Course:FRST370/2022/Birdwatching tourism in Mingxi County, Sanming, Fujian Province, China

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A black-browed barbet takes a well-deserved rest on a tree branch

Birdwatching tourism is a trending model of ecotourism in China, which not only benefits the local ecological environment but also boosts the local economy in long term. This Wiki page dissects the reasons for the existence of birdwatching eco-tourism in Mingxi county, the structure of the birdwatching eco-tourism and its impacts on economic, ecological, and cultural aspects in Mingxi county, Sanming, Fujian province, China. Also, we assess the power and engagement of different stakeholders in birdwatching tourism and discuss birdwatching tourism during the pandemic period. Finally, we realize the deficiencies of birdwatching eco-tourism and provide some recommendations for them to develop a more sustainable tourism industry, which benefits both wildlife and local residents, in Mingxi.


Community forest management


Ecological tourism (Eco-tourism)

Mingxi county



Location of Mingxi county

Geographical and environmental condition

Mingxi County is located in Sanming City, Fujian Province, China (E 117°4′ - E 118°47′, S​​ 26°8′- S 26°39′). The county is surrounded by mountains, with an altitude of 700-1000 meters in the northeast and an altitude of 180 meters in the southeast. It includes about 91.91% mountains and hilly areas, 6.98% small plains, and 1.1% water surface. Although Mingxi is an interior county, however, Fujian is a coastal province, and the area has a subtropical marine monsoon climate type. The county has an average temperature of 18℃ and precipitation of 1800 mm every year[1].


Mingxi County has a long history that can be traced back to the Neolithic. Several archaeological pieces of evidence have been found to prove that there are traces of human activity from long ago. With the change of dynasties, the ownership of Mingxi County has been in flux. Finally, in Ming Dynasty (1470), several small counties were integrated, and the local government of Guihua County (The former name of Mingxi County) was established. At that time, hakkas migrated from central China to Guihua County, escaping from war and famine. Hakkas greatly contributed to developing local agriculture, the smelting industry and culture over 500 years. During the Republican period (the early 1900s before 1949), Guihua County was renamed Mingxi County. The dominion of the county changed several times because of war. After the establishment of the People’s republic of China, Mingxi County was integrated with Sanyuan County and was called Sanming County as a whole. After 1961, Mingxi County was separated and now it is subordinate to Sanming City, Fujian Province[2].

Ecological resources

Mingxi County has abundant natural resources, including 2212 thousand acres of forest area and over 80% of forest cover. It has 1 national natural reserve and 1 provincial natural reserve, and 36 county-level small nature reserves. Total conservation areas are about 7,6000 acres. 1380 species of medicinal plants are found in the county. The county is also called the county of Chinese yew, which indicates that a huge number of rare medical plant species,Taxus chinensis, are found in the forest of Mingxi county. In addition, the county is located at the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (EAAF). More than 300 wild bird species have been found[1].

Birdwatching tourism in Mingxi county

Birdwatching tourism in Mingxi County was originally developed by local householders. In earlier years, only experienced birdwatchers have knowledge of bird trails in the county and would visit the county for birdwatching and photography. At that time, householders usually separately received these visitors, providing guest houses, food and tour guides. The number of householders that joined birdwatching tourism only took a small portion of the whole. In December 2015, the local government established Birdwatching Tourism Project Leadership Team[3]. In 2016, the local government planned to establish ten birdwatching sites and design four birdwatching routes[3]. After the local government includes birdwatching tourism in the local development plan, an increasing number of householders participate in the guide-house service. The guest house and tour guide are two main sources of income for householders. Some villages established Birdwatching Cooperatives. Villagers can become shareholders by investing or providing labour[4].

Tenure Arrangements

History of tenure arrangement in China

The tenure arrangements of Mingxi county changed several times following the land reform of China. During 1949-1952, the national government started the land reform, distributing forest among householders. The forest was divided into two types: state-owned forests and non-state-owned forests, separately managed by the government and the farmers. In 1953, the implementation of the People’s Commune Policy encouraged farmers to work together as a community. The earned incomes mostly belonged to the community and farmers earned salaries as well as food. With the development of the policy, the portion of the non-state-owned forest that farmers could control decreased. When it came to 1958, industrial reform started which leads to the loss of forestland. At the same time, natural disasters, especially drought, were happened widespread in China. The famine made labour flow from forestry to agriculture[5]. In addition, during 1966-1977, the Cultural Revolution started in China, which led to stagnant agroforestry development. During these years, the forest management system of China was nearly paralyzed.

A turning point is the trial of Forest Law in 1979 and the law was officially promulgated in 1984. The Forest Law resulted in land reform and led to the change of pattern of wood distribution and the request for reforestation. During 1979-1997, the policy of forestry emphasized the conservation and sustainability of forests, as well as greatly encouraging reforestation. At the same time, the pattern of the distribution of incomes from agriculture and forestry also change following the establishment and development of the Household Contract Responsibility System (HRS)[6]. At that time, forests were redivided into two parts: state-owned forests and collective forests. Under the HRS system, although the ownership of collective forests is the country. the right of controlling the collective forests was returned to farmers.

After 1998, there two significant programmes were established: the Natural Forest Protection Programme (NFPP) and the Slope Land Conversion Programme (SLCP). The NFPP reformed forest enterprises to increase the protected forestland, increasing the sustainability of improving their financial viability, as well as reducing deforestation. The SLCP reformed collective forests in the villages, encouraging farmers to transform marginal farmlands into forestland[7]. These policies emphasized the importance of conservation and sustainability of forestlands, as well as ensuring farmers’ interests.

Institutional/Administrative Arrangements

Government Institutions

The State Forestry Administration

As the national department, the State Forestry Administration is the top-level department that determines the overall direction of multiple policies. The responsibility of the state forestry administration is to organize, coordinate, direct and supervise the various works related to the development and conservation of forestry ecology and sustainability, for instance, the afforestation and desertification controlled. The national forestry administration is also responsible for forest reform and safeguarding the legitimate rights and interests of farmers operating in forestry.

The Forestry Administration of Fujian Province and the Forestry Administration of Sanming City

The provincial administration plays a transition role between the national administration and the local governments. On the one hand, the provincial and municipal administrations need to interpret and implement national policies correctly. They directly supervise and direct the local government in forestry matters. On the other hand, the provincial and municipal administrations have the authority to adjust the national policies to make them in line with local conditions.

The Forestry Administration of Mingxi County

The local forestry administration mainly implements the policies from the upper administration. At the same time, it is the grassroots organization closest to the farmers and is responsible for reporting and satisfying farmers’ requests. In Mingxi county, the local forestry administration collaborates with the Tourism Administration of Minxi County to develop birdwatching tourism. Detailed plans were further assigned to village officials and carried out at the village level.

Non-governmental Institutions

Fujiang Birdwatching Society has been committed to the promotion of birdwatching and biodiversity conservation public welfare, environmental education and conservation of important habitats public welfare, which contributes to supporting the development of birdwatching tourism in Mingxi County.

Affected Stakeholders

Affected stakeholders are the individuals, organizations, or entities that are or are likely to be influenced by the management activities due to their long-term interests in the community forests.

Local farmers

Local farmers refer to those villagers who are forest-dependent and have lived in Mingxi county for many generations. Most of them are Han Chinese, which dominates the Chinese demographic. Their livelihoods mostly rely on agriculture and logging. Due to the designation of the national reserve areas of Junzifeng in 2003 and the restriction on logging and planting in 2005, many local farmers lost their major incomes and young generations left the county. Thus, Mingxi county became more and more declined.

With the initiation of birdwatching eco-tourism in 2016, some local farmers act as bird guides, set up observation points and expand more services and products on the basis of birdwatching eco-tourism. For instance, some tea farmers resume their tea planting and develop organic tea products; as well, they develop some research programs and field trips[8].

Birdwatching tourism cooperatives

In addition to the natural advantages (forest coverage over 90%), Mingxi county is on “a major migratory route” connecting East Asia and Australia, so Mingxi county is a habitat and a transfer station for over 300 wild bird species (including 64 species that are listed on the top or secondary level of national protection programs)[9]. Many local villagers are involverd in birdwatching eco-tourism and the extended services.

In order to prevent vicious competition in the birdwatching business, Mingxi county promotes a new model of ecological birdwatching management named “village-community unity”. So far, there are five “village-community unity” birdwatching tourism cooperatives in Mingxi county, which are run by the villagers from Zinyun village, Danshang village, Mingxi village, Fuxi village and Xiabei village since 2017. Each cooperative consists of the village committee, villagers, and poor households. Danshang village is the first one to form the birdwatching tourism cooperatives. More than 40 villagers join the cooperative and make up 80% of the shares with their investment and labor input. The remaining 20% is shared by the village committee. In 2019, the cooperative generated a return of ¥62,000, which was shared by the village committee, villagers and poor householdes[9]. Moreover, the birdwatching tourism cooperatives develop collaborations with external travel agencies, the Fujian birdwatching association, and natural educational institutions to develop more related ecological programs and services[10]

Illegal bird poachers

Due to the ecological advantages in Mingxi county, some local villagers were involved in trapping and selling rare bird species. Most of their incomes came from illegal poaching and trading.

Mingxi county adopted the ban on bird poaching in 2017; also, it has launched special action for migratory bird protection since 2018[10]. In 2020, China’s top legislature has endorsed the law enforcement of illegal poaching and trading owing to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus[11]. As a consequence, the illegal industrial chain was crushed. Afterwards, many of these illegal poachers start to join the birdwatching eco-tourism.

Ethnic groups

Mingxi county was one of the ancestral homes of the Hakka ethnic group, a Han Chinese subgroup, who escaped from North China due to the wars in the Tang Dynasty (618-907AD)[12]. The initiation of birdwatching eco-tourism also boosts tourism in the adjacent Hakka villages, such as Ninghua Hakka Hometown tourism attractions within 1.3-hour driving.

Interested Stakeholders

Interested stakeholders are the individuals, organizations, or entities that are or are likely to be influenced by the management activities due to no long-term dependency on the community forest.


Including the State Forestry Administration, the Forestry Administration of Mingxi County, and the Tourism Administration of Mingxi County.

The State Forestry Administration

The State Forestry Administration is the highest level of authority in formulating policies and managing natural resources in China. In recent years, the State Forestry Administration has established natural reservations for bird protection, launched rescue actions for endangered bird species, and increased the number of protected bird habitats, leading to rising wild bird population in China. At present, migratory bird habitats and migration routes have been incorporated under the legal protection by the newly revised “Wildlife Protection Law of the People’s Republic of China”[10].

The Forestry Administration of Mingxi County and the Tourism Administration of Mingxi County

The local governments play the main roles in managing the ecological birdwatching tourism in Mingxi county. In 2016, they created birdwatching tourism cooperatives in five villages and came out with an idea of a new ecological model named “village-community unity” that integrates resources to promote rural revitalization and eco-poverty alleviation. In this new model, they also established an entrepreneurial team, which aims to support new graduates back to villages, and founded “Yunhai People” Ecological Tourism Development Co. The new model increased income by more than ¥90 million in villages in 2019[10].

In 2017, local governments took the lead to promulgate a ban on bird poaching; as well, they launched a special action on migratory bird protection in 2018[10]. Mingxi county also launched real-time monitoring in bird habitats and advocated the use of organic fertilizers and pesticides, in order to secure ecological bird habitats[10].

B&B in Ziyun village

"Yunhai People" Ecotourism Development Co.

The idea of the local tourism business was proposed by Shuiqing Yang, who was a college graduate in 2016, and founded by the local government in Ziyun village. The company is operated according to a cooperative model of “company+college/university+farmer”[3]. Yang and his colleagues act as facilitators to connect the villages with tourist agencies and experts from universities and colleges. Gradually, they have created “Ziyun Ecological birdwatching” brand supported by the local birdwatching eco-tourism, education programs, and featured eco-products, which generated an income of over ¥8 million[9].

Meanwhile, they also introduced the element of “forest recreation” and cultivated 12 forest recreation bases focusing on ecological birdwatching. Many villagers renovated their houses into B&B to provide homestay to tourists[3].

Ornithologists and experts from universities

They are invited to educate villagers with more professional knowledge of bird species and their habits in developing ecological birdwatching tourism. They helped villagers to find observation spots and establish a scientific and eco-friendly approach to observe birds at the beginning.

Mingxi county also cooperated with many universities to hold lectures, exhibitions, and research activities, leading more young generations to be close to nature as well as birdwatching.

NGOs (i.e. Fujian birdwatching association)

Fujian Birdwatching Association was formed by some birdwatching enthusiasts in 2004[13]. Members come from different areas of Fujian provinces. They usually organize birdwatching activities across Fujian. Mingxi county, which is a habitat for many wild birds, has attracted a lot of bird lovers, but the infrastructure was too defective to provide fulfilling hospitality before 2016. As the robust birdwatching eco-tourism developed in Mingxi, these concerns were tackled.

Tourists are watching wild birds in Ziyun village.

Besides, Mingxi county collaborated with the Fujian birdwatching association to host photography contests and other birdwatching events.


Since the story about a farmer taking care of wild birds in Mingxi was propagated, visitors from over 32 countries have come to Mingxi[14]. Their purpose in visiting Mingxi is to fulfill their mental, spiritual, aesthetic, and economic demands through observing or photographing birds. Moreover, they promote local income from other by-products of birdwatching tourism. It is estimated to attract more than 30,000 tourists in 2019, which generated tourism income of over ¥90 million[10].

Relative Power Assessment

Power analysis of birdwatching ecotourism in Mingxi.
High influence
  • Governments
  • Birdwatching tourism cooperatives
Low influence
  • Tourists
  • NGOs
  • Ornithologists and experts from universities
  • Local farmers
  • Illegal bird poachers
  • "Yunhai People" Ecotourism Development Co.
  • Ethnic groups
Low importance High importance


The relationship between community forest management and birdwatching eco-tourism in Mingxi County

Economic aspect

The community forest management and birdwatching eco-tourism together helps alleviate poverty in rural communities of Mingxi County. The bird-watching tourism is a new industry driven by local bird guides with their professional knowledge and supported by villagers to alter the utilization of natural resources spontaneously. Accompanied with the development of bird-watching tourism, other derivative products and industries with local color, such as tea product, educational trip, and surrounding tourism also bring more economic benefits to Mingxi County[8]. According to one case study using travel cost interval analysis (TCIA) to assess the recreational value to tourists and economic value to local people which birdwatching industry have brought to the county, visitors specifically with birdwatching enthusiasm are willing to pay more to bird-watching ecotourism than the general tourism, meaning the county is earning more total consumer surplus[15]. On the basis of birdwatching tourism, together with extended industries, the villages in Mingxi have received over 50,000 visitors from 23 countries around the world[8].The fact that local gross domestic product (GDP) is higher in regions that have bird-watching societies also proves the economic returns from birdwatching ecotourism to Mingxi County[16]. In addition to the positive feedback of the economy in a relative macroscopic view, one study in Alaska indicates that interaction between the individual birdwatcher (tourist) and rural communities and forest landowners creates different career opportunities and contributes to taxation which eases economic burden for families in the village in a further step[17].

Social aspect

In return for economic gains from bird-watching tourism, villagers are taking bird protection more seriously and spontaneously than before, achieving long-term ecosystem sustainability. In the "top-down" approach which involves governmental power, the Chinese Collective Forest Tenure Reforms mentions the plan of promoting participatory management of forestlands, action put into effect is anticipated and local farmers and landowners will be allowed to put more of their own knowledge, experience, and innovation into forest management decision making[18]. Moreover, receiving a higher level of education among participants would promote the development of multi-use forest management (MFM) through mindset and altitude shift[19].

Covid-19 effects

During the covid period, there were laws and policies launched in China about banning game meat trading, and this legislation saved wildlife including birds from being hunted and consumed in Mingxi County. In 2017, Mingxi County has banned bird poaching and trading of any types of birds in supporting the governmental policy of banning game meat trading. Many affected stakeholders, the local farmers have realized the birdwatching eco-tourism means an opportunity for them to make a living with it instead of hunting birds as there is not enough food to sustain their lives. As a stopping point for birds’ migration journey, Mingxi County developed ecotourism as a new industry to attract visitors, and this industry is supported by local farmers to shift their means of living[20].


  • Some of the ecosystem services contributed by birds such as the value of pest control could be quantified, but many other regulating and supporting (indirect) ecosystem services birds provided still need further study[21].
  • Based on the various migration habit of birds passing the area, the bird-watching trail should be designed to increase the numbers and types of birds that can be observed, decreasing the tourist time, and enhancing satisfaction. However, the concept of sustainability is vague and different bird-watching trail developers may have different understandings of sustainability designing the trail[22].
  • There is lack of migratory bird surveillance and conservation in China generally. The degradation of Asia's Inland and coastal wetland result in the decrease of the migratory bird's habitat[23].
  • Local forest management may have different interpretations from the national conservation policy, such as the Collective Forest Tenure Reforms (CFTR) for their own benefit despite the greater good for species protection. Local governments and actors found national policy too broad and abstract for implement and national management system does not adopt local management system. There is an inconsistency between local and national forest management and effective communication in the "top-down" approach[24].
  • Governmental compensation for ecological conservation is insufficient, leading to the reluctance of farmers. Local people understand that the intention of forest insurance subsidies is good but they have their own means of reducing risk working in forest. Conversely, the poverty alleviation of local communities puts pressure on government income[25].
  • Migration from local villages to urban contexts could throw the market developed by bird-watching ecotourism into the risk of instability, which will discourage local villagers from participating in forest management[26].
  • Younger generations in Mingxi county discovered that many local people ignored the importance of birds. A continuous combination of young and old forces on bird conservation will be needed in the future[8].
  • Bird-watching is still in its early stage of development in China. The fact that bird-watching has brought great economic return, international propaganda, the mind shift of more local governance, and its positive effects on local biodiversity and ecology all show that the future bird-watching in China would be more and more prominent[16].


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  2. Mingxi County (2021, February 20). "历史沿革". 三明市明溪县人民政府. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Fu, L.; Xiao, S. (2016, February 19). "明溪建设十大观鸟点及四条观鸟走廊". 明溪县人民政府. Check date values in: |date= (help)
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  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Yang, Feiyue; He, Meidong (2022, June 20). "Flocking together". China Daily. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 10.6 Mei, Yongcun; Peng, Zhangqing (2022, April 26). "观鸟旅游业如何点绿成金". Taihai Net. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  11. CGTN (2020, March 14). "Forestry departments step up law enforcement for game meat ban". CGTN. Check date values in: |date= (help)
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Theme: Birdwatching ecotourism
Country: China
Province/Prefecture: Fujian Province
City: Sanming

This conservation resource was created by Ruixi Chen.
It is shared under a CC-BY 4.0.