Environmental and visitor management in a thousand protected areas in China
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China has ~8000 protected areas, with different categories and levels of designation. These include many reserves of global conservation significance. There are more numerous but smaller parks in the more heavily populated provinces of the south and east, and fewer larger parks in the northwest. We sampled 1200 representative parks nationwide, using questionnaires delivered to park managers in person, with 160 categorical or ordinal parameters. Response rate was 92.5%. We carried out three analyses: first, for each parameter independently; second, for five multi-parameter aggregate indices; and third, for two top-level indices of environmental and visitor management respectively. We tested for patterns by category, level, size, age, region, visitor volume and revenue, with >600 individual tests, and >70 patterns significant at p < 0.0001. We found that both environmental and visitor management practices are more intensive for large, old, rich, heavily visited parks. A number of parks receive >100,000 visitors per day, and have adopted large-scale infrastructure approaches which successfully minimise impacts and maintain conservation values, as confirmed by on-site audits. Key conservation concerns include off-park air and water pollution sources in some regions, and sale of items including threatened species, in 7% of parks.
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