinal plant collection.
“Through our partnership and the dedication of a growing reserve management team under the skillful leadership of reserve director, Benping Chen, the reserve was promoted to provincial and then national nature reserve status.
“My recent visit revealed just how far it has come with new forest ranger stations, effective surveillance to prevent illegal activity in the reserve and a comprehensive system of wildlife monitoring through transect surveys and camera traps.
“This year is the tenth year of our annual surveys for galliformes (ground-feeding birds) in the reserve and they are showing increases in a number of key species, including the Sichuan partridge and other species like the beautiful silver pheasant, one of which we were lucky enough to see while trekking in the reserve.
“A number of Chinese universities are engaged in detailed research on birds in the reserve, including an interesting study on the songs and calls of the Emei shan liocichla, a globally threatened endemic passerine that we have been successful in breeding at Chester Zoo but which relies on reserves like Laojunshan for its continued survival in the wild.
“Under Benping Chen’s leadership, Laojunshan is now regarded as one of the best bird reserves in China and held up as a model for others to follow in terms of its protection and management. I am immensely proud of what has been achieved and of the part that Chester Zoo has been able to play through our partnership and support.”
As well as Laojunshan, Simon also visited the newest of the five reserves that we have supported; Qincaiping nature reserve in the neighbouring Muchuan county where the presence of the Sichuan partridge has recently been confirmed from footage from one of the camera traps funded by this project.
This reserve is protecting an important strip of broadleaf forest providing a habitat corridor for birds, plants and other wildlife that links Laojunshan with larger forest patches further west. Our support for the team at the nature reserve has already enabled them to establish galliforme monitoring transects and undertake essential survey and monitoring work.
Simon also attended a meeting of all the managers of the nature reserves that we have supported through this project to hear about progress and discuss future directions for the project.