Story | 16 Jul, 2013

Moving Closer to Nature - Miyun Landscape, China

Substantial efforts have been made over the last 30 or 40 years to reforest the Miyun landscape. These efforts were a response to the very urgent need to protect the Miyun reservoir and its watershed, which supplies up to 80% of the water used in Bejing, China’s capital city. Over the last decades, Beijing has been facing a progressively worsening water crisis.

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Photo: IUCN

Much of the original broadleaf forest in the Miyun watershed had disappeared. Reforestation activities planted large areas of conifers and other species, and instituted strict controls on land and forest use,including a total ban on logging. Four years ago, however, that these strictly protected and mainly young,even-aged stands of trees were in poor condition. This was because they had not been actively managed.

Around three-quarters were classified as ‘sub-healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’, with limited capacity for soil, water and biodiversity conservation. Similarly, local communities had also become progressively disadvantaged in economic terms, as a result of the logging ban and strict regulation of their access to forests. There remained a glaring differential between the socio-economic status of the people living in the Miyun watershed area and that of the neighbouring residents of Beijing. Few income and employment opportunities were available, as cash incomes had traditionally been associated with forest products’ collection. It was only possible to carry out limited collection of fuelwood and non-timber forest products (NTFPs).

It was against this backdrop that IUCN’s Livelihoods and Landscapes (LLS) project was initiated in the Miyun watershed in 2007. The project responded to the paradox of a landscape which was dominated by forests which were subject to little or no active management and a livelihood situation where local communities had become impoverished, underpinned by the ever-more urgent need to ensure that the source of Beijing’s rapidly dwindling water supplies was protected. It was clear that the strict logging ban needed to be replaced with a new forest development and management strategy. This needed not just to allow for better forest biodiversity and watershed services,but also to ensure improved incomes and livelihood security for the surrounding human population. The project introduced a new set of forest management tools which represented a shift from a strictly protective and very conservative regime, to one based on sustainable use and active management by local communities. At the same time, considerable efforts were made to find other ways of strengthening livelihoods, promoting sustainable forest use, and adding value at the local level.

Although the changes that the project aims to effect in the Miyun landscape and livelihoods are long-term in nature, it is possible to discern some very positive signs as the project enters its final months. Participatory planning has resulted in a formal agreement to recognize different forest management and use regimes,harmonizing the technical information held by government foresters with local knowledge and interests. A set of ‘close-to-nature’ silvicultural treatments has been developed and is being implemented by local communities. This has resulted in the regeneration of natural forest and improvements in forest structure,quality and function. A permit for timber harvesting has been secured – the first such quota issued in more than 20 years. A new system of extracting fuelwood has been put in place, and significant progress has been made in reducing local fuelwood demands. Last but not least,support has been given to the implementation of cooperative arrangements for developing the market potential of forest goods and services, with the aim of increasing and diversifying local income and putting in place institutional structures that will be sustainable over the long term. A much more integrated form of landscape management and restoration has been introduced in the Miyun landscape which recognizes the multiple needs and functions of the watershed, and brings together the many different stakeholders, sectors and levels of scale which have interests in them.

The LLS Miyun project has generated important lessons about the process of working to improve landscapes and livelihoods in a watershed context. This paper documents and shares these lessons. In particular, it summarizes how the project was conceptualized and implemented, how and why this changed over time, and what its key impacts and achievements have been.