Are Nature Reserves effective to Conserve Biodiversity in China?

Since the first nature reserves was established in 1956, there have been 2588 different of protected areas in the end of 2010 (Liu, et al., 2011). It is an unquestionable “number” that China has put lots of efforts on conserving natural environment and biodiversity. only 1657 nature reserves have set clear boundaries according to the 2014 statistics (Xu, et al., 2015). There are different levels of nature reserves in China, including national, provincial, municipal and county-level. The most effective protected areas are at the national level due to more formal, or normative way of management (Xu, et al., 2015). In fact, nature reserves have been making improvement of biodiversity in recent 60 years.

However, it is questionable that the effectiveness of those nature reserves on biodiversity conservation and sustainability. Numbers of protected areas was established urgently from 1980s to 2000s in order to reduce the pressure of economic growth on natural environment (Liu, et al., 2011). The rapid establishments of nature reserves have result in lack of management, and even “ghost” nature reserves. Only 1657 nature reserves have set clear boundaries according to the 2014 statistics (Xu, et al., 2015). There were also less effective scientific arguments about whether what to protect or what areas should be protected. Protection of biodiversity was clearly improved by protected areas for a short period, however, there is concern about the long-term effectiveness on conserving biodiversity.

There are several problems associated with current management of nature reserves in China.

Problem 1: Boundaries

Many reserves have unclear boundaries that defines scope of the protected areas, also the process of boundary survey is slow. Blindly pursuing the increases of number of nature reserves causes the establishments too urgent to have good qualities on management of conservation. It is less likely to make effective protection to natural ecosystems and biodiversity since there could be less chance to have regular management and monitoring processes. Currently the protected areas are around 13% of the total land of China, which is still 4% to achieve the objective listed in the China Biodiversity Conservation Strategy and Action Plan (Xu, et al., 2015). Reserves with clear boundaries only 61% of total reserves (Xu, et al., 2015). The main causes are informal and uncompleted procedures of establishing nature reserves.


Proportions of identified boundaries

It is interesting that only national nature reserves reach the 100% reserves with delineated boundaries, however, the lower levels demonstrate a lower level of proportion of reserves with clear boundaries (Xu, et al., 2015). Without exact boundaries of nature reserves, any of those successful numbers of establishing nature reserves could only indicate a success on “paper” rather than in the aspect of any practices.


Problem 2: Strength of Conservation

Serious environmental degradation has been causing loss of habitat therefore influencing biodiversity and increasing number of species are threatened by degrading ecosystems. Nature reserves have protected ecological environment from further degradation, however, not all the species are covered by the protection. According to assessment of most nature reserves, 9.8% of native vegetation is not included in any nature reserves and many important species only distribute in very less number of nature reserves (Xu, et al., 2015). As the result, the unprotected and less protected species are almost half of total number of assessed species.

Nature reserves in China have to be divided into three main sections including the core, buffer and experimental plots. Core plot will not allow any scientific researches and public access and only experimental plot could have scientific experiments on the environment. I believe that limited researches will affect the effectiveness of conserving biodiversity in nature reserves. It is important to understand biodiversity through scientific researches before conserving biodiversity.

Problem 3: Monitoring Processes

This is related to lack of scientific researches mentioned in problem 2. The background studies of nature reserves are limited and outdated in many areas. It was indicated that some reserves had only one comprehensive scientific research at the beginning of building nature reserves. Relatively lack of scientific researches has resulted in lack of understanding on protected and unprotected species, lack of monitoring process, and insufficient management. In the aspect of adapting climate change, scientific researches are essential to monitor then help many sensitive species survive climate change.w020130110370595857340

Policies around nature reserves also need to be improved as an additional benefit of monitoring. Monitoring could provide valuable information and data to inform policy-makers about what should be done urgently or what should be changed for better outcomes.

Problem 4: Limited Information

Access to the information around management and outcome of nature reserves is limited via internet or other medias. In Australia, we could freedom-of-information-stampalways find plans or strategies of management of particular nature reserves, however, it is impossible in China. There are only general regulations or national legislations about conserving biodiversity or managing nature reserves. If works of nature reserves could be published for public access, there will be not only a proof of efforts but also more chances to improve.

U5168238 Charlie


Liu, W. et al., 2011. Current Status of Management Capability of Nature Reserves in China. Journal of Beijing Forestry University, Volume 33, pp. 49-53.

Xu, W. et al., 2015. Status Quo of Delineation of Ranges of Nature Reserves and Area of Nature Reserves Under Effective Protection in China. Journal of Ecology and Rural Environment, 31(6), pp. 791-795.


About Biodiversity Conservation Blog

I am an Associate Professor at The Australian National University and convene a (very awesome) course called Biodiversity Conservation. Myself and students in the course contribute to this blog.
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One Response to Are Nature Reserves effective to Conserve Biodiversity in China?

  1. Fascinating blog Charlie. It is interesting that a number of these problems also apply within the protected area network in Australia – typically because of a lack of funding. Phil

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