Friends of Nature: working to protect China’s wetlands

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“In Beijing, due to urban expansion, natural wetlands have been disappearing; the total area of urban wetlands has been decreasing year by year,” according to Friends of Nature (FON).

Founded in 1996 by several scholars in a beautiful public garden in the western suburbs of Beijing, FON was one of the earliest environmental NGOs in China. It believes in public participation: “How to find suitable ways for more people to understand the wetlands around them has always been our core mission.”

On Feb 2, 2022, World Wetland Day, FON released the 2021 Summary of Wetland Protection Activities, systematically reviewing its work in the field over the past year.

One activity organized by FON was the Training for Wetland Tour Guides. “On the one hand, we hope that the public can enter the wetland to understand it; on the other hand, the fragile wetland environment cannot be damaged by the public. In this case, the role of the wetland tour guide is very important.”

From May to July 2021, 38 trainees from 10 different teams participated in the first training session in Beijing. Later in November, the second training session was held in Shanghai, but due to the epidemic, only 14 volunteers out of the 25 who signed up across the country were able to participate in the training. “We have not only trained many volunteer tour guides, but also built a platform for the public to participate in various wetland-related activities.”

Another interesting activity was Wetland Sketching. In July and September, FON cooperated with another local NGO, Sketching Beijing, and carried out two wetland sketching activities in Beijing Xihai Wetland and Beijing Olympic Forest Wetland. Amateur painters were invited to participate, creating more than 100 sketches of wetland scenery.

In addition, members of the public have also been encouraged to spontaneously visit the wetlands around them, to take pictures of different species and send them to FON’s office in Beijing.

Since September 2021, a total of 1,726 pieces of feedback and 14,786 biodiversity photographs have been received from 75 cities across the country. These photos were compiled into eight issues of the Wetland Species Calendar for further conservation advocacy.

Outside Beijing, FON’s volunteer groups in Shanghai, Wuhan, Chengdu, Hangzhou, Shenzhen, Wuxi, and Guangzhou have also carried out various tasks, such as the plant survey in Chengdu, bird observations in Hangzhou, and a clean-up of invasive species, like the fu shou snail in Shanghai.

In addition to the above-mentioned advocacy activities for the public, FON has also conducted a series of legal activities, including:

  • Twice submitting comments and suggestions to the Legal Affairs Committee of the National People’s Congress on the formulation of the Wetland Protection Law;
  • Initiating public interest lawsuits against the possible damage to wetlands caused by related projects in Beijing, Shanghai, Yunnan, Jiangsu, Hubei and other places;
  • Inviting professional volunteers with backgrounds in law and ecology to participate in writing and publishing the Wetland Case-Study Reports and FON – Environmental Policy & Legal Analysis Report (Wetland Management).

During the public consultation on the Wetland Protection Law (Second Review Draft), FON and Beijing Entrepreneurs Environmental Protection Foundation invited five wetland experts to conduct an online discussion through the Tencent conference and WeChat live broadcast platform. A total of 1,900 people watched the broadcast, with some media organizations also covering the event.

In the 2021 Summary, FON pointed out some problems and difficulties with protecting wetlands. For example, protection in China is mainly based on the Wetland Protection Directory, allowing those in the directory to be protected by clear laws and regulations. However, there are still many wetlands not included in the protection list.

Besides, the functions of wetlands, such as conserving water sources, improving local microclimates, preventing floods, and promoting biodiversity are weakening year by year, due to China’s rapid urbanization.

It is hoped that through the efforts of FON, more people will learn about wetlands and help to protect them.