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Introduction to China’s Strategy for Plant Conservation

China's Extraordinary Floristic Resources

China is a country with vast territory, complex climate and topography, extremely rich plant diversity, and remains as a survival home of about 10% of world total plant species. China has about 31,000 higher plant species, well known as high species richness, endemic abundance. Fifty to sixty percent of China’s higher plants, or 15,000 to 18,000 species are endemic to China.

China's paleo-floristic origin and rich germplasm resource of cultivated plants give China a leading position in conservation of global plant diversity. There are a large number of rare relic species and some of the relic species are ‘living fossils’, such as Metasequoua glyptostroboides Hu & Cheng, Ginkgo biloba L., Cathaya argyophyla Chun & Kung, Liriodendron chinese (Hemsl.) Sarg.

Some plants are the world's most important crop and ornamental species such as tea, rice, soya beans, magnolias, camellias and peaches, along with an estimated catalogue of 5,000 medicinally important plants.

From timbers to rice, from orchids to roses, from tea to bamboos, the rich Chinese plant diversity provides us, human kind, most important resources of foods, medicines, ornamental plants, timbers and many other raw materials for industries.

Dramatic Increase in Endangered Species

However, China’s rapid economic development in the last thirty years and continuous population growth has seriously damaged plant resources and the ecological environment, resulting in over-exploitation of plant resources and a dramatic increase in the number of endangered species. There are nearly 4,000 to 5,000 higher plants that are now threatened or on the verge of extinction, accounting for 15 to 20 percent of China’s total. Of the 827 globally endangered species listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), 189 are Chinese species, accounting for 25% of the world total.

China Takes Steps to Protect Plant Resources

China is one of the earliest signatory countries to Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD). To implement CBD and strengthen wild plants conservation and management, China legislated several special regulations for wild plants protection and management including ‘Regulations of the People's Republic of China on Wild Plants Protection’ and ‘Ordinance of the Nature Reserves of the People's Republic of China’ et al., implemented many national key ecological construction projects including national wildlife conservation and nature reserve construction, national natural forests protection, and botanical gardens innovative construction. The law enforcement, public awareness and education for wild plants conservation and management have been strengthened.

By the end of 2006, China has established a integrated ex situ and in situ conservation system, including 2349 nature reserves which account for 15% of total Chinese land area, comprising 90% of national terrestrial ecosystem and 65% of higher plant communities into protection, and 160 botanical gardens ex situ conserving 60% of plant species of Chinese flora.

With rapid socio-economic development worldwide and the ever-increasing human understanding of natural world, international community calls for the conservation of wild plants are getting louder and louder.

In 2002, the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC) was adopted unanimously at the 6th Conference of the Parties to the CBD. As a big country with vast plant resources, China has the responsibility and obligation to actively participate in GSPC. Being an administrative authority of Chinese wild plant conservation and management, State Forestry Administration organized a group of experts to formulate ‘Chinese Wild Plants Conservation Action Plan’; based on that, coordinated with Chinese Academy of Sciences and other organizations in response to 16 specific targets of GSPC, we together further accomplished China’s National Strategy for Plant Conservation.

China's National Strategy for Plant Conservation

China’s National Strategy for Plant Conservation is an action plan to serve overall national guidance for Chinese plant diversity conservation and should be an important component of GSPC. The development of China’s National Strategy for Plant Conservation will certainly upgrade Chinese plant diversity conservation to a new height. The implementation of the strategy will effectively halt the loss of Chinese plant diversity, which enable the program of Chinese plant diversity conservation to be a model of worldwide plant diversity conservation, and greatly contribute to the realization of all targets of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation.

Coming in the face of the looming ecological crisis, the catalyst to the creation of this strategy was a meeting of Chinese state officials initiated and organised by Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) in Beijing in November 2006, with funding from the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Coordinated by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), the State Forestry Administration (SFA), and the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) and in combination with other related departments, the far reaching strategy covers 16 targets focusing on 4 key plant diversity themes:

1) Understanding and documenting existing plant diversity;
2) Conservation of plant diversity;
3) Sustainable use of wild plant resources;
4) Generating public awareness and education of plant diversity.