Shanghai's Green Spaces Provides Shelter To Many Native Species

From the downtown city to coastal suburbs, there are neighborhood habitat gardens, a green belt , the Suzhou Creek, and country park along with pilot areas for biological conservation.

Shanghai's Green Spaces Provides Shelter To Many Native Species

Shanghai will be the only municipality representative to demonstrate its ideas related to biology and ecology conservation during the ongoing COP15. People may not aware, but it is not rare that when Shanghai residents step out their home for a normal busy day in the morning, a raccoon dog is working hard to drag food to its home, a residential building’s interlayer. Chinese biological diversity in Shanghai is witnessing rapid development as the Yangtze River Delta region, is the most urbanized region.

The raccoon dog, a native species in Shanghai that sees an sharp increase in number these years, has been taken as a sign for Shanghai’s stronger ability to coexist with various creatures and plants. The megacity is now home to more than 1100 kinds of plants, over 500 kinds of birds, more than 1000 types of insects, as well as over 330 types of fish.

From the downtown city to the coastal suburbs, there are neighborhood habitat gardens, a green belt along the city main water path, the Suzhou Creek, and country parks in near outskirts along with pilot areas for biological conservation. The city is striving to create more areas for Chinese biological diversity based on the harmony between man and nature.

There are some examples of that Shanghai experience. Like animals in many other big cities in the world, such as raccoons in North American cities or wild boars in Germany, the rapidly increasing number of raccoon dogs in some of Shanghai’s residential communities has attracted many experts and researchers’ attention.

The creature, a native animal, has been spotted more frequently in Shanghai’s neighborhoods these years. According to a recent study from Fudan University, the city is home to 3,000 to 5,000 raccoon dogs. “In the United States, if a raccoon breaks into someone’s home, people usually ask a critter control company to take care it,” said Wang Fang, a researcher at Fudan University’s School of Life Sciences, who has five-year research experience in the US. He is also the head of the raccoon dog research team.

“And the application is under guidance and supervision of government authorities,” Wang added. While in Shanghai’s program, the government cooperates with social institutions such as Shanshui Conservation Center to engage the public, while universities to provide academic support, which makes the survey run smoothly, according to Wang.

“Instead of being a leader, the Shanghai government plays an organizational role within the program,” Wang pointed out. “All the parties involved in the program took the census of raccoon dog population seriously, hoping to institutionalize this matter quickly.”

“Although raccoon dog numbers in Shanghai have seen an increase, the animal is still a protected species in China as their numbers countrywide are still low,” Wang explained to Shanghai Daily. The survey found that the average population density of the animal is 1.08 per hectare.

Raccoon dogs, a Shanghai native species, have been spotted more frequently in recent years. “According to the result, the raccoon dogs do not need translocation, or other harsh methods to control their population,” Wang said, “and abnormal increase should be attributed to human activities, such as the cat food placed at random and the improper management of waste.” “We also found that in some of the complexes when residents don’t feed them or leave accessible cat food for raccoon dogs, their numbers have decreased to a reasonable range.” Wang said that like raccoon dogs, many animals have tried to adopt the urban environment and fit themselves into the human worlds.

The city was once home to a variety of mammals such as leopard cats, raccoon dogs, water deer, badgers and Siberian weasels. Many natural habitats of these animals have been lost to urban construction, threatening the survival of some species. “We have also found some rare mammal species, such as small Indian civets in Yangpu District.” Wang said. “About five of the creatures have been spotted by the trip cameras.

Medium-sized mammals are found making their home in the city’s central areas, like in some Changning District complexes, raccoon dog families have settled down quietly. With carefully designed landscapes, local plants and some pockets of greenery, the habitat gardens serve as a tiny Garden of Eden in Shanghai’s downtown communities, These green spaces provide shelter for many local mammals, insects and birds along with places for local residents to get in touch with the nature. Most of the gardens are just a couple hundred square meters in area, with small pools, dozens of local plants and some special designs.

Leyi Habitat Garden in Changning District is equipped with water sprinklers and looks like a fairyland. People who visit these gardens will be impressed by the power of the tiny green spaces. They help to soak up air pollution, purify water and cool the temperature down during hot summers. Some of them even can be seen as small “sponge cities” as they can store excess water in wet seasons. As the plants grown in the habitat gardens are carefully chosen, they offer foods and shelter for some animals. Different flowers bring different butterflies, and different seeds attract different kinds of birds.

Frogs, hedgehogs, yellow weasels as well as egrets have also been spotted in habitat gardens. Different kinds of plants and flowers flourish in the habitat garden and provide a shelter for small mammals and insects. In Leyi Habitat Garden in Changjing’s Luba residential compound, residents have started to get along with wildlife in a peaceful way by not disturbing each other, according to Liu Guanxi, local secretary of the neighborhood committee, who also participated in the construction of Leyi.

“We also added an educational function into our habitat garden,” Liu told Shanghai Daily. “We designed a place for children to enjoy a moment to look upon the starry sky.” Some public classes about the biological relationship between man and the nature are also introduced at the complex. “We have told our residents not to feed wild animals and stay away from them,” Liu said. “After they know it is good for the environment, most people show great understanding and cooperate well.”

The first habitat garden was built in 2018 inside a community in Yangpu District, then more went under construction in Changning District. As for this autumn, Changning has renovated about 3,559 square meters of eight habitat gardens, and seven more are on the way. These gardens provide home, water and food for over 40 kinds of wild animals and also introduce over 400 kinds of plants into the city center.

In Shanghai’s suburban Jinshan District, there is a famous Chinese biological diversity and ecological restoration area the Yingwuzhou Ecological Wetland, which is a good place for bird watching. It is a specific example of the city’s success in wetland ecosystem renovation in its outer suburban and coastal areas. In 2015, the place was still a wasteland between a chemical plant and an artificial beach.

“The decision on Yingwuzhou (parrot delta) ecological restoration was approved at the end of 2015,” said Chen Xuechu, professor from East China Normal University’s School of Ecological and Environmental Sciences. He is also the head of a research team which is working on exploring ecosystem restoration programs in the city. Yingwuzhou is one of his projects.

“What we planned at the beginning was to find a place for scientific research,” Chen recalled. The project was under serious consideration after Chen returned to China from overseas. “At that time, people were not very clear about the relationship between man and the nature,” he said, “There was still a lack of space for residents to get close to the nature in the city.” However, its importance has gained more recognition in China like many other countries.

Chen and his team started to think about making Yingwuzhou a place both for research and a buffer between urban life and the nature. “We designed three functions for the wetland,” Chen said. “The first is to help local vegetation restoration and conservation and attract more birds to settle. The second is to improve the water quality, while the third is to provide local citizens a place to get close to the nature.” The park opened to the public in 2017 and soon become popular.

The place has been designated as a science base with the area of the wetland totaling about 232,000 square meters, which is equivalent to 33 standard football fields. It takes more than an hour to walk around. Over 10 kinds of trees such as camphors, oriental oaks, sequoias and bald cypresses are planted there.

In this wetland, Chen, together with scientists from other countries, finished a study on how salt marshes can help absorb greenhouse gases. The article of the study was highlighted by Nature, the world-leading scientific magazine. After conservation, over 100 kinds of birds have been spotted in the wetland. Nearly 520 species of birds have been recorded in the city so far, with a number of natural habitats already established, Shanghai’s greenery authorities announced this October.

“Shanghai is paying more attention to Chinese ecological environmental management, biological and ecological diversity protection,” Chen said. “There will be a greater opportunity for promoting the harmony between man and the nature in urban places. How to make a balance between humans’ living space and wild animals’ space still needs further exploration,” Chen added. Another of Chen’s programs, Nonglinshuishi wetland in Langxia Countryside Park, Jinshan District, finished in this year. The ecological restoration work focuses more on the welfare it can bring to the local residents.

In Nonglinshuishi wetland, rice field not only produce crops but also a landscape of the park. Bald cypress trees are grown to improve the water quality and provide a place for birds to rest. “We combine paddy fields with the water purification system which benefits both soil and water,” Chen said. “We want to explore ways of nature-based solution and restoring the ecosystem in a sustainable manner.”

To support national implementation of Chinese biological diversity policy, China has developed a wide range of economic instruments in financing, taxation, banking, credit, pricing and trade for environmental protection and reducing pollutant emissions.

Originally published at Shine