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Guard the Three Gorges Reservoir Bank with Forest in the Water


The signs that read “The Yangtze River can be compared to the mother for us to care for” are placed outside the agritainment houses along the ten-mile-long riverside promenade in Dazhou Town, Wanzhou District, and stand in contrast with the rows of green Zhongshanshan, a kind of cypresses, along the bank.

As the water level of the Yangtze River fell, Zhongshanshan, previously half-submerged for four or five months, stuck their trunks above the water surface. The new green leaves flutter in the wind and attract birds there. Zhongshanshan is the “ecological guardian” for the banks in Wanzhou. Wanzhou has given an overwhelming priority to restoring the ecological environment of the Yangtze River by planting 2.13 square-kilometer of Zhongshanshan along the riparian zone of the over 70-kilometer-long bank, which has strengthened the ecological foundation of the Yangtze River.

Zhongshanshan is immersed in the river and becomes a forest (Photo provided to iChongqing)

The cypresses “migrated” from Nanjing

The cypresses can find their origin in Nanjing, which benefits from the same river as Wanzhou. After years of experiments, this tree species was developed by selection by the Institute of Botany of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Jiangsu Province. It was cultivated for the sake of afforestation in saline-alkali land. So why did it take root in Wanzhou?

After the impoundment in the Three Gorges reservoir, there is a water level drop period for nearly half a year annually, for which a 23.4-square-kilometer-wide riparian zone has been shaped in the Wanzhou section of the Yangtze River. The ecological restoration and management of the riparian zone are known as a world-class problem considering the barren soil and the inundation for four to five months every year. It has imposed great challenges on the plants.

The first experimental Zhongshanshan forest to be planted (Photo provided to iChongqing)

Ren Ping, a senior engineer at Wanzhou District Forestry Research Institute, has been studying the ecological restoration of the riparian zone for many years. In 2002, Jiangsu Province donated 20,000 Zhongshanshan to Wanzhou. The cypress has a well-developed and soil-strengthening root system, penetrating into the soil for up to 3 meters and spreading about 80 square meters of land. Ren Ping and his team tried to carry out ecological restoration experiments in the riparian zone with such cypresses.

In early 2009, the Three Gorges Reservoir saw experimental impoundment for the first time. They planted 208 Zhongshanshan in the riparian zone at the height of 170-175 meters, and 204 of them survived the following year. In 2012, they extended the experimental height to 165-175 meters and the area to 333,333 square meters, which can be found in the urban areas of Wanzhou, Xintian Town, Rangdu Town, and others.

The riparian zone (Photo provided to iChongqing)

The experiments show that Zhongshanshan is highly resistant and adaptable to water, even submerged for four months every year. Since then, Wanzhou District has vigorously promoted the planting of Zhongshanshan for demonstration in the riparian zones in Xintian Town, Wuling Town, Rangdu Town, Xikou Township, and Dazhou Town, Yanshan Township, Gaofeng Town, and Bai’anba Sub-district. The planting area has reached 2.13 square kilometers.

The ecological restoration of the “forest in water”

In Dazhou Town in early summer, the large expanse of Zhongshanshan in the riparian zone on the bank grows luxuriantly. Tourists stroll through the forest and enjoy the beautiful scenery on the riverside. It is the first ecological restoration demonstration forest for the administration of justice in the Three Gorges Reservoir Region. Every cypress planted here sees its own story about the administration of justice.

According to the Dazhou Court hereof, Wanzhou District Court planted Zhongshanshan in the riparian zones of Puya Village and Wutu Village in Dazhou Town as a trial site for the execution of restorative judicial adjudication. Previously, Wanzhou District Court decided to guide the defendant to replant trees on the spot to restore the damaged ecological environment in the cases over environmental resources. However, the sites were widely distributed and the follow-up maintenance was difficult.

The forest in water (Photo provided to iChongqing)

Would it be possible to replant in the same area to address the problem? Back then, the forestry department of Wanzhou District had made a breakthrough in the pilot project of the riparian zone with Zhongshanshan. In combination with the ecological restoration of the belt, Wanzhou District Court chose Dazhou Town, with a long riverbank along the Yangtze River and a gentle slope, as the pilot site and planted Zhongshanshan. By guiding and encouraging the defendant to pay the ecological restoration fee, planting Zhongshanshan on a large scale, and introducing specialized companies for the introduction of saplings, planting, and follow-up maintenance, the court indeed has played a leading judicial role in the protection of the ecological environment of the Yangtze River with the strictest laws and regulations.

As the Zhongshanshan survived and developed into forests, the demonstration area of special significance has gradually expanded. Up to now, a total of more than 500 environmental lawbreakers have voluntarily paid more than 3.6 million yuan for ecological restoration in total, and more than 30,000 Zhongshanshan with an area of over 133,333 square meters have been planted in the riparian zone of Dazhou Town. They constitute a unique landscape along the Yangtze River in the Three Gorges Reservoir Region.

At the end of 2020, Wanzhou District Court, District Forestry Bureau, and Dazhou Town jointly built a judicial practice base for “ecological restoration + rural revitalization” in the riparian zone of the Three Gorges Reservoir Region and created the ecological restoration forest in the belt along the entire bank of the Yangtze River in Dazhou Town, so as to jointly explore the path for “ecological innovation of industry and ecological industrialization.”

Green landscapes drive forward rural tourism

After the Three Gorges Reservoir is impounded every year, Zhongshanshan in the riparian zone in Wanzhou will be immersed in water, and the leaves will turn red, presenting a unique scene of beauty partly concealed.

Dazhou Town has developed rural tourism by relying on the beautiful forest in the water and gained a better reputation. 46 farmhouses have been opened in the town, and nearly 200 young people returned to their hometowns to start businesses. Last year, more than 200,000 tourists were received, and the per capita annual income reached 18,500 yuan in the town.

Dazhou Town also relies on this “forest in water” to develop research and study tours under the theme of environmental protection of the Yangtze River.

Colorful Zhongshanshan forest in autumn and winter (Photo provided to iChongqing)

Wanzhou District has also been actively exploring the comprehensive management of the riparian zone by combining biological treatment and engineering treatment. In Bailuwan Wetland Park and Hongshaqi Waterfront Ecological Park, engineering treatment measures are employed to build hydrophilic parks. A multi-functional trail has been created according to the cyclical changes in the water level of the Yangtze River. Flood-resistant plants such as Zhongshanshan, willow, and maidenhair fern have been cultivated for biological treatment. They not only help restore and protect the natural ecology but also form a green landscape along the river and promote the development of rural tourism. At present, the forest coverage rate on both sides of the Yangtze River in Wanzhou has reached 70%.

The continuously improved ecological environment on the banks of the Yangtze River has provided habitats for more and more waterbirds. According to incomplete statistics, a total of 156 species of waterbirds have been found in the Wanzhou section of the Yangtze River in recent years, including nine species unique to China and 24 rare birds to strengthen the ecological foundation for the surroundings of the Yangtze River.

Today, one will see the Zhongshanshan flourishing and the previous barren slopes turned into green corridors when walking along the banks of the Yangtze River in Wanzhou.


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