Illegal golf course threatens conservation area

By Jin Zhu (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-04-09 08:19
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BEIJING - An illegal golf course under construction in an ecological conservation area in Erdos in North China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region is endangering precious plants beneficial to soil and water conservation in such a parched environment.

The golf course, which is as large as 3,500 mu (233 hectares), is located in Jiuchenggong village, Dongsheng district, 15 km away from Erdos city. Areas near the village have struggled to cope with the twin problems of a severe water shortage and soil erosion since the 1960s, the Economic Information Daily reported on Thursday.

In response to these environmental challenges, in 1998 the Ministry of Water Resources planted seabuckthorn in the area to solidify the sand and improve the local ecology, which has begun to show signs of improvement. However, the construction of the golf course poses a threat to these environmental gains, the report said.

The paper further reported that all of the precious plants beneficial to soil and water conservation have been dug up on the construction site and a cloud of sediment has filled the sky.

"My heart aches when I see these plants being removed. It took great effort to plant them in sandy soil," a local villager was quoted as saying.

So far, 18 holes of the 36-hole golf course have been completed, along with four villas and a hotel.

According to the website of Yitong Coal Co Ltd, the owner of the golf course, the construction of the project's infrastructure is finished and the facility will open in August.

Since 2004, the central government has made it clear to all levels of government that approval should not be granted to any new golf course projects, in order to preserve land and water resources. However, many projects still managed to receive the go-ahead.

Illegal golf course threatens conservation area

Documents from the environmental protection authority in Erdos show that Yitong Coal Co Ltd applied in June 2005 to build an agricultural park, which would serve as a recreation area. No golf course was mentioned in the description of the project.

"The company has changed the use of the land, but we've never received their application," said Guo Xiaoli, director of land use and protection office for the land and resources bureau in Dongsheng district.

Sun Baoping, a professor from the Chinese Society of Water and Soil Conservation, said building golf courses will damage the local environment.

"The area has already suffered from water and soil loss. Without seabuckthorn, the situation will become worse," Sun said.

To run a golf course requires a great amount of water, Sun said. "For an area short of water, the operator has to overuse underground water to keep the business going, which may kill more plants nearby due to a lack of water."

He urged that more effective supervision measures be put in place in small cities and the countryside.

"Currently, only in big cities, such as Beijing, can the ban on building golf courses be effectively carried out. For many regions of the country, the ban has no use at all," he added.

Hundreds of illegal golf courses have popped up across the country since 2004, according to the Ministry of Land and Resources.

With only 1.4 mu of farmland per capita in China, it is "quite ridiculous" to build a golf course that occupies 40 to 50 hectares of land and uses 3,000 cubic meters of water every day just to maintain the grass, Dang Zuoji, director of the ministry's land planning department, said at the end of last year.