A More Sustainable Home for Migratory Birds in Gansu

Xihedao (left) with another local herdsman protecting migratory birds in Gahai Zecha National Nature Reserve, Gansu Province

Migratory birds like black-necked cranes and swans are often subject to illegal hunting. The Gahai Zecha National Nature Reserve in Gansu Province has seen its fair share of injured birds every year. These wildfowls are very attached to their partners, often wailing at the loss.

Growing up in Guomaotan wetland, Xihedao is very familiar with these migratory birds passing by every winter. “Once their partners are gone, the birds feel very alone,” said Xihedao. “The sounds they make are heart-trembling.” 

As a local herdsman living close to the Gahai Zecha National Nature Reserve in Gansu Province, Xihedao started volunteering to guard neighboring wildlife against the poachers in 1980s. Xihedao has often stopped illegal hunters from shooting waterfowls and rescued the injured birds. He believed that protecting them was very important because of their spiritual essence, but at times felt powerless. “I was not an official contract ranger so people didn’t listen to me when I talked about wildlife conservation,” said Xihedao.


  • The project helped protected areas increase biodiversity conservation of 8,940,529 ha of nature reserves through improved Protected Area management in Gansu Province
  • 54 resident community co-management agreements and 4 benefit-sharing agreements were signed between private sector and local communities, preventing overgrazing, forest fire and illegal hunting/harvesting
  • The Evaluation Report on Gansu Protected Areas provided policy insights to 13 provincial government agencies, encouraging them to include biodiversity conservation in their annual work plan and evaluations

To better engage villagers like Xihedao towards strengthening the conservation work in the protected area in Gansu, UNDP has been working with the government since 2007 on a four-year project entitled Strengthening Globally Important Biodiversity Conservation through Protected Area (PA) Strengthening in Gansu Province. The goal is to strengthen protected areas’ sustainability in Gansu through improved effectiveness of protected area management and sustainable financing, which will in turn contribute to effective conservation of globally significant biodiversity in China.

Among the 8,940,529 ha of nature reserves which benefited from improved protected area management under the project, four demonstration protected areas including the Gahai Zecha National Nature Reserve were provided with comprehensive management plans to increase their effectiveness in biodiversity conservation.

As part of the plan, Xihedao, together with three other local volunteers, were incorporated into the patrolling force of the National Nature Reserve by signing co-management contracts. The official contracts and mandates empowered him to help the wildlife. “I was better connected to the Administration Bureau of the protected areas. When I need help, I can trust that they will come.” In return, Mr. Dou Xinhua, the Chief of the Administration Bureau expressed mutual benefits. The increased number of volunteers provided more assistance to the Bureau.  

Apart from providing human resources, the management plan also addressed overgrazing. For villagers like Xihedao, animal husbandry is the main source of income. However, the number of cattle often exceeded the grassland’s capacity, which negatively affected the quality and productivity of the cattle, and caused soil erosion.

To secure the sustainability of the land, the management project restrained the number of cattle within a certain range of land by facilitating regulations on the stock-carrying capacity of pasturelands and grassland grazing in Gansu Province. Meanwhile, the protected areas also offered local residents with job opportunities like patrolling and forest restoration. The signing of 54 resident community co-management agreements and 4 benefit-sharing agreements between private sector and local communities prevented the communities from overgrazing, forest fire and illegal hunting/harvesting and helped villagers generate income while bringing more ecological benefits to their communities.

As a result, the project helped the four protected areas to develop their own business plans and strategic budgets, and strengthen staffs’ capacity in mobilizing resources for high priority areas and increased efficiency. For instance, the revenue and budget for Gahai Zecha National Nature Reserve has increased from 5.16 million in 2011 to over 10 million in 2014. Given the increase in budget, Gahai Zecha Reserve is now working to further strengthen its management structure in terms of staff capacity and resources by 2020.

According to Mr. Zhang Ping, the Deputy Director of Gansu Forestry Department, this project has also yielded key policy outcomes with long-term impact. For instance, the Systematic Development and Management Strategy of Gansu Protected Areas System and the Financing Plan of Gansu Protected Areas has provided a strategic roadmap for the development of protected areas in Gansu province.

Moreover, an Evaluation Report on Gansu Protected Areas policy combined with recommendations from line ministries was submitted to the Gansu provincial administration. The report provided policy insights to 13 provincial government agencies, encouraging them to include biodiversity conservation in their annual work plan and evaluations.

In addition to mainstreaming biodiversity-friendly policies, the Gansu project collaborated across multiple sectors, bringing together 11 government agencies including the Gansu Provincial Development and Reform Committee, Finance, Agriculture and Animal Husbandry, Water Resource and Environmental Protection department. The cross-sector collaboration promises enhanced project implementation and impact.

Xihedao said he opened a small family hotel not long ago. With all the current and future improvements to the nature reserve, business looks promising. “I am so glad that my goals for conserving wildlife matched the project’s goals. I have also learnt many new management concepts,” said Xihedao.  

“It took us a long time to localize the project before effectively implementing it,” said Ms. Ma Yan, the Deputy Project Manager of Gansu Project. “But once local community members truly understood the benefits and long-term goals, they were willing to participate, providing us with more constructive advice on management models for biodiversity conservation.”

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