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Biodiversity Diary a trip to Rouergai — Lu Hefen, Shi Jianbin, Carsten Germer



River winds through Rouergai

Photo Jianbin

Blocking the drainage restores wetlands

WI experts get their peat Photo Jianbin



Photo Jianbin


Tasting the peat Tasting five thousand year old peat? Unless you have not eaten for five thousand years, peat is not a tasty food item. But this is exactly the stuff ECBP’s Carsten Germer, Shi Jianbin and Lu Hefen were asked to taste by Mr. Chen Kelin - Director of Wetland International in China, during their recent monitoring trip to the Rouergai Marshes in the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. The trio attended the annual meeting of the Wetland International project in Luqu County, Gansu province Aug.7-14, 2009.


Biodiversity Diary ECBP Newsletter Supplements August 7-14 2009

The Rouergai Marshes Restoration project, which ECBP co-funds was launched in 2007 and under-

Carsten and Hefen

Faizal Parish and Jianbin

taken by Wetland International (with a second field site in the Altai Mountains in Xinjiang Province). After a year of building dams, blocking canals and controlling desertification, restoration of the peat and marshland is showing impressive initial results: water on parts of the marshes is trapped and water level raised. Thus grassland has recovered and water storage capacity improved. Although peat can never make it on the list of anyone’s favorite food items and is itself 90% water, the odorless, tasteless, brownish-black, organic matter provides key habitat for some endangered wildlife species, forms a vital reservoir as the catchment for streams and rivers (including both the Yellow River and the Yangtze), and maintains grassland for local livelihoods and biodiversity. It also provides important



Rich life on the peaty marshlands eco-service in storing water and sequencing carbon, thus has national and global importance. Local people on the Rouergai marshes constitute mostly Tibetans, whose nomadic life style depends heavily on the marsh grassland. These herdsmen have Photo Jianbin

Marsh frog enjoys the summer warmth

Photo Jianbin

This is the global breeding stronghold of the rare Black-necked cranes.

Yellow flowered Potentilla bush



for thousands of years tended yaks and sheep on this vast piece of highland. But their life style is changing due to natural and man-made reasons. Large areas of peatlands were drained in the 1960s and 1970s to expand potential access to grazing animals. As a result the water storage capacity of the peatlands has been severely impacted leading to significant reduction in local groundwater tables, deterioration of pasture quality on adjacent dry-lands and to reduced dry season water availability. This has led to increased pressure on the remaining peatlands and many of them are now severely impacted through heavy grazing pressure. Many people have become semi-nomadic and the numbers of their herds have had to be reduced.




Photo Jianbin



The moist grasslands support a wealth of alpine flowers but autumn frosts are just around the corner.

WhitePedicularis Peduncularis Yellow Alpine flowers (Anemone and Saussurea)


Nevertheless it is still not too late. There are still carpets of edelweiss, and in summer the meadows are a mass of colours of alpine flowers – blue gentians and delphiniums, yellow Potentilla and louseworts. Frogs and dragonflies enjoy the wetlands. Falcons and eagles prey on the many pikas and marmots that live in large colonies among the grasslands and wolves still find a living in this large wilderness. This is the main breeding area in Edelweiss (Leontopodium) China for

White Pedicularis

the endangered Black-necked cranes. Many other wetland species live here such as Ruddy shelduck, spotted redshank, plovers and wild geese. Preserving the wetlands makes a lot of sense both locally and in terms of protecting valuable national and global resources. The ECBP project mobilizes local govern-



Summer bounty on the plateau ment and local communities to understand the benefits and take the measures needed to prevent the drainage and degradation of these fragile lands. Benefits include improved pasture, opportunities for eco-tourism, biodiversity conservation, improved water conservation and storage of a huge amount of carbon in the efforts to limit climate change.

The cold dawn turns to the heat of day and a wolf stalks the grasslands in search of prey or Photo Jianbin


Pikas are high on the menu for many carnivores.

Photo Jianbin

Houses replace tents of the Tibetan herders living around the marshes.

Tibetan family






A plump marmot enjoys the sunshine beside his complex warren and a mother and chick of the black-necked cranes find easy food in the grasslands. Soon they will migrate south for the winter.





Land of peat and yaks

A wealth of peat

Gentian of the marsh

But the wetlands are huge and span parts of three provinces, so it was a long and sometimes arduous trek in jeeps from one county another and a heavy toll of meetings to discuss progress, funds spent, plans of action and inspection of works in the field. Meetings were punctuated with feasts of animal meat washed down by bowls of 5-grain liquor in typical Tibetan hospitality. Maybe in retrospect eating the peat was the least of our worries.

We got off the plateau before the bite of autumn closed down and enjoyed a final day admiring the beauties of Huanglongshan whilst waiting for our flights back to Chengdu and thence Beijing.

Carbon stored in peatlands in China is more than that stored in all its forests. But peat will burn or rot if allowed to dry out.

All about yaks Photo Jianbin

Delicious ?

The team at work tasting peat

Photo Jianbin

Photo Jianbin


Huanglongshan Heritage


Natural weirs

The major attraction of the 60,000ha Huanglong (Yellow Dragon) Mountain reserve and World Heritage Site is the 3.6 km-long travertine formations. These consist of over 3,000 brightly colored pools cascading over travertine terraces, rapids and waterfalls. Caves also extend beneath the valley. The intense colours of the pools which vary between blue, green, yellow and milky are caused by the high calcium bicarbonate content of the water. The Jinsha Pudi (Golden Sand Beach), an extensive sloping shoal of yellowish tufa (porous calcium carbonate) 1.3 km long and 125m at its widest which is the site of active lime-

White crowned river chat sits by the stream

stone deposition under a thin layer of flowing water. This long uninterrupted limestone slope is thought to be the largest such formation in the world, and its color gave rise to the name Yellow Dragon.

Huanglongshan was one of China’s first natural World Heritage Sites Temple attraction






Natural terraces, waterfalls and caves

As a casualty of the 2008 earthquake—tourism numbers are down from 2 million to only 400,000 this year.

Blue pools and tufa terraces Wild rhododendrons


EU-China Biodiversity Programme Add: Rm. 503, FECO Plaza, Huoyingfang Hutong, Xicheng District, Beijing. 100035, P.R. China Fax: (+8610) 8220 5421 Email:

ECBP Diary - Ruoergai  

ECBP Diary is a new item we just added, which can ben seen as a supplementary to ECBP quarterly newsletter. And this special diary is from a...

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