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Suburban stomping ground treads out green path to growth

By Alexis Hooi | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2023-01-20 07:57
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I first visited the Yeyahu National Wetland Park on the outskirts of Beijing 15 years ago.

Located in the capital's Yanqing district, the park next to the Guanting reservoir was a stomping ground for horseback riding enthusiasts like myself. Against the backdrop of the imposing Songshan mountain range, which was reflected on the surface of the glistening reservoir, the area offered a perfect weekend getaway to give free rein to our horses and get up close to nature.

Over the years, the rising waters of Guanting were redirected to satiate the growing demands of the city, also feeding awareness of the need to preserve and protect the nearby ecosystem, with less land available for the horse stables. Many of them have since closed or moved away from the area.

On a recent trip there, I found the few riding paths to the wetland finally fenced off. It seemed to mark a definite end to a freewheeling equestrian era for us recreational riders.

While a few patches of the cornfields are still open for outdoor riding once the crops are harvested, the changes in the area are increasingly obvious. A high-speed railway, running through the district toward the 2022 Winter Olympics site in Chongli in neighboring Hebei province's Zhangjiakou city, promises to fuel tourism options such as farm stays and hiking. An expanding network of ski slopes capping the mountain peaks behind the reservoir is also set to attract an increasingly savvy sports and leisure clientele.

Beijing engineer Zhang Di is a regular visitor to the area with his family.

"I used to bring my son here, we would catch small fish, shrimp and crabs which the waterside eateries would fry up for us," says the 38-year-old.

"All those makeshift amenities have been cleaned up and cleared, but the greening efforts have certainly enhanced the natural environment."

Yeyahu National Wetland Park continues to be a popular spot for bird-watchers and it is consistently lauded as one of Beijing's most successful environmental conservation efforts. It hosts more than 360 bird species, including migratory flocks and a significant number of threatened species, which can be spotted via at least six observation towers.

The park is part of a long-term plan for wetland protection with specific goals set over the next decade and beyond. In the next two years, at least 70 percent of wetlands in the city will be protected, and more than 50 smaller reserves are expected to be restored, with the protection rate hitting 80 percent by 2035.

Beijing's wetlands now cover more than 62,000 hectares, offering habitats for up to half of its plants and much of its wildlife, according to the municipal authorities.

The flora in Yeyahu alone has flourished so much that the park is introducing native Chinese milu deer to eat and help control overgrowing reeds in the wetland. The move promises to change the local landscape further, as it steadily reaps the benefits of better biodiversity.

As I ambled my horse along the shores of the reservoir in winter, flocks of wild geese roosted at the fringe of the wetland behind the fences. Some of the birds took wing, flying against a deep blue sky. Their calls resonated through the crisp, clear air, warming up comfortably in the midday sun.

Alexis Hooi



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