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August 26, 2020

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Encountering wildlife on a Qingpu ramble

I almost stumbled over a heron when I approached it unawares on a solitary ramble on Saturday.

I was looking for a legendary lake of pond cypress in a new ecological corridor tucked away in the rustic west of Shanghai.

The close but “elegant” encounter with the egret, followed by similar “surprise meetings” with many more as I sauntered through the groves, signaled a pleasant presence of many a bird accustomed to the innocent steps of a stranger. By “elegant” I mean the unhurried manner in which the heron moved before an approaching man.

In the residential community where I live, herons also swirl here and there, but always keep a conscious distance from people. Sometimes the sight of someone across the bank of a 20-meter-wide river winding through the neighborhood would suffice to arouse suspicion and set any heron off on a hasty flight.

It seems that herons, having a whole host of trees to themselves, as is the case with the ecological corridor I explored, feel more secure on their “home turf” than if they run into a concrete forest crowded with people.

The Qingsong Ecological Corridor, being built in a riverfront plot bordering Qingpu and Songjiang districts, covers a total area of about 666 hectares.

The Qingpu section features a singular stretch of pond cypress and other trees that grow well in the water, most of which are a natural home for herons.

This forest on water extends about 25 hectares, nearly five times that of the existing cluster of pond cypress in Qingxi Country Park, a wilderness park in western Qingpu. Upon completion by the end of this year, the new waterborne forest will add to the city’s wealth of wetlands.

On Saturday, a young man who had been working on the site of the corridor for about a year showed me — an uninvited visitor — rows after rows of saplings sown at the bottom or on the slopes of what used to be fish ponds.

The ponds at our feet were emptied to make plantation possible, and water would return overtime, he said. A large congregation of herons roamed in a valley not far from us as we stood under a scorching sun, appreciating the future habitat for herons and other creatures. In three to five years, these saplings will ripen into a wondrous forest rooted in water.

“The western part of Qingpu, rich in wetlands and forests, is expected to become a new perching place for south-north migratory birds in the future,” Mo Linming, deputy director of Qingpu Greenery and Public Sanitation Bureau, said in an interview on Friday. Now, Chongming District in eastern Shanghai is a major haven for south-north migratory birds.

In addition to the above-mentioned ecological corridor, many more wetlands are being restored or improved in western Qingpu, creating a more attractive environment for air, land and water creatures, Mo said. Official statistics show that Qingpu has one of the city’s largest areas of wetlands. What distinguishes the suburban district is that it’s home to all the city’s 21 natural lakes.

‘Blue pearls’

Besides attracting an increasing number of birds, wetlands also whet the appetite of people looking for a better place to be — for life as well as for work.

Huawei has chosen a waterfront area in Qingpu as its R&D base. This area is part of “a blue link of pearls” — so called because several adjacent lakes and ponds, surrounding a number of idyllic villages, look like a blue necklace made of pearls.

Mo said plans are being made to connect them. With a total area of more than 30 square kilometers, the “blue pearls” of wetlands, forests and farmland, bordering Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, will become a forefront of green development of the Yangtze River Delta region, according to a report from Jiefang Daily, a leading newspaper of the city.

Restoration of wetlands reflects part of Qingpu’s efforts to spruce up its landscape as a member of a demonstration zone for integrated ecological and green development of the Yangtze River Delta.

A number of what Mo calls country parks will emerge this year from various ecological corridors being built throughout Qingpu District. For example, he said a 38-kilometer-long ecological corridor flanking a part of the G50 Highway will be completed this year, featuring country parks near which local farmers live.

These country parks, mostly open woodlands, may over time evolve into wilderness parks. In this way, an ecological corridor does far more than simply beautify the two sides of a highway. By extension, it benefits the life of rural residents.

If such a corridor is vividly alluded to a vine, a country park can be compared to a melon on the vine.

“When they open their doors, local farmers can easily walk into these country parks,” Mo explained.

Certainly country parks court not just local farmers. It could be a new destination or resting place for a cyclist on his or her way between downtown Shanghai and ancient water towns in western Qingpu.

The 38-kilometer “vine” spans between Jinze Town in the west and Xujing Town in the east. While Xujing links Qingpu with the city proper, Jinze is at the core of the aforementioned demonstration zone for integrated ecological progress in the Yangtze River Delta region.

Also bringing the city into the country, and vice versa, is the Wusongjiang (Wusong River) Ecological Corridor.

The Qingpu section of the corridor, expected to be completed next year, will feature different shades of color for its forests, signaling a gradual change between rural and urban tastes.

Ultimately you may walk, run or bike all the way up from paths along the Suzhou Creek to the Wusongjiang Ecological Corridor and imbibe the fragrance of the earth. Once into the corridor, you may ramble, sit at the door of a farmer’s house, and spend some hours chatting with an old soul. That was what I did a few days ago when I worked my way into the future site of the corridor. Most farmers there were friendly, even to a stranger like me.

I like the Wusongjiang Ecological Corridor not just for its rural serenity in modern times, but also for its association with a river that once witnessed the prosperity of the local economy.

In the Song Dynasty (960-1279), a town called Qinglong became a prosperous port of international commerce thanks to the transportation power of the Wusong River. Commerce there contracted later as the river became narrower. Now, so many centuries later, the river is being revived with a new spirit of connectedness.


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