WCS has long pioneered an innovate approach to nature conservation through the concept of "protected landscapes". In every corner of the world we can identify areas that have been shaped by the interactions of people and nature over time. Moving beyond the concept of protected areas, these landscapes link natural habitats, cultural heritage and sustainable community development. They have been created by traditional patterns of land use that have contributed to biodiversity, have proven sustainable over centuries, and are living examples of cultural heritage. Landscapes are rich in natural and cultural values not in spite of but because of the presence of people. Protecting them requires a conservation approach that recognises natural as well as cultural values, sustains traditional connections to the land, and engages local communities in stewardship of the places where they live and work.
These are by no means an alternative to strictly protected areas, but instead a complementary element and an essential part of any integrated system for nature conservation. Within landscapes conservation objectives can only be reached over a large area of land, and preserving the delicate balance between biodiversity and cultural practices of local communities. Over here, a successful management of the natural resources and protected areas can only emerge from practices that accommodate traditional uses, land ownership patterns, and the need to sustain local livelihoods.
China’s vast and complex landscapes are undergoing an equally vast and complex transformation nowadays. Wildernesses in this country spans tropical and mountain forests, grasslands, meadows, deserts, high-altitude lakes, and coastal marshes. The sheer number of species found in the country is astounding: 580 mammals, 1,330 birds, 407 reptiles, 321 amphibians, and more than 3,500 species of fish. Important and threatened wildlife include Amur tigers and leopards, wild yaks, and Tibetan antelope or “chiru.” Despite China’s natural wealth, the country’s array of species has experienced unprecedented declines during the last few decades, largely due to the overexploitation of natural resources and unsustainable economic development.
WCS China is currently engaged in two landscapes: