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Save the “Skin of the Earth”

11 october 2021

Hulunbuir Grassland © CX / WWF

Is your dream place

the Hulunbuir Grassland with rich grass, cattle and sheep?

There are picturesque scenery in all seasons

-- new grass sprouting in spring,

dotted with small flowers in summer,

autumn in gold and everything lurking in winter.

Severely degraded grasslands

Over the past five decades, climate change, inappropriate use and development, and unsustainable human activities have slowly swallowed up the grasslands, or the “skin of the Earth”, which may have lost its original color. Grasslands are far more fragile than we expected, and while it may take thousands of years for a grassland ecosystem to develop, yet, the destruction is just a matter of moments away. Protecting grasslands is a matter of urgency.

Severely degraded grasslands  © CX / WWF

1. Grassland of Significance

Grassland is one of the most important ecosystems on earth, known as the “skin of the Earth”, with important ecological service functions such as wind and sand control, soil and water conservation, climate regulation and biodiversity maintenance, as well as irreplaceable economic and social functions. Grasslands on Earth cover a vast area, with a global grassland area of about 3.2 billion hectares, accounting for about 20 percent of the Earth’s land area.

Hulunbuir Grassland © Wang Luyuan / WWF

China is a large grassland country, with grasslands stretching more than 4,500 km from east to west, covering about two-fifths of the country’s land area. China has the largest distribution of natural grasslands, with a natural grassland area of about 392.8 million hectares, 2.91 times the area of arable land, 1.89 times the area of forests, and 1.15 times the sum of arable land and forests, accounting for about 12 percent of the global grassland area, ranking the first in the world.

2. Hulunbuir Grassland Faces Challenges

Dauria Area is a vast area dominated by mountainous grasslands at the border of China, Mongolia and Russia. Among them, our territory includes Hailar District, Jalai Nur District, Ewenki Autonomous Banner, Chen Barag Banner, Xin Barag Left Banner, Xin Barag Right Banner, Manchuria City, the south of Ergun City and the west of Yakeshi City in Hulunbuir City, with a grassland area of about 9.5 million hectares and grassland types mainly including meadow grassland, typical grassland and mountain meadow.

CMR Dauria Area ©He Jiale / WWF

The steppe lake-river-swamp wetland system with Hulun Lake, or Dalai Lake, as the core is an important ecological foundation to maintain the headwaters of Heilongjiang River. The Ergun River formed by the steppe wetland finally forms the upper main stream of Amur River near Luoguhe Village, Mohe City, Heilongjiang Province.

However, in the past fifty years, in the context of global climate anomaly, excessive population growth, coupled with various factors such as drought caused by climate warming, human activities such as overgrazing, unreasonable development and fence construction, 90 percent of natural grasslands in Hulunbuir have been degraded to different degrees, and the overall trend of grassland degradation, sanding and salinization is still severe, and the total area of grassland wetlands and biodiversity tend to decrease.

Sheep hoof prints on degraded grassland © CX / WWF

3. Act to Protect Grasslands

China establishes and improves the nature reserve system

China has set up a relatively complete system of protected natural areas in Hulunbuir Grassland, including Hulun Lake National Nature Reserve, Huihe National Nature Reserve, Barag Gazelle Autonomous Regional Nature Reserve and many national wetland parks.

Hulun Lake National Nature Reserve © CX / WWF

Volunteers show you the nature reserves in action for conservation

Hulun Lake National Nature Reserve provides insight into daily conservation work through the use of technology such as remote monitoring systems. The remote monitoring system can facilitate the authorities understand the latest dynamic changes at the first time, thus gaining more time to adjust the deployment and maximize the effectiveness of conservation.

Station Manager Mr. Bao[explains how to monitor remotely © CX / WWF

Take a closer look at the artificial bird nests built by conservationists for raptors. Statistics show that over 50 percent of the artificial nests have been occupied by a variety of birds, including common kestrels and Amur falcon.

A raptor artificial nest © CX / WWF

Raptors are key players in regulating populations of grassland rodents (e.g., Daurian pika Mongolian gerbil) and are difficult to replace. The construction of artificial nests for raptors will also be extended to more places.

Daurian pika:“Do you see me, buzzard?  

© CX / WWF

Upland buzzard:“Rat, I'm full, let you fool around for two days.”

© He Jiale / WWF

The volunteers also followed the conservationists of the Hulunbuir Academy of Inland Lakes in Northern Cold & Arid Areas to carry out grassland water quality monitoring. It is one of the regular tasks of the conservators. The basic data accumulated from the water quality monitoring helps the authorities to grasp the hydrological dynamics and thus better protect the grassland biodiversity.

Grassland wetland water quality monitoring © CX / WWF

WWF and partners work together to restore grasslands

The Hulunbuir Grassland is located in the Dauria Area, one of WWF’s key areas for global biodiversity conservation. Over the years, WWF’s programs teams from China, Mongolia and Russia have been working together to carry out long-term biodiversity conservation work mainly in grasslands and wetlands, including biodiversity surveys, key species conservation, ecological restoration and others.

Graylag goose© Lu Yilin / WWF

In order to explore and evaluate the effectiveness of grassland ecological restoration in Hulunbuir, WWF-NEC has cooperated with Hulun Lake National Nature Reserve Administration to build a pilot grassland with an area of about 400 ha. The pilot will carry out long-term biodiversity monitoring and grassland ecological restoration experiments, and we expect these grassland conservation experiences to be shared and replicated in typical areas of Hulunbuir.

Together with our partners, WWF will continue to insist on grassland biodiversity monitoring, build and maintain grassland ecological restoration sample sites, summarize relevant experiences and develop grassland conservation strategies, so as to protect grasslands in a more comprehensive and targeted manner.

4. Grassland Goes Green By Youth Power

With the support of Satine, an organic milk brand by Chinese diary giant Yili Group, the Amur River Basin Ambassador Environmental Campaign, one of WWF’s nature education and public communication programs, focused on the conservation of the Dauria grassland this year.

WWF led the volunteers to Hulunbuir Grassland to participate daily patrol, plant and animal survey, water quality monitoring, wildlife rescue and nature education activities under the guidance of Hulun Lake National Nature Reserve staff. The volunteers gained an in-depth understanding of the general knowledge and current situation of grassland ecological protection, and experienced the hardship and dedication of front-line conservation workers by being exposed to the related theory and practice. They also produced a VLOG titled, “Grassland Turns to Green” with their personal experience as the main content, calling everyone to join the conservation action together.

“In the past, when we talked about environmental protection, we always thought of giant pandas and Tibetan antelopes, but in fact, environmental protection is probably a more ambitious subject, an art about the balance of the whole ecological environment. Take grasslands, they are not just green, but a collection of many different kinds of plants, animals and insect communities, all of which have their own names. Each species is struggling to survive - when people admire the migrating birds, they may not think about the hardships they go through to make it between the north and the south year after year. The prices of many industrial products we use represent only production and marketing costs, while the costs at the expense of nature are often overlooked that ask us for considering more.”
——Jiao Xiaotong

Volunteers © Wang Luyuan / WWF

“As a Ph.D. in landscape architecture, I have studied and worked closely related to nature conservation. This activity allowed me to have an in-depth experience of the patrol work at the nature reserve, and also have a closer look at the valuable plant and animal resources of the grassland. It allowed me to discover many aspects that I should pay attention to and transform by engaging into the front-line conservation work, such as how to make the artificial landscape more friendly to wild animals, adhere to the harmonious coexistence of human and nature so as to guard this grassland together.”    --Jiang Xin

Learn about bird monitoring © CX / WWF

“Hulunbuir in golden autumn is most colorful of the year, where the grassland and wetland ecosystems cover the vast Amur River basin. Climate changes in recent years have led to changes in the ecological substratum, resulting in the destruction or loss of many natural habitats, and people need to be more educated about nature. As an ordinary person, such a great opportunity to bring about 95 percent of the benefits of social conservation advocacy using 5 precent of facility development in permitted natural areas can make humans more willing to compromise in the process of living with nature in the future, and making spontaneous concessions is very meaningful.”
----Wang Luyuan

Participates in water quality monitoring “dredging” © CX / WWF

The free-running wildebeest, the mute swans flying over the grassland wetlands, the rabbits passing through the rocky caves of the scrub...the plight of these amazing creatures gives us an opportunity to speak out for the grassland. As a part of the ecosystem, we, human beings, need to be fully aware of the impact of our actions and incorporate the concept of green and sustainable development in all aspects of our lives. There are no easy answers for the road to nature conservation full of problems, which is a real challenge that contemporary society cannot avoid. We cannot choose to wait or make rash decisions based on the pursuit of affluence as the only criterion, but we need to find a balance between the accumulation of social resources and the consumption of natural resources in the way of caring for the well-being of other species, and learning to live in harmony with the world around.”
-- Yilin Lu

Conservation Upstream © CX / WWF

“My major is advertising design, and I came to the field for the first time to participate in grassland conservation. I didn’t expect to see green grasslands from afar, but when I got closer, I found the grassland degradation, and the grass in many places is only as high as the surface of my feet. I hope people understand grasslands better and pay more attention to them." -- Liu Hongliang


Our fundamental goal in grassland conservation is to push forward the sustainable development for local communities while maintaining and restoring grassland biodiversity. WWF believes that when the public and conservationists continue to work together to protect grasslands, the magic of natural succession will help the “skin of the earth” to regain the beautiful scenes of “vast skies and boundless grasslands, as the wind blows the grass, with cattle and sheep feeding on it” in the coming years.

Grassland turns to green © CX / WWF