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Achieving China’s Sustainable Development Ambition: Compulsory Conservation Model of Mount Wu Yi Nature Reserve


According to China’s Fifth National Report (5NR) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), China is on track to achieve its national biodiversity targets, and its international commitments contributing towards the achievement of Aichi Biodiversity Target (ABT) 11, on protected area system expansion and management. By the end of 2017, China had 2750 nature reserves, covering areas of 1.417 million km sq. and accounting for 14.86 per cent of the country’s land.

This best practice highlights one of the most successful examples of nature reserve management in China - The Fujian Wu Yi Mountain National Natural Reserve (Mount Wu Yi). The Mount Wu Yi Nature Reserve continuously carries out the protection-oriented, community-based, technology-driven and development-aimed ambition of China’s protected area system. Following a compulsory conservation model, the Reserve utilizes 10 per cent of its area for economic development, while keeping 90 per cent of its area for biodiversity conservation. Mount Wu Yi Nature Reserve is a stellar example of sustainable development, and a model for other nature reserves to follow, both within and outside of China.

This best practice has been repurposed from content available in China’s 5NR and the 2010 UNESCO publication entitled “Building Ecologically Harmonious Civilization”.

Problem, challenge or context: 

Most of the biodiversity hotspots of China, including Mount Wu Yi, are located in remote, economically underdeveloped regions. Some of the common biodiversity conservation challenges include: illegal logging, forest fires, invasive alien species, and land use conflicts between local communities and the government. With the acceleration of China’s population growth, as well as, urbanization and industrialization processes - biodiversity is facing serious threats. There is also a conflict between conservation and economic development. This best practice addresses successful solutions to the conundrum of conservation and development, by sharing the successful measures undertaken in China’s Mount Wu Yi Nature Reserve.

Specific elements of components: 

Mount Wu Yi is the most outstanding area for biodiversity conservation in southeast China. It is a refuge for a large number of ancient, relict species, many of them endemic to China such as black muntjac, Cabot's tragopan etc. As the cradle of neo-Confucianism, Mount Wu Yi is known for its history and cultural diversity. In 1999, Mount Wu Yi was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for its natural and cultural value. The Mount Wu Yi Nature Reserve, successfully delivers on China’s ambition to contribute towards an ecologically harmonious civilization that strives to balance ecological, economic and social well-being.

 Tea has been traditionally grown by local communities in the Mount Wu Yi region for over 400 years, and is their most important cash crop. Lapsang Sauchong black tea is famous across the world for its uniqueness. Moso-bamboo is also another major economic resource for local communities.

Mount Wu Yi’s sustainable development model utilizes 10 per cent of its area for economic development, while keeping 90 per cent of its area for biodiversity conservation. The 10 per cent experimental zone supports economic activities such as the production of moso-bamboo, tea, and honey, which support livelihoods of local people.

The action taken: 

Some of the key actions undertaken at Mount Wu Yi are:

a. Promoting regulations: Mount Wu Yi successfully enforces regulations related to eco-tourism and nature reserve management. These include:

  • Rules on the Management of Scenic Spots in Wu Yi;
  • Management and Operational Plans of the Mount Wu Yi Nature Reserve; and
  • Eco-Tourism Plan of Mount Wu Yi Nature Reserve.

​b. Setting up a Joint Mechanism for Conservation: In 1994, the Reserve established the Joint Protection Committee of Wuyishan National Nature Reserve of Fujian. It was the first joint protection committee in China, comprised of governments of all levels and local communities. The Joint Committee is led by the Fujian Provincial Forestry Department. Under the leadership of the Joint Committee, a 200-km-long protection line was established around the nature reserve and 272 forest guards were initially hired. Nearly 10 per cent of the local residents were directly involved in the park’s initial forest conservation and management. Specialized forest fire fighting teams and police patrolling points were also established.

c. Handling Mount Wu Yi Reserves’ Core, Buffer, and Experimental (Transition) Zones: Mount Wu Yi Nature Reserve covers an area of 56,527 hectares, with the core zone having the highest allocated area, followed by buffer zone and experimental zone. The core zone is under absolute protection and is forbidden from access by any unit and individual without special authorization. The Buffer zone allows scientific research and observation activities, but only after following a strict approval process. The Experimental zone has a fixed production area for economic activities such as production of honey, moso-bamboo and tea. This zone also allows scientific research activities, experiments and trainings.

In the experimental zone, the reserve’s Management Bureau encourages the development of the local community tea industry, and the production of moso-bamboo. The Bureau provides guidance on ways to efficiently and optimally produce tea and bamboo, and to enhance product brand image through marketing support. The Bureau also manages the relationship amongst farmers, production and processing companies.

d. Information Platform: In 2010, the results of a decade-long biological survey from Mount Wu Yi were digitalized, and on that basis, a biodiversity research and information platform was set up( The platform uses an integrated database, GIS, virtual animation, and audio and visual techniques to demonstrate a complete and vivid picture of rare animal and plant distribution in Wuyi Mountain. The platform plays an important role in supporting biodiversity research and education.

e. Knowledge Sharing and Capacity Building: Several awareness raising and capacity building activities for local communities take place in the reserve. These include:

  • Community workshops and symposiums to enhance the awareness of local residents on laws, policies and the latest regulations relating to nature reserve conservation and protection;
  • Visits to the reserve, led by community leaders, for primary and middle school students; and
  • Timely meetings between reserve management bureau and local residents, to reflect on community challenges and grievances, and to devise future development strategies.

f. Community development: In addition to allocating a fixed production area in the experimental zone of the reserve for sustainable economic activities, the Reserve’s management bureau has developed several beneficial policies to support the Mount Wu Yi local communities. The management bureau invested more than 40 million Yuan on village infrastructure. This included building concrete housing structures, a power grid, and optical cable telephone lines. They also maintain important roads and pavements, and support resettlement activities in the reserve’s disaster hit areas, among other activities. The management bureau also actively applies for additional community development projects and funding, to enable further economic development in the local communities.

g. Achieving Aichi Biodiversity Targets: China’s 5NR includes two national targets regarding the development and management of nature reserves. First, by 2015, China aimed to maintain the total area of terrestrial nature reserves at 15 per cent of its land area. Second, by 2020, China seeks to establish a system of stable national level nature reserves with reasonable layouts and comprehensive functions, and with their main target being biodiversity conservation. These two national targets specifically address ABT 11 (protected areas), in addition to ABT 10 (vulnerable ecosystems), 12 (species and extinction) and 13 (genetic diversity).

According to China’s 5NR, in terms of progress towards the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, and ABT 2020, China is on track to achieve its national and international commitments on strengthening in-situ conservation, mainly through protected areas and nature reserves.

Key lessons learned: 
  • Conservation and development can go hand in hand, by incorporating local community’s development and economic agenda, into the management agenda of a nature reserve.
  • A compulsory conservation model for a nature reserve can be successful, if local communities are allowed to carry out sustainable economic activities in specific areas within a nature reserve. The government can support these economic activities by adding value to the products developed by local communities, and by providing scientific and technical support to enhance the product and its brand value.
  • Joint Conservation Committees can help to ensure that all relevant stakeholders, including local communities, have a seat at the table to discuss conservation and development strategies for protected areas and nature reserves.
  • To ensure strong local community buy-in for sustainable nature conservation, the government should strive for benevolent public policies, such as free infrastructure development, and interactions between government and local communities, to understand community challenges and aspirations.
  • Science and research play an increasingly important role in awareness raising, and providing innovative solutions for conservation and development challenges.
  • It is important to enhance awareness and understanding of local communities (men, women, and children), on the laws, policies and regulations that govern nature reserves. This helps to build their confidence on the importance of conservation and sustainable development.
Impacts and outcomes: 
  • The implementation of stricter tourism regulations has significantly helped to promote ecological conservation and sustainable tourism development in Mount Wu Yi.
  • As a result of joint efforts of all stakeholders under the Joint Protection Committee, no forest fires, illegal logging or major invasive alien species outbreak has happened in the last 25 years.
  • Mount Wu Yi’s sustainable development model has been praised by UNESCO as "a successful example of addressing conflicts between development and conservation in China's protected areas". The forest coverage rate in the protected area has increased from 92.1 per cent to 96.3 per cent.
  • Mount Wu Yi’s conservation model successfully mobilizes local communities to participate in the management of the Reserve.
  • Due to the immense success of its conservation and development model, Mount Wu Yi Reserve has been recognized nationally through several awards such as the Advanced Group of National Nature Reserve, among others.
Contact details: 
Heena Ahmed. Contact through NBSAP Forum member profile here:
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