Rejuvenation promotes greater diversity across mountain slopes

Publish Time: 2019-09-11 Author: Li Lei From: China Daily

Majig, a herder in Yeniugou village, Qilian county, Qinghai, at work on the restored grassland. [Photo by CHEN TEYAN/CHINA DAILY]

Ten years ago, a lack of grass on the lower slopes of Qilian Mountain in Qinghai province meant herder Majig had to drive all his sheep and yaks to higher ground.

The local people, residents of Yeniugou village, Qilian county, called the sandy, almost barren, low-lying land the "black soil shoal". Rat holes could be seen everywhere, but few other animals inhabited the environmentally fragile area.

Now, the pastures are expanding and livestock numbers are rising. That is thanks to central government efforts to restore the deserted dune, which was mostly lush grassland before widespread environmental degradation began in the 1950s.

In recent years, Majig has witnessed herders returning to the restored grassland. The development prompted him and a number of fellow herdsmen to start a cooperative early this year, banding together with their 4,000 yaks. The arrangement has helped to greatly reduce transportation costs when selling stock and has shored up the group's profits.

"The price of each yak is 200 yuan (28 USD) higher than during the small-scale farming period," the 54-year-old said.

Experts said the black soil shoal is a typical form of degraded grassland in the province, caused by excessive grazing and other factors. The weak grass exposes the soil to wind and rain erosion and leads to desertification, loss of water and soil, and plagues of rats.

Figures provided by the local government show that 60,000 of the 74,000 hectares of grassland near the village degraded between 1950 and 1980 as a result of excessive grazing.

The extreme degradation of some 23,000 hectares led directly to the locals coining the "black soil shoal" nickname.

In 2015, the local government decided to restore the environment by replanting the grass and banning grazing on up to 9,300 hectares of the black soil shoal in the village. Almost 30 million yuan has been pumped into the restoration work, it said.

The improvements are clear to see. The vegetation coverage rate on the treated land - a major indicator of grass strength - has reached 80 percent, eight times higher than when work began. In autumn, the grass grew as high as half a meter, offering shelter for animals, while making the area uninhabitable for rats because the animal prefers a broader field of vision.

Majig said many different animals are now living on the land: Last year, while his wife and children were away, the family's tent house was raided by animals searching for food.

"I think it was bears - I could tell from the scratches they left on the cupboard," he said.

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