‘National botanic park’ system moves ahead

On Tuesday 4 Jan, the State Council formally approved the establishment of a national botanic park in Beijing. This follows President Xi’s announcement last October that China would build a system of such parks, including in Beijing and Guangzhou.
The State Council’s letter of approval says the new park will focus on ex situ (relocated) conservation of plants to serve high-level research and sustainable utilisation, and to emphasise “benefit sharing”. It also expects the park to “tell well the China story of botany and demonstrate the glamour of Chinese culture and China’s biodiversity”.
The letter doesn’t specify a location, but it appears the new park will merge two existing botanic parks at the foot of Xiangshan Mountain in the northwest of the city. 
The “national botanic park” system is a new concept, separate from China’s existing nature reserve system which is centred around “national parks”. There has been no official elaboration on how it will look, what types of institutions it will comprise, or if parks will be established in biodiversity hotspots like Yunnan’s Xishuangbanna. 
This lack of clarity has prompted calls to reconsider the location of the Beijing national botanic park, partly because the municipality lacks warmth, rainfall and fertile soil. This concern has been countered by arguments that this is just the first step – more national botanic parks could be on the horizon; and that concentration of talents and resources and proximity to big cities are more important for research, conservation and education than presence of great natural biodiversity. 
Scepticism has also been directed at the emphasis on ex situ conservation at the expense of focus on real-world biodiversity.
The call for the establishment of botanic parks had appeared in a high-level policy document on strengthening biodiversity conservation, published in November, a month after the UN biodiversity talks in Kunming (COP15), which emphasises both ex situ and in situ conservation systems.
Read our recent article on the case for designating the Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon a national park.