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July 13, 2021

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Home » District » Songjiang

Walking the hills a labor of love for forest guard

For forest guard Wu Xiaozhong, a forest on a hill is like a toddler in Neverland who demands constant care in any season, even if the day is windy or rainy.

Twelve hills are within the borders of Songjiang. Although scattered, they form one line and has been called the Jiufeng Ridge since ancient times.

The West Sheshan, East Sheshan, Tianmashan and Xiaokunshan hills are open to the public as a National Forest Park; whereas the Hengyun, Zhongjia, Xiaoji, Xueshan, Fenghuang, Beigan and the rest of the hills are blocked and inaccessible.

The closed Hengyun Hill, about 10 kilometers from downtown Songjiang, is named after Lu Yun (AD 262-303), a renowned Songjiang scholar in the Western Jin Dynasty (AD 265-317).

The hill is also a “friend” that Wu, a member of Songjiang Forestry Center, visits every day.

Wu gets up at six every morning to patrol the hill by walking more than 10,000 steps daily, and making timely reports about forestry preservation, worm prevention and wildlife monitoring.

“I’m well prepared each of the 365 days of the year,” said Wu, a post-90s generation with a tall figure and suntanned skin who is in his seventh year working as a forest guard.

Hengyun Hill has one of Shanghai’s five national epidemic disease and epidemic cause monitoring stations. Wu reports statistics daily, and his daily coverage rate and statistics quality come out on top in the city.

Ever-present fire threat

The biggest devastation for a forest is fire. So on occasions like Chinese New Year, the Spring Festival, the Tombsweeping Festival and the bamboo shoots sprouting season, Wu pays special attention to patrolling the hill and screening potential risks including on electricity lines, fire-fighting devices, fire barrier zones and tomb clusters to avoid forest fires.

When a typhoon strikes the forest, trees are prone to fall and small-scale landslides may occur. At those times, Wu is always on call.

On one stormy night at 11pm, Wu visited the hill wearing a thin raincoat, speaking on a walkie-talkie and holding a flashlight. The hill path was muddy and slippery, with toads and snakes forced out of their holes jumping or slithering. Wu remained on the hill till all was safe and dispatched cleaning workers to remove fallen branches on roads the next day.

When asked how he dealt with mosquitoes during patrolling in summer, Wu jokingly replied: “I guess they’ve tasted my blood and known me quite well.”

Wu’s care on his “Neverland toddler” also includes forest maintenance. Every year he makes plans for tree pruning and weeding. When the plans were carried out, he works with the gardeners to do the trimming together.

Wu also does real-time monitoring on pest hazards for the trees.

His professional knowledge of plant diseases and pests has made him a “go-to” expert for nearby villagers.

A traditional method in China to nurture a forest is by closing a hillside to facilitate afforestation. This method relies on a forest’s own regeneration capacity by firstly forbidding people from doing any harm on forest resources.

However, some villagers living nearby would occasionally come to dig some plants or wild herbs because living near the hill generation after generation made them think that “mountain people can make full use of what is available on a mountain.”

Old woman throws a tantrum

During one patrol on the hill, Wu spotted an 80-something villager used a ladder to climb over a fence onto the hill. Finding herself spotted, the elderly woman sat on the ground and threw a tantrum. Wu patiently explained the reason of afforestation for her. The woman was finally persuaded and she allowed Wu to carry her on his back to the foot of the hill and went home.

Wu also intensified his workload after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic to efficiently prevent transmission of the virus through wildlife.

In addition to his job as a forest guard, Wu is also a community service volunteer, tourist site volunteer and voluntary blood donor.

On January 1 this year, the Sheshan National Tourist Resort held its annual hill climbing event.

Wu and other volunteers cooked ginger tea to serve the participants for free, taught them how to tie the prayer ribbon and ensured security and order throughout the event.

“I might use my strength and sweat during my work, but through this, I’ve ensured the good environment of the hills,” said Wu.

Wu led a separate life away from his wife and child until 2020, when his wife found a job in Songjiang in 2020 and the family reunited.

That was also the year Wu was honored as “The Best Forest Guard” in China.


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