The Role of Local Knowledge in Yancheng National Nature Reserve Management
Throughout the world, protected areas have been established to preserve biodiversity and natural ecosystems, but they are constantly facing economic development pressure from surrounding communities. In order to reconcile such conflicts, co-management is sometimes proposed as a solution for both conservation and community development. Western literature suggests that non-science knowledge (local, Indigenous etc.) can make a vital contribution if communities are empowered to participate in environmental management. But there are very few such studies relating to China, particularly concerning local knowledge of the Han people, which is the predominant culture. This study of Yancheng National Nature Reserve (YNNR) helps fill this gap. YNNR is the first and largest tidal flat nature reserve in China dedicated to protecting Red-crowned Crane and other rare migratory birds and their habitats. It is also an international biosphere reserve in UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere Program (MAB) and a wetland of International Importance in the Ramsar Convention List of Wetlands. The aim of the research was to examine the local knowledge relating to the habitat of the protected Red-crowned Crane possessed by the local community, and their aspirations for the use of this knowledge in the management of the reserve. The research also examined how nature reserve management staff and scientific researchers perceive the value and use of the local knowledge as well as to discover the challenges of and opportunities for the integration of local knowledge into the management of YNNR. Through on-site observations and semi-structured interviews with local community members, nature reserve staff and scientific researchers, the research found that although the locals have detailed knowledge about fishery, farming, salt production and reed production, they have limited contemporary knowledge concerning the rare birds and their habitats. This appears to be preventing them from contributing to co-management of the nature reserve. Both the nature reserve staff and the local people underestimated the value of local knowledge, so the current management regime fails to include such knowledge into the management. However, there are opportunities for the reserve to facilitate local knowledge protection and integration, if the reserve staff can change their perceptions, promote eco-friendly development, and help revive some of the traditional farming techniques and local specialty production knowledge. The research contributes to international perspectives on co-management through its finding that the western concept of co-management does not have a good fit in YNNR and possibly across China more generally, because the general lack of democracy and equity tends to stall attempts at public participation and power sharing. Although the reserve has the dual goals of conservation and development under the biosphere reserve model, it is difficult to implement due to power imbalances and inequity. Biodiversity is still under threat and there are added conflicts and tensions within the region because of insufficient compensation and unequal benefit distribution in relation to local people, and weak controls on development in the reserve by other (non-local) interests. In general, western concept collaborative conservation may be incompatible with China’s political situation and development model. The traditional Chinese ‘middle way’ may be a better solution for the conservation and development dilemma.
Advisor: Stephenson, Janet
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Geography
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: local knowledge; nature reserve; conservation; development; participation; co-management
Research Type: Thesis