Huanglianshan National Nature Reserve, located in Lu Chun County, southeastern Yunnan, was established in 1983 as a provincial reserve and promoted to a national reserve in 2003. To strengthen the link between the nature reserve and local communities, the Zoological Society of Yunnan (ZSY) and Southwest Forestry University have organised a series of educational events aiming to raise awareness about conservation, especially of local bird populations.
Funded by IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature and the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), the Zoological Society of Yunnan started the initiative to inspire local students and teachers in the Huanglianshan region and to raise their awareness about the importance of protecting forest birds.
The educational outreach, which took the form of immersive training workshops, also aimed to better promote green education and generally improve levels of environmental awareness.
Learning about nature and biodiversity does not feature prominently on the Chinese school curriculum. Students are encouraged to focus on academics and thus, have fewer opportunities to explore natural surroundings.
The first school activity of this project was conducted in May 2015; it was the first joint action of the ZSY, Huanglianshan Nature Reserve, and the local education bureau.
Bird-watching and green education are often entirely new ideas to both students and teachers. In order to build capacity and improve the quality of education for students, stage one of the project was to offer training workshops only to teachers. Four teachers' workshops were organised in two secondary schools (Sanmeng and Qimaba), and two primary schools (Bahong and Huanglianshan).
During each workshop, materials such as posters were displayed, presentations of illustrative photographs of over 60 species of local birds were also given, with the aim to inspire and inform the participating teachers.
In total, 93 teachers took part in the initial training and received teaching materials they could later take into their own classrooms with their students.
Two small but vital workshops on bird identification and monitoring were also organised for 16 community wardens. For the teachers, over 900 copies of bird conservation and green education materials were distributed, allowing them to conduct awareness-raising activities in their own schools after the workshop's completion.
In June, selected students will be given the chance to participate in a summer camp of bird-watching, as well as a tour of the newly-built environmental education center in the nature reserve. These students will become the first local students to fully explore the natural wonders of Huanglianshan.
Such educational improvement activities and capacity building workshops are designed to produce significant, tangible results. Local communities, especially the students, have begun to realise how biodiversity conservation can improve their daily life and benefit them and their village.
By improving the capacity of teachers, such as those in Lu Chun County, whole generations of students in the years ahead can positively adapt their way of thinking about the nature that surrounds and sustains them.