Beijing turns coal mines into forests to lift urban environment

A hillock in Beijing’s Datai coal mine is covered by trees, and so is the rail track beside it. Photo by Beijing Evening News

On a lot dyed black by coals in western Beijing, workers were waving pickaxes to dig the earth soaked by several rainfalls. “It’s easier for trees to survive if their roots are stretched,” said Han Xiaoguo, 48.

Han, a man who had worked in a coal mine for 22 years, has now turned into an adept tree planter.

In recent years, Beijing has successively shut down its coal mines, and the last one, Datai coal mine in the west of the city, was closed in September the last year.

In May 2017, a total of 11,640 hectares of land that used to belong to mining enterprises were allocated to the Beijing Gardening and Greening Bureau for management and became a tree farm, since which the capital’s mine lot embraced a green path of development. Later, the tree farm was joined by nearly 100 pitmen who used to work for the mining enterprises.

It’s not easy to plant trees in lands covered by coal gangue. The workers have to dig a hole with a diameter of approximately 70 to 80 centimeters and a depth of around 50 centimeters, and then backfill it with soil transported from other places before planting a seedling.

The irrigation is also a tricky problem on the mountains as there’s no vehicular access. Therefore, the workers excavated more than 200 pits on the mountains and filled them with water fetched from 10 kilometers away by trucks. The water is then pumped pit by pit to planting sites at higher elevations.

In addition, the seedlings are also transported to planting sites by mules, said worker Yang Shuwei.

Yang Wenhua, who used to be a borehole surveyor of the Muchengjian coal mine in Beijing, told People’s Daily that his teeth were the only white part on his body after a surveying down the mine. After three years of working at the tree farm, he and his colleagues have become experts in forest fire prevention, forest tending, and pest control. “The trees have brought fresh air, and we don’t need to worry about the coal ashes in the air anymore,” he said.

Over the past three years, the tree farm has nurtured 1,667 hectares of forests, and reduced the area of suitable land for forests under its management from 2,800 hectares to 1,133 hectares.

In the future, the tree farm will be built into a national forest park that features rehabilitation, tourism and scientific popularization. It is bound to be a great destination for leisure activities of the citizens.

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