Resource and Ecology

The Role of the Important Agricultural Heritage Systems in the Construction of China’s National Park System and the Optimisation of the Protected Area System

  • HE Siyuan , 1 ,
  • DING Lubin 1, 2 ,
  • MIN Qingwen , 1, 2, *
  • 1. Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China
  • 2. University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
*MIN Qingwen, E-mail:

HE Siyuan, E-mail:

Received date: 2021-01-15

  Accepted date: 2021-04-19

  Online published: 2021-09-30

Supported by

The National Natural Science Foundation of China(42001194)

Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences(XDA23100203)


Conservation-compatible development of rural communities is an important part of nature conservation objectives. Understanding the role of agriculture, which is often practiced in or bordering the protected areas in rural China, is critical for managing conservation networks considering that limited spatial areas are available for enclosed protected areas. Important Agricultural Heritage Systems stand out for their multi-functionality, and some of their values are compatible with nature conservation. This paper examined the concept, management objectives and resource management characteristics of the Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (IAHS) by analysing their interactions with national parks in terms of community development. The results reveal that management strategies of dynamic conservation, integrated protection and adaptive management of the IAHS can contribute to those national park management objectives concerning conservation-compatible livelihood. However, the typology of the protected area system, including the traditional agricultural system as a new type, needs further consideration.

Cite this article

HE Siyuan , DING Lubin , MIN Qingwen . The Role of the Important Agricultural Heritage Systems in the Construction of China’s National Park System and the Optimisation of the Protected Area System[J]. Journal of Resources and Ecology, 2021 , 12(4) : 444 -452 . DOI: 10.5814/j.issn.1674-764x.2021.04.002

1 Introduction

A Protected Area (PA) is an important physical space for biodiversity conservation and the provision of key ecosystem services. In the decades of development since the establishment of the first nature reserve in Dinghushan, Guangdong Province in China in 1956, more than ten types of protected areas have been established with rich numbers and different functions, and they are supervised by a variety of government sectors, including nature reserves, scenic areas, forest parks, wetland parks, etc. They cover more than 18% of China’s terrestrial area (Chen,2016) and play an important role in biodiversity conservation at multiple scales and national ecological security. However, their conservation efficiency has been challenged as these protected areas are sometimes spatially overlapping, have redundancy in institutions and lack clear divisions of rights, responsibilities and interests. To solve these problems, the central government has proposed establishing a unified protected area system with national parks as the main body. To optimise this protected area system, the state plans to sort out the different conservation objectives, adjust and improve the spatial distribution pattern of existing PAs, and unify and standardise management institutions. Thus, a new management pattern for the protected areas with different management objectives, protection levels, management intensities and spatial complementary can be established, further promoting the systematic protection of the country’s important natural ecological space, maintaining the integrity of the community of life, strengthening national ecological security and ensuring the sustainable provision of ecological services for the public. In this way, the protected area reform will become the concrete embodiment of eco-civilisation and the path to a beautiful China.
In “A Guideline on Establishing a System of Protected Areas with National Parks as Its Mainstay” (hereinafter referred to as “The Guidance”), the new typology of the protected area is national park, nature reserve and nature park, which considers the management objectives based on ecological value and protection intensity, and also the feasibility of adaptation from the previous diverse types of protected areas. In order to implement conservation management in different types of protected areas, it is also necessary to formulate selection standards for each of the types, comprehensively evaluate all the different kinds of existing PAs and the conservation gap, and integrate existing PAs and designate new PAs to the three categories according to their natural attributes, ecological values and management objectives. In the end, the protected area system will have national parks as the mainstay, supported by nature reserves as the foundation and complemented by various nature parks.
Decades of conservation research and practice have proven that achieving compatibility between rural community livelihood and conservation management matters for the effectiveness of conservation and the stability of the social-ecological system of a protected area (Wu, 2013; Cebrián-Piqueras et al.,2020). In general, the Guidance also takes rural community governance and management as a necessary aspect in exploring a unified PA management system and in creating a benefit-sharing mechanism based on conservation. Specifically, national park pilots, which are the experimental areas for an optimised PA management system designated since 2015, are essential not only for biodiversity conservation, but also for the many local residents who depend on natural resources for their survival (Huang et al., 2018). As their livelihood mainly depends on the land and natural resources in and bordering the park, a great deal of population pressure is unavoidable in China’s national park management (Liang and Deng,2018). In addition, the current national park pilots are mostly located in rural areas where traditional land use practices, such as agriculture, forestry and animal husbandry, dominate rural livelihood. The high dependence on natural resources and the limited ability of residents to seek alternative livelihoods pose a major challenge to the coordination of community development and nature conservation.
Considering network conservation that connects PAs and other land use as a conservation-compatible landscape, rural land use and resource management and the relevant spatial boundary is the key to achieving PA management objectives and implementation (Torquebiau and Taylor, 2009; Kshettry et al., 2020). Furthermore, the current Nature Park has a management objective of “realising a reasonable protection and sustainable use of nature resources”, which essentially asks for determining a list of appropriate human activities based on conservation compatibility (He et al.,2018), so the social-ecological attributes of the traditional agricultural systems which support conservation-compatible livelihoods need to be considered (Scherr and McNeely, 2008), linking it to the current PA system both in spatial planning and management.
Therefore, this study aimed to address the importance of the agricultural heritage system in nature conservation for an integrated PA system and management. Our work was guided by the following four objectives:
(1) To analyse the spatial and management relations of Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (IAHS) and current PAs.
(2) To explore the manifestation of elements of IAHS, and the system itself in PA management.
(3) To determine the best way to implement IAHS management in PA zoning and management.
(4) To provide insights into the integration of IAHS and the current PA systems for network conservation.

2 Spatial boundary and resource management of IAHS

2.1 Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (IAHS) and the heritage site

Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (IAHS) refer to the agricultural production systems with rich agricultural biodiversity, abundant traditional knowledge and technology, and unique ecological and cultural landscapes (Fig. 1). They are evolving systems from the long-term coordinated development between people and their environment. Currently, IAHS includes the Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) recognised by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the national level IAHS managed by different countries. In China, the China Nationally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (China-NIAHS) are recognised by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs.
Fig. 1 Five major elements of IAHS as the core functions and conservation objectives
Both the GIAHS and China-NIAHS have identified systems with a clear boundary in space, and adopt adaptive management according to management planning as it applies to the specific area, i.e., the heritage site. IAHSs are multifunctional cultural landscapes, which not only maintain significant agricultural biodiversity and form a rich indigenous knowledge system, but also provide a variety of products and services for human beings to ensure food safety, livelihood security and multiple aspects of well-being. The international recognition, dynamic protection and adaptive management of IAHS provide practical experience for the protection of traditional agricultural production systems. IAHS also plays positive roles in the integration of primary, secondary and tertiary industries, regional sustainable development, rural revitalisation and many others (Sun et al., 2007).
Under the GIAHS definition, “agri-cultural heritage” is conceptually equivalent to “world cultural heritage” with slightly different characteristics. Agri-cultural heritage reflects the characteristics of natural heritage, cultural heritage, cultural landscape and even intangible cultural heritage, therefore, IAHS include elements that are supposed to be living, dynamic, adaptive, complex, strategic, multifunctional, and sustainable, however endangered they may be (Min and Sun, 2009). Therefore, IAHS has distinct natural attributes and landscape characteristics, as well as cultural values. The living and dynamic human-land relationship in IAHS defines it as a typical social-ecological system.

2.2 Natural resource management in IAHS

The key of IAHS is the traditional agricultural system, which, as a traditional form of livelihood, is often formed by the residents’ long-term observations and practices related to the natural ecosystem of the region in which they are located. During the gradual trial-and-error process, humans have developed an adaptive management of natural resources following timing and local conditions. The traditional knowledge, technology and culture formed during adaptation have a distinct natural dependence and regional features, which benefit and also manifest the formation of agricultural species, ecosystem and landscape diversity.
This adaptive utilisation of natural resources lies in the rational distribution of natural resources according to time and place, fully caring for the fragility of the ecosystem and improving its ability to deal with natural disaster risks. For example, people plant trees among rice fields to facilitate water conservation through water condensation in the forest; they dig ponds according to the mountain terrain to create an aquatic environment to attract frogs to control paddy pest outbreaks; they open up shallow grass zones in the transition zone between rice fields and forests to prevent wild animals from entering rice fields, reduce surface runoff and reduce sediment deposition, etc. (Zhang and Min, 2016).
In terms of management results, the utilisation of natural resources in the agricultural heritage sites is an integral part of ecosystem management which reflects the conservation of natural resources. Therefore, the use of natural resources in these traditional livelihoods is in line with the objectives of PA management, sustaining a conservation-compatible livelihood of the local communities.
As a dynamic system, diversification of livelihoods based on the inheritance of traditional culture led to new livelihood activities other than practicing agricultural production, such as eco-tourism. The sustainable use of both natural and cultural resources based on the IAHS characteristics is also conservation-compatible (Su et al., 2019). As a tourism destination, heritage sites have attracted investment and professional management with community participation is emerging. Actually, as a living and integrated system, rural people and communities are the main bodies for maintaining the multiple values of IAHS and community participation in heritage management is a priority. From this point of view, these non-consumptive modes of resource use, such as eco-tourism and environmental education, open up local minds for effective resource management and diverse livelihoods.

3 Spatial relations and management interactions between IAHSs and PAs

3.1 Spatial relations

The sustainable productive system in the IAHS sites confirms the continuity of production traditions in the rural communities by maintaining adaptive management in the long-term human-land interaction. From the IAHS evaluation standard of “food and livelihood security”, the IAHS site is a spatial area where rural communities carry out productive practices and have a strong dependence on natural resources. At the same time, the continuation of tradition determines that the livelihood activities in this space are undertaken in a non-predatory manner within the carrying capacity of the natural resources. Therefore, within the current differential management and control of PAs, IAHS sites are General Control Areas in principle, as opposed to being Strict Control Areas. Human activities are restricted in such a management zone; however, reasonable livelihood activities compatible with conservation goals are permitted.
According to the zoning rules and management objectives of the proposed China PA system, all or part of the space of a (potential) IAHS site may become part of a PA as the General Control Area, such as in the Qianjiangyuan, Wuyishan national park pilot, and Huanglianshan National Nature Reserve affiliated with Hani terrace wetland (Fig. 2). The Running Water Fish Cultural System in Kaihua of Zhejiang Province was designated as a National Important Agricultural Heritage System (NIAHS) in 2020. People there have taken great advantage of the running water from the mountain spring which originated from subtropical evergreen forest, channelling the flow to artificial ponds near their homes for fish culture. In Wuyishan area, tea cultivation dates back to the 16th century, when farmers cut terraces into the slopes and built a system of dykes and drains for tea trees. Nowadays, farmers both inside and adjacent to the Wuyishan National Park pilot pay attention to the water and soil conservation of the tea orchards, maintaining forest on the hill top, halfway up, and at the foot of the mountain, and avoiding the steep slope. With the distribution area of the Hani rice terraces, different titles were designated, including GIAHS in 2010 and then World Heritage in 2013, as well as national wetland park and nature reserves. This site is a typical manifestation of multi-functional agricultural land use which supports the local livelihood, maintains special culture and conserves biodiversity.
Fig. 2 Examples of IAHS in or adjacent to a PA. (a) Running Water Fishing Culture System in Qianjiangyuan, (b) Tea plantation in Wuyishan, (c) Spatial relation between the GIAHS sites and the PAs.
Meanwhile, as a type of world heritage, the GIAHS title conferred by an international organisation will be retained during and after the optimisation of the PA system for the national parks, nature reserves and nature parks. These two spatial distribution possibilities together indicate that IAHS sites have the potential to contribute to PA network conservation, by applying conservation-compatible resource use and land management for the benefit of conservation at both the ecological level (as part of or spatial extension of PAs) (Perz, 2004) and the landscape level (as corridors and stepping stones between PAs) (Sanderson et al., 2003).

3.2 Management objectives

The core management objective of IAHS sites is to achieve comprehensive community development through the protection of rural landscapes, sustainable use of resources, and conservation of rural culture and biodiversity. The sustainable utilisation of resources is a systematic reflection of the long-term co-evolution and mutual adaptation between people and their environment (Min, 2006). As a result, conserving resource management is of great importance to the harmonious relationship between man and land, and the inheritance of traditional knowledge, technology and cultural systems. Specifically, the GIAHS programme itself was initiated on the basis of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture to establish a global system for the protection of agricultural landscapes, biodiversity, knowledge and cultures, so that these agricultural systems could survive as demonstrations of sustainable management (Min et al.,2007).
It is found that the IAHS management objectives do not violate the PA management objectives. On the one hand, the sustainable use of natural resources as an IAHS management objective will not affect the protection of natural ecosystem attributes, landscape characteristics or the various values carried by national parks, nature reserves and nature parks. On the other hand, community participation and cultural inheritance also contribute to PA management by applying traditional ecological knowledge to ecological monitoring, disaster risk reduction, ecological restoration, etc.

4 Network conservation by integrating IAHS into the PA system

4.1 Manifestation of the IAHS concept in PA management

The current zoning system for PAs in China, as defined in the Guidance, include the General Control Areas and Strict Control Areas. However, as PAs such as national parks have multiple management objectives, the General Control Area can actually be delineated into different management zones, and one of them is usually called the Traditional Utilisation Zone (TUZ) as practiced in the planning of many national park pilots. The TUZ is regarded as an area where local rural communities reside and maintain their livelihood. Three types of activities, although not the only ones, are permitted in the TUZ. First, traditional production, energy use and other activities which are critical for livelihood and conservation-compatible are allowed; second, nature and cultural conservation practices, such as ecological monitoring and social surveys of indigenous cultures, are encouraged; and third, the provision of cultural services, including environmental education and eco-tourism, are permitted as income-generating activities for the local communities and promoting the well-being of the public (Zhou et al.,2017). Therefore, the realisation and management of TUZ recognise rural land tenure and people’s dependence on natural resources, and they also seize the opportunity of making use of traditional knowledge, culture and soil and water management technology, which are all the critical elements of IAHS, for the biodiversity and ecological integrity of the national park and other PAs (Fig. 3).
Fig. 3 Matching the IAHS concept with permitted activities in TUZ
In the practice of nature conservation around the world, making community livelihoods and conservation practices compatible, either for a single PA or for regional landscape conservation, is becoming a mainstream choice. Some traditional production and life styles in or around some national parks have proven to have only limited negative, or even positive, impacts on the natural ecosystem. We can take the crested ibis-rice field symbiosis system in Sado Island of Japan as an example. The local complex agro-ecosystem functioning with a synergy of rice fields and crested ibis has efficiently protected biodiversity and created famous eco-friendly products, thus achieving a win-win situation of community development and nature conservation in the Toki Forest Park (Wang et al., 2012).
Similarly, various land use systems as well as agricultural landscapes formed by long-term practices in many Chinese national park pilots can be taken as typical Agricultural Heritage Systems, such as the nomadic system in Sanjiangyuan, the under-forest tea planting system in Wuyishan, the running water aquaculture in Qianjiangyuan, and others. IAHS management experience has confirmed that as the interface of the human-nature system, rural communities with their resource management systems are capable of the rational use of natural resources, and contribute to nature conservation as judged by the conservation outcomes, if not on purpose. From this point of view, PA management can also learn from the IAHS concept to promote the effective use of resources by rural communities. It is helpful to avoid the disruption of social-ecological stability by cutting off the reasonable livelihood activities of the communities, which usually intensifies the PA-people contradiction and causes the community’s non-cooperation or even active boycotting (Gao et al.,2017). Three aspects embedded in IAHS should be manifested in national park management.
First of all, traditional technologies that promote the rational use of resources should be respected and maintained. For example, nomadism helps to maintain grassland renewal, thinning in forestry promotes biodiversity and ecosystem renewal, and many agro-forestry, animal husbandry and aquaculture systems have very good self-organising and regulating capabilities which resemble natural systems.
Second, traditional but effective non-official regulations for resource use should be adopted. For example, some villages have rules and regulations on the allocation of water resources and forest resources, and conflict resolution mechanisms for resource utilisation, that are supplementary to the official rules of resource management.
Third, traditional cultures and ideologies should be understood. This is especially important because the belief systems and the worldviews sometimes actively lead to conservation practices outside of resource use management. For example, the worship of natural elements can urge people to consciously protect animals and maintain ecosystems such as mountains and wetlands by establishing Indigenous Peoples’ and Community Conserved Territories and Areas (ICCAs), such as sacred mountains, sacred lakes and fengshui forests, which increases the connectedness of official PAs worldwide.

4.2 Implementation of IAHS management strategies in PA management

The Guidance defines the National Park zoning system as a way to protect and sustainably use natural resources, which indicates the necessity and feasibility of conservation-compatible production and enterprises for rural community development in the Traditional Utilisation Zone (TUZ). Thus, IAHS management experience provides useful suggestions for the pathways of regulating traditional livelihood activities under conservation rules.
The TUZ in the National Park can be regarded as a social-ecological system that integrates the characteristics of tangible and intangible values, such as ecology, environment, landscape, culture and technology. This system maintains the normal functioning through its own internal circulation mechanism, and provides human beings with an agricultural system that includes a variety of ecosystem services, such as food, fruit, medicine, timber, ornamentals, environmental protection and so on. In this way, it is of great significance to maintain human food security, livelihood security and sustainable development of agriculture. With similar management objectives, the integrated and adaptive management of IAHS can contribute to community development in the National Park (He et al., 2020).
The integrated conservation in TUZ refers to bringing the agricultural landscape, ecological environment, culture and land use of the community into the scope of protection.
For the agricultural landscape, national park management should work with local governments to develop protection planning that considers traditional settlement landscapes and productive landscapes, such as cultivation landscape, farming landscape, irrigation ditches, thus ensuring that the TUZ is managed according to the requirements and principles of the overall landscape management of the National Park.
For cultural conservation, the National Park authority should assist in the investigation of oral history, traditional songs, traditional festivals and intangible cultural heritage; promote, inherit and restore traditional folklore activities; and investigate and record cultural heritage with national representativeness and the concept of nature conservation.
For biodiversity conservation, the National Park authority should focus on the investigation and rescue of wild animal and plant germplasm resources, crop variety resources and livestock variety resources; establish eco-agricultural models such as field management, under-forest breeding, and intercropping; and establish a human-animal conflict prevention and compensation mechanism.
The adaptive management of the TUZ also can mimic the dynamic protection of IAHS because of the on-going human-nature relationship in the agricultural system of TUZ. According to the principle of dynamic conservation, IAHS management is grounded in the local resource endowment and the traditional ways of production and lifestyle. These may be the keys for possible livelihood transformation based on the optimisation and innovation of resource use driven by policies and markets, such as introducing environment-friendly industries of eco-tourism and eco-agriculture. Matching resource rarity and quality to prominent brands is a common way to seek a balance between resource conservation and utilisation (Sun et al., 2011). The demand for achieving this balance is even pressing in National Parks, where prioritised conservation targets ask for innovation and efficiency in resource use to link conservation to development. The good thing is that the adaptation of IAHS management to National Parks is promising in the following ways.
Firstly, to establish a value-added mechanism for the products from National Parks. The ecological products in national parks have a significant rarity and brand effect. Therefore, it is reasonable to develop low-yield, high value-added and eco-friendly industries to transform the conservation-compatible behaviour of community residents into economic value, thus forming an effective incentive mechanism for conservation. For example, beekeeping in Giant Panda National Park Pilot is of great ecological value, and some innovative practices have been developed in the local community of TUZ to set up a conservation-compatible income generating industry.
Secondly, to promote livelihood diversification of national park communities. Based on the resource characteristics and environmental conditions, more non-consumptive activities can be developed to generate income, including eco-tourism services, farming experiences, rural handicrafts and others. On the one hand, eco-tourism planning and cultural product research and development are possible ways to transform cultural value into economic value while strengthening the function of environmental education; on the other hand, they can improve the professional skills and management ability of community residents.
Thirdly, to construct a collaborative management model with multi-party participation. National park management is a complex task with many stakeholders. It is necessary to identify stakeholders according to the management objectives, and defining their responsibilities, liabilities, and interests is necessary for a fair benefit-sharing mechanism to mature. Narrowing the focus down to community resource management, different stakeholders may take on various roles to contribute. Park authority can entrust academic groups to investigate various types of resources and establish community resource databases and local cultural and historical records; Non-governmental organizations can carry out community capacity-building and conservation steward programmes; Social enterprises can help integrate social resources and promote community development with the help of funds and market channels. For example, an ecological guard policy has been implemented in the Sanjiangyuan National Park Pilot area, and the Qilian Mountain National Park Pilot is exploring a conservation steward programme.

4.3 Repositioning IAHS to the PA system for a conservation network of China

Establishing a PA system with national parks as the main body and reconstructing the PA institutions based on management objectives is expected to represent a historical change in the cause of nature conservation in China. The PA system is being planned as a comprehensive network with PAs of different protection levels, management standards and spatial scales. The management objectives of national parks, nature reserves and nature parks are clear and different, complementing one another in terms of management strategies and opportunities for resource use to achieve the goal of nature conservation.
The Guidance makes it clear that the National Park Service exercises the unified management responsibility of national parks and the other two types of PAs. However, based on the previous analysis of rural land use’s role in conservation, it is worth repositioning IAHS and similar agricultural systems to the PA system, in terms of their spatial connectivity to the current PAs, direct provisioning of semi-natural to natural habitats and active conservation behaviours to nature conservation, and the traditional knowledge of resource use and management which are compatible with conservation. However, when it comes to the scope of the PA system which focuses mainly on biodiversity and ecosystem protection, IAHS as a complex system with a typical cultural imprint and human intervention to all or part of the IAHS site does not entirely fit the PA definition. Meanwhile, the declaration, monitoring and management of IAHS currently lay on the shoulders of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, thus, coordination with the National Park Management Bureau will directly affect the role of the IAHS in the PA system.
As for the IAHS’s multiple values, from the perspective of the constituent elements and management experience of IAHS, traditional agricultural systems are based on natural resources first and foremost. It is the local people who make use of natural resources to form a sustainable production mode and bring in landscape and cultural diversity. Given this human-nature interaction, IAHS sites are concrete spatial areas for carrying out landscape protection and the sustainable utilisation of natural resources, theoretically matching the PA typology according to the intensity of resource utilisation and human disturbance in the PA system of IUCN, such as the PAs of category V and VI.
As for the IAHS institutional issues, there are similarities between IAHS management and World Cultural Heritage management. The management agency of World Natural Heritage and mixed heritages has already been transferred to the National Forestry and Grassland Administration, Ministry of Natural Resources, but the declaration and management of World Cultural Heritage is still in the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Similarly, as the designation of IAHS prioritises farming culture and protects multi-functional traditional agricultural ecosystems regardless of IAHS’s role in forming the landscape conservation network, they are not yet entering the scope of the National Park Service. Therefore, it is necessary to reconsider IAHS’ role in nature conservation in the first step, and to explore integrated natural and cultural conservation in the future.
Globally, there is not much land that has not been affected by human beings or that is left for enclosed PAs; however, rural land with conservation-compatible land use is becoming valuable space for biodiversity conservation (Western et al., 2020). Currently, the IAHS site, as concrete physical space that is already conservation-compatible or conservation-focused (such as Hani Terrace designated as Wetland Park), is just contributing to the reduction of fragmentation and isolation of the PAs under the concept of other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs) in the Aichi Target 11. To further facilitate the effect of IAHS in ecological network conservation, both spatial planning and conservation management should take action (Fig. 4).
Spatially, some IAHS sites, or parts of them, can be integrated with other types of PAs adjacent to them to form General Control Areas such as in national parks, and they could then be managed as a TUZ (Fig. 4b, 4c). It would be necessary, however, to determine whether managing them as PA’s TUZ matches the ecological conservation targets for ecological integrity, and to avoid causing inconvenience by including villages and towns, basic farmland, industrial bases and so on in the PAs. Currently, the running water fish cultural system is a part of the Qianjiangyuan National Park pilot, and the cultural system ofLentinus edodes of the Baishanzu National Park pilot. The Shanlan upland rice planting system in Qiongzhong is adjacent to the Hainan Tropical Forest National Park pilot. In addition, the nomadic system on the Tibetan Plateau also has the potential to be a part of or to intersect with the Sanjiangyua or Qilianshan National Park pilot, as well as the Oolong and black tea planting system of Wuyishan.
Fig. 4 Spatial planning of IAHS from the perspective of network conservation along scales
Some of the IAHS sites can exist alone in the form of nature parks and be managed according to the management objectives of the General Control Area (Fig. 4a). Hani rice terrace system has that potential. Other IAHS sites may not fit into current PA categories, but they (or portions of them) can be valuable by forming an ecological corridor, seasonal or even permanent habitat, and thus it is worth planning to use them as important PA supplementary areas on the landscape scale (Fig. 4d).
In terms of management, it is necessary to set up coordination mechanisms between agricultural sectors and natural resources/ecological conservation sectors to obtain agreement on common issues in the spatial and functional management of current and potential IAHS. Agricultural sectors and natural resource management sectors have cooperated well in the field of agricultural land use regulation and product development concerning the green and ecological approach of agricultural development. Recently they also worked together to update the lists of national key protected wild plants and animals by evaluating their conservation and utilisation values together. Cooperation also exists between agricultural sectors and ecological conservation sectors, mainly focusing on pollution monitoring and control in rural land. However, cooperation usually aims to solve certain issues, but what is lacking is a more systematic coordination in macro policy design and land management to balance agricultural production and ecological conservation.
It should also be noted that risks do exist when an IAHS is wholly or partially categorised as a type of PA. The IAHS
is a sustainable resource use area with cultural values, usually bearing less value from the perspective of nature conservation in terms of the representativeness of ecosystems, biodiversity and landscapes, but critical to rural livelihood and regional development. One risk is that the dilemma of conservation and development might be amplified in such areas. On one hand, if the local resource management system is not well understood and strict conservation measures are not taken, then it is unfair to the local people for reasonable development. On the other hand, IAHS is subject to both resources over-exploitation if too much attention is paid to its productive function, and land abandonment affected by regional economic development. Therefore, under the current PA system, it is necessary to align the measures for the protection and management of the IAHS with the management objectives of national parks, nature reserves and nature parks to avoid the conflicts from inappropriate demarcation of production, living and ecological spaces at multiple scales.

5 Conclusions

With continuous progress in the construction of a PA system in China, many traditional living spaces and affiliated land uses and traditional production modes are facing the risk of continuous compression and loss. Considering network conservation that combines PAs and adjacent land use and management, conservation-compatible land use of rural residents in and around PAs has the potential to contribute to the conservation of biodiversity and ecological integrity, based on people’s resource use and cultural inheritance. Besides, a working landscape maintained by rural people also provides opportunities for livelihood and development if combined with conservation. IAHS is a good way to coordinate resource conservation and traditional production and life. Therefore, in terms of community development and management, PAs can learn from the integrated and adaptive management of IAHS. The PA system should also consider IAHS’s role and function, and optimise the current IAHS management for the overall conservation network spatial planning and management institutions in coordinating natural and cultural conservation.
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