Group seeks to cre­ate safe na­ture havens

The China Post - - LOCAL - BY JOHN LIU

The over-ex­ca­va­tion of low-ly­ing hills has de­faced many parts of Tai­wan’s nat­u­ral ter­rain, caus­ing soil ero­sion and en­dan­ger­ing in­dige­nous species like the leop­ard cat, yel­low pond tur­tle and moun­tain scops owl. But there is a safe haven for them in Hs­inchu County’s Cy­onglin Town­ship ( ).

Cov­er­ing 1.8 hectares and sit­ting 380 me­ters above sea level, Na­ture Val­ley ( ) has been re­stored bit-by-bit to its orig­i­nal ter­rain.

Pur­chased by three en­vi­ron­men­tal en­thu­si­asts for NT$6 mil­lion in 2007, Na­ture Val­ley is the na­tion’s first and only en­vi­ron­men­tal trust. Af­ter years of la­bo­ri­ous con­ser­va­tion ef­forts, Na­ture Val­ley now boasts 262 dif­fer­ent species of vas­cu­lar plants — 22 of which are na­tive — such as the Tai­wan Maesa, the ves­sel fern and the Chi­nese hy­drangea. Crit­ters like the fly­ing squir­rel, Tai­wan blue mag­pie and pan­golin have also re­turned to the for­est, and now up to 162 species of spi­ders can be found in the val­ley.

Ear­lier this year, Taipei 101 do­nated more than NT$1 mil­lion to Na­ture Val­ley to sup­port Tai­wan low-ly­ing val­leys’ restora­tion.

Na­ture Val­ley was en­trusted to the Tai­wan En­vi­ron­men­tal In­for­ma­tion As­so­ci­a­tion (TEIA,

) in May 2014. Un­der the en­vi­ron­men­tal trust, the TEIA is the val­ley’s cus­to­dian but has no own­er­ship rights to the val­ley. (Once placed un­der trust, the own­er­ship of the val­ley be­longs to the public.) The TEIA’s job is car­ry­ing out con­ser­va­tion ac­tiv­i­ties ac­cord­ing to its legal obligations.

Ex­ten­sive Con­ser­va­tion Ef­forts

The TEIA has three ob­jec­tives as the Na­ture Val­ley’s long-time cus­to­dian. First, it protects and cul­ti­vates low-ly­ing forests. Sec­ond, it col­lab­o­rates with lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties to ex­pand ar­eas of pro­tec­tion. Third, it op­er­ates a na­ture learn­ing cen­ter for the public.

There is much to be done to keep the for­est healthy. Among the ac­tiv­i­ties is thin­ning out packed bamboo by cut­ting down old ones that may re­strain other plants’ growth. The cut bamboo is then lined up on slopes to min­i­mize ero­sion due to rain­fall.

In ad­di­tion, peb­bles and stones in streams need to be re­moved to avoid block­age. The stones can be uti­lized again and stacked on slopes to fore­stall ero­sion and land­slide.

In ad­di­tion, the TEIA’s work­ers also walk the moun­tain trails on a daily ba­sis, tak­ing note of any changes in the land­scape. They take metic­u­lous care of the area — to such an ex­tent that they even trans­plant tree buds grow­ing on the trails in or­der to en­sure their sur­vival.

The as­so­ci­a­tion has also set up a data­base that de­tails the val­ley’s eco­log­i­cal sys­tem, al­low­ing its work­ers to keep track of any changes. A re­port on Na­ture Val­ley’s nat­u­ral re­sources re­leased last year de­tails the plants, birds, in­sects and rep­tiles found in the en­vi­ron­ment.

Work­ing Hol­i­days

The or­ga­ni­za­tion holds “work­ing hol­i­days” on a monthly ba­sis. It gives peo­ple who are tired of city life a chance to ex­pe­ri­ence the wilder­ness and — at the same time — per­form con­ser­va­tion work.

Par­tic­i­pants on the work­ing hol­i­day learn about or­ganic farm­ing: grow­ing fruits and veg­eta­bles us­ing nat­u­ral fer­til­izer and with­out us­ing pes­ti­cides. Bamboo rice cooking is some­times of­fered to add fla­vor to the moun­tain life ex­pe­ri­ence.

The hol­i­days are as much a green tour as a cul­tural im­mer­sion ex­pe­ri­ence. As part of the green tour, TEIA’s guides im­part in­for­ma­tion about lo­cal fo­liage and the lo­cal eco­log­i­cal sys­tem to par­tic­i­pants.

The TEIA also teaches par­tic­i­pants about the lo­cal cul­ture. There are traces of abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple and Hakka peo­ple who once lived around the hill; Bamboo is an im­por­tant con­struc­tion ma­te­rial used by abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple. There are Hakka vil­lages down the hill, and the par­tic­i­pants are treated to Hakka dishes dur­ing their stay.

‘More Na­ture Val­leys’

in the Fu­ture

An im­por­tant rea­son that the TEIA holds the work­ing hol­i­days is to train vol­un­teers who will help con­serve the val­ley in the fu­ture. This is crit­i­cal since con­ser­va­tion takes a lot of time and ef­fort. The TEIA has dis­patched three full-time em­ploy­ees living on the re­mote hill to carry out con­ser­va­tion work. How­ever, the work­load of con­serv­ing 1.8 hectares of land is be­yond what three peo­ple can man­age.

The area does not sup­port a mo­bile phone sig­nal and so the land­line is the only re­li­able means of com­mu­ni­cat­ing with the out­side. As a re­sult, Na­ture Val­ley is for peo­ple who truly love na­ture.

This pas­sion about na­ture is ap­par­ent when Wu Chia-chi ( ), one of the full-time work­ers living in the val­ley, talked about how she was shocked by how peo­ple harmed Mother Earth.

Re­call­ing her ex­pe­ri­ence at the coast one day, Wu said, “The beach is filled with garbage. There is so much that I could never have picked it all up ... and you won­der why there are toi­let seat cov­ers and san­i­tary nap­kins in the sea.”

Wu Je-fon ( ), one of the three peo­ple who pur­chased Na­ture Val­ley years ago, said the land was bought for con­ser­va­tion pur­poses. The three con­ducted their own con­ser­va­tion ef­forts in the be­gin­ning, but later de­cided that putting it un­der an en­vi­ron­men­tal trust was a bet­ter ap­proach.

The mer­its of an en­vi­ron­men­tal trust in­clude “public par­tic­i­pa­tion,” “in­for­ma­tion trans­parency” and “sus­tain­abil­ity.” Un­der the signed con­tract, Na­ture Val­ley’s cus­to­dian, the TEIA, will su­per­vise and man­age the val­ley for the long haul with­out a term limit.

Although the en­vi­ron­men­tal trust con­cept has long been im­ple­mented around the world — more than 100 years in the United King­dom and 70-plus years in Ja­pan — the con­cept is still very new in Tai­wan, and it is the TEIA’s to dream to cre­ate more Na­ture Val­leys on the is­land in the fu­ture.

Pho­tos by John Liu, The China Post

(Top) A scene from Na­ture Val­ley in Hs­inchu is shown in this photo taken on Fri­day, May 29. It is the first en­vi­ron­men­tal trust in Tai­wan and is a safe haven for the is­land’s in­dige­nous species. The land was ini­tially pur­chased by three civil­ians for en­vi­ron­men­tal con­ser­va­tion and ed­u­ca­tion pur­poses. (Above) From left to right, Tai­wan En­vi­ron­men­tal In­for­ma­tion As­so­ci­a­tion’s (

) Wu Chia-chi ( ) and Chou Chao-Jui ( ) pose for a photo with Na­ture Val­ley’s Chou Wu Je-fon ( ) in the val­ley on Fri­day.

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