Wetlands thrives in desert in Ningxia’s Yanchi county

By Yu Limin, People’s Daily
Habahu National Nature Reserve, located in Yanchi county of China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, is like a pair of green arms holding the county with scattered wetlands and lakes, defending the county against the intruding Mu Us Desert on the north.
In 1990s, only 13 percent of the county’s land was covered by plants, and the county suffered sandstorms four months each year. To improve ecology there, China’s State Council approved and established the Habahu National Nature Reserve in February 2006 – an 84,000-hectare ecological barrier consisting both wetland and desert ecological systems. Now, the reserve is home to 10,072 hectares of wetland.
“The annual precipitation here is less than 300 millimeters, while the evaporation is eight times of that. Therefore the valuable wetland is a major habitat and breeding area for the wildlife in the reserve, as well as an important stop for migrant birds,” said Wu Hong, director of the Habahu National Nature Reserve Management Bureau.
Sands once covered the nature reserve, forcing people to move away and diminishing the area of wetland. According to an employee of the reserve, ecological restoration of the wetland is a systematic process. Wetland is formed with rich underground water resources and particular geological structure, and plantation is crucial for maintaining ecological balance for wetland.
In recent years, the nature reserve has launched ecological compensation projects, restored wetland ecology and improved community environment, trying everything to prevent human activities from decreasing the wetland area. It is paying particularly close attention to the farming activities around the wetland which might exert negative impacts on the inhabitation and migration of birds and wildlife.
In 2014, the Habahu National Nature Reserve was listed as a pilot reserve for the national ecological compensation mechanism, which played a major role in promoting the ecological restoration of the area, Wu introduced.
In the next five years, the reserve has received a total of 125 million yuan ($17.98 million) of ecological compensation from the country. Over 45 million has been utilized to compensate the farmers whose cropland had been damaged by wildlife, benefiting 8,125 local households.
According to Li Xiaofei, Party chief of a nearby village, the villagers can receive an average of over 1,000 yuan each year, which largely eased the contradiction between ecological protection and the livelihood of the people. The reclaiming activities that damage the wetland subsided ever since, Li added.
The Habahu National Nature Reserve borders with 5 townships that are home to 30 administrative villages and 115 hamlets. Since 2014, the reserve’s managing department partnered with residents in these communities, and started jointly constructing and developing the reserve. So far, a total of 189 residents have been employed to patrol the public benefit forests and monitor forest resources.
“Through ecological restoration and remediation, the ecological functions of the wetland have been obviously improved, offering valuable environment for wildlife’s foraging, breeding and habitation,” said Yu Dian, head of publicity and education department of the Habahu National Nature Reserve Management Bureau.
These efforts resulted in the uptick of the number of birds in the reserve. According to Yu, 2 Baer’s pochards, a critically endangered species in the world, were spotted on the Mahua Lake last March.
At present, 31 percent and 70 percent of the land in Yanchi county have been covered by forests and vegetation, respectively, and the annual number of sandstorms is also reduced to less than 9 times from 54 times a decade ago.
The improved ecological environment also created opportunity for local tourism. According to statistics, the Habahu National Nature Reserve has received over 200,000 tourists in the past a dozen of years, generating tourism revenue of over 10 million yuan.

The photo shows scenery of the Habahu National Nature Reserve