Resource Economy

Ecological Benefit Evaluation of Agricultural Heritage System Conservation—A Case Study of the Qingtian Rice-Fish Culture System

  • WANG Bin , 1 ,
  • SUN Yehong 2 ,
  • JIAO Wenjun , 3, *
  • 1. Research Institute of Subtropical Forestry, Chinese Academy of Forestry, Hangzhou 311400, China
  • 2. Tourism College of Beijing Union University, Beijing 100101, China
  • 3. Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China
*JIAO Wenjun, E-mail:

WANG Bin, E-mail:

Received date: 2021-01-22

  Accepted date: 2021-04-22

  Online published: 2021-09-30

Supported by

The Research Institute of Subtropical Forestry of Chinese Academy of Forestry(RISFZ-2016-15)

The National Natural Science Foundation of China(41801204)


In order to better understand the developmental conditions and trends of the biodiversity at agricultural heritage sites, the structure and function of the ecosystem and ecological environment in Qingtian Rice-Fish Culture System is examined in the decade since the implementation of the GIAHS project. Through the collection of historical data and sample-plot survey, this study collates the data from 2005 to 2013 related to the heritage site to evaluate the ecological benefit of the Agricultural Heritage System conservation. The results show that: (1) Since the implementation of heritage conservation, the variety of traditional rice grown at the heritage sites basically remains stable, the varieties of other crops basically remain unchanged and the varieties of fruit trees and medicinal plants have developed at faster rates. As the ecological environment at the heritage sites gradually improved, the species and richness of the biodiversity in the ecosystem have increased, especially the increasing growth of egrets and boars. (2) From 2005 to 2013 in the Fangshan Town of Qingtian County, the ecosystem areas identified as river, forest, urban and bare land have increased. The increased area of the urban ecosystem is the largest one of them, which is up to 20.30 ha; while the area of the forest ecosystem has increased to 7.29 ha. The areas of wetland, reservoir, farmland and grassland have been reduced, and the area of grassland ecosystem has been reduced the most with a reduction of 28.87 ha. From the changes in the values of the ecosystem services of different ecosystem types, the values of forest ecosystem services have achieved the most growth, reaching up to 92000 yuan yr-1 and the growth of the river and bare land ecosystem service values are not obvious. (3) Over nearly a decade, the soil nutrients and the water quality of rice fields at the heritage site have not obviously changed and the plant diseases and insect pests in the rice fields have not been aggravated. The monitoring indexes are far better than the standard values. With the great support of the local government, the production and living conditions and the living environments of farmers in the villages of the heritage sites have been greatly improved through road reconstruction, water improvement, toilet enhancements and the greening, brightness and beautification of the villages.

Cite this article

WANG Bin , SUN Yehong , JIAO Wenjun . Ecological Benefit Evaluation of Agricultural Heritage System Conservation—A Case Study of the Qingtian Rice-Fish Culture System[J]. Journal of Resources and Ecology, 2021 , 12(4) : 489 -497 . DOI: 10.5814/j.issn.1674-764x.2021.04.007

1 Introduction

The overall goal of the GIAHS initiative is to identify and safeguard Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems and their associated landscapes, agricultural biodiversity, knowledge systems and cultures. Since 2005, FAO has designated 62 systems in 22 countries as GIAHS sites. The Qingtian Rice-Fish Culture System became the pilot site of GIAHS preservation in 2005, making it the first one in China and part of the first batch in the world (Koohafkan, 2009; Li et al., 2012). In Qingtian County, the tradition of raising fish in paddy fields has a history of more than 1300 years (Wu and Zhou, 2014). By means of “feeding fish with insects and weeds-fertilizing field with fish manures” (Sun and Guan, 2012), the Rice-Fish Culture System itself can maintain the normal circulation without the use of any chemical fertilizers or pesticides, so as to ensure the ecological balance of the farmland. This system is a typical ecological agricultural production mode (Min, 2006). At the same time, it also maintains a rich agricultural biodiversity, including local varieties of rice and fish species endemic to Qingtian. The long history of rice and fish cultivation also gave birth to the splendid culture of rice and fish, such as the fish-lantern (Fang et al., 2007), a unique kind of folk dance, which is just the combination of fish and folk art in Qingtian.
The goals of this study are to: 1) determine and understand the developmental status and trends of the ecosystem structure and function, biodiversity and ecological environment in the agricultural heritage site of Qingtian Rice-Fish Culture System since the implementation of the GIAHS project 10 years earlier (in 2005); 2) analyze the key problems of biodiversity conservation in the agricultural heritage site and their risk factors; 3) clarify the focus and direction of the heritage protection work; 4) establish a monitoring and warning system for the biological species resources; 5) put forward feasible countermeasures and suggestions for protection; and 6) improve the overall ability to manage the agricultural heritage protection work in Qingtian (Min et al., 2011). In pursuit of these goals, the ecological benefit assessment of Agricultural Heritage System conservation was carried out on the Rice-Fish Culture System in 2016.

2 Materials and methods

2.1 Study site

Qingtian County (Fig. 1), where the Rice-Fish Culture System is located, is in the central and southern Zhejiang Province (27°56°‒28°29°N, 119°41°‒120°26°E), as well as the middle and lower reaches of the Oujiang River, which is where the pilot site of the GIAHS Rice-Fish Culture System selected by the FAO, UNDP and GEF in 2005 is located. The climate is subtropical monsoon with a mean annual air temperature of 17 ℃‒18 ℃ and a mean annual precipitation of 1432 mm. The annual average frost-free season lasts for 279 days (Xie et al.,2010; Xie et al., 2011). The geologic structure of Qingtian County belongs to the Kuocang Mountain, which is the stretch of Xianxia Mountain and Donggong Mountain. The terrain slopes from northwest and southwest to southeast. Qingtian County has a number of small basins and it is strongly cut by streams and rivers. It is distributed as a belt along the quaternary strata of the river, shaping the valley terrain.
Fig. 1 Location of the Qingtian Rice-Fish Culture System
The Rice-Fish Culture System in this part of China has a long history (Wang, 1997; You, 2006). In this system, the fish is an indigenous red-colored common carp species (especially Oujiang color common carp, Cyprinus carpio var. color) with high genetic diversity, which originated from streams and is now evolving naturally in the rice fields (Wang and Li, 2004; Wang et al., 2006). However, the rice varieties are high yielding hybrid rice varieties that were bred just in recent decades. The fish live in the retained water all around a year even after rice is harvested. Just like in rice monoculture, rice in the Rice-Fish Culture System is planted in May and harvested in October (Xie et al., 2011).
The core conservation area of Qingtian Rice-Fish Culture System is in Longxian Village of Fangshan Town, which is located in a southeastern valley of Qingtian County, and only 40 minutes by bus from the County center. Covering 4.6 km2, Longxian Village has a registered population of 869. The villagers raise fish in all the sites in the village with water, such as paddy fields, drains, ditches, pools and ponds, regardless of their locations and depths. After the GIAHS designation, Longxian Village became the favored tourist destination for visitors to the Rice-Fish Culture System (Jiao et al., 2016).

2.2 Methods

2.2.1 Evaluation indicator system

The starting year is taken as the year of 2005, when the system was awarded the globally important agricultural heritage designation, and the subsequent about 10 years (until 2015) is taken as the assessment period. The evaluation objects include farmland, forests, wetlands, rivers, reservoirs, grassland, urban and bare land within the heritage area. The evaluation contents include agricultural biodiversity and its changes, relevant biodiversity, ecosystem structure and function, quality of the paddy field’s ecological environment, and quality of the rural ecological environment. As a new heritage type, the related research on the ecological benefit evaluation of Agricultural Heritage Systems in general is still in the exploratory stage. Considering the characteristics of Agricultural Heritage Systems and the core elements of heritage conservation, as well as the assessment methods for different ecosystem services, this study proposed an index system for the ecological benefit evaluation of Qingtian Rice-Fish Culture System (Table 1).
Table 1 The ecological benefit evaluation indicator system
Level 1 Level 2
Agricultural biodiversity Rice varieties
Fish varieties
Other crop varieties
Livestock and poultry varieties
Economic fruits
Medicinal plants
Relevant biodiversity Biological varieties in paddy fields
Biological varieties in residential areas
Biological varieties in forest lands
Other wild animals
Ecosystem structure and function Ecosystem types
Ecosystem structure
Ecosystem services
quality of paddy fields
Soil nutrients
Water quality
Diseases and insect pests
Ecological environment quality of the rural area Rural landscape
Farmland landscape
Water environment
Through historical data collection and a sample-plot survey, the relevant data from 2005 to 2015 were collected to assess the dynamic changes and driving factors of heritage sites in the past ten years, focusing on assessing the dynamic changes of the ecosystem structure and function of the core area and area of expanding heritage conservation. The biodiversity of the habitat ecosystems is studied by the investigation of typical vegetation community sample plots. Through the evaluation of biodiversity, the adaptive measures for biodiversity conservation and the sustainable use of heritage sites are put forward to encourage local governments to adopt reasonable policies and management measures to better preserve the functions of the ecosystem.

2.2.2 Evaluation of ecosystem services

We take the Longxian Village and Fangshan Town as the core area and heritage conservation expanding area respectively. The first step of evaluation of ecosystem services is constructing the parameter for calculating ecological service values according to the different ecosystem types in the heritage site. These values were obtained by referring to the table of ecosystem service values per unit area in different terrestrial ecosystems of China, which was proposed by Xie Gaodi in 2008 through a questionnaire survey of more than 200 ecological scholars (Table 2) (Xie et al., 2008). We used this table to calculate the ecological service functions of supply, regulation and support in different ecosystem types, as well as their changes in 2005 and 2013.
Table 2 Unit area ecosystem service values of different ecosystems (Unit: yuan ha-1 yr-1)
Level 1 Level 2 Grassland River Farmland Forest Reservoir Wetland Desert
Provisioning services Food production 193.11 238.02 449.10 148.20 238.02 161.68 8.98
Material production 161.68 157.19 175.15 1338.32 157.19 107.78 17.96
Regulating services Gas regulation 673.65 229.04 323.35 1940.11 229.04 1082.33 26.95
Climate regulation 700.60 925.15 435.63 1827.84 925.15 6085.31 58.38
Water temperature regulation 682.63 8429.61 345.81 1836.82 8429.61 6035.90 31.44
Waste disposal 592.81 6669.14 624.25 772.45 6669.14 6467.04 116.77
Supporting services Soil conservation 1005.98 184.13 660.18 1805.38 184.13 893.71 76.35
Maintain biodiversity 839.82 1540.41 458.08 2025.44 1540.41 1657.18 179.64
Landscape 390.72 1994.00 76.35 934.13 1994.00 2106.28 107.78

3 Results

3.1 Biodiversity

3.1.1 Rice and fish varieties

In Qingtian County, rice is the dominant crop and often cultivated only once a year. According to research data from 2006, six traditional rice varieties were still retained, and 28 traditional rice varieties have disappeared from Qingtian Rice-Fish Culture System; and since the heritage protection was launched, the six traditional rice varieties are still retained in the site (Zhang et al.,2016). A preliminary investigation shows that the population of fish varieties originally raised in Qingtian is dramatically shrinking, and has even completely disappeared in some counties. Instead, there are increasing numbers of newly bred varieties, so thegenetic diversity is relatively low.

3.1.2 Other agricultural varieties

Other crop and livestock & poultry varieties have basically remained the same. Livestock and poultry varieties in Qingtian County mainly include pig, cattle, sheep, chicken, duck, and others, most of which are introduced species. The fruit production has developed rapidly due to the adjustment of the agricultural industrial structure in recent years, and mainly includes more than 20 species such as waxberry, orange, peach, pear, loquat, etc. The variety and area of medicinal plants has shown an increasing trend annually during these years. The woody medicinal plants developed in Qingtian County in recent years mainly include: Mangnolia officinalis, Taxus chinensis, Eucommia ulmoides, Acanthopanax gracilistylus, Chimonanthus salicifolius and Ginkgo biloba; the herbal medicinal plants mainly include: Trichosanthes kirilowii, Fritillaria thunbergii, Corydalis yanhusuo, Scrophularia ningpoensis, Paeonia lactiflora, Lonicera japonica, Lilium brownie, Dendrobium officinale, Crocus sativus, Platycodon grandiflorus, Peucedanum praeruptorum, Pseudostellaria heterophylla, Polygonatum odoratum, Houttuynia cordata, and others.

3.1.3 Relevant biodiversity

By conducting surveys in different types of farmland boundaries, a total of more than 30 species of plants were discovered, which belong to 13 families and 20 genera, and the Gramineae which has five species holds the most. The species in the residential areas mainly include Metasequoia glyptostroboides, Ginkgo biloba, Taxodium ascendens, Ulmus pumila, Melia azedarach, Paulownia fortunei, Cinnamomum camphora, Magnolia grandiflora, Toona sinensis, Ilex chinensis, Pseudolarix amabilis, Osmanthus fragrans, Trachycarpus fortune, and others. The species in forest lands include Castanopsis eyrei and Schima superb as the constructive plants, and Quercus acutissima, Castanea mollissima, Castanopsis fargesii, Phoebe zhennan and Camellia plants as the associated species. According to an investigation by the Qingtian Forestry Bureau, 29 families, 75 genera and 294 species of terrestrial vertebrates have been recorded within the territory of the county. Five of these species are known as the first-grade state protected animals, which are Neofelis nebulosa, Muntiacus crinifrons, Tragopan caboti, Syrmaticus ellioti and Pelochelys cantorii. Comparing data over the past 10 years, the relevant biodiversity showed no obvious change.

3.2 Ecosystem structure and service change

3.2.1 Ecosystem structure change

According to the survey data of land use changes in Fangshan Town in 2013, the forest ecological system occupies the largest area, followed by the farmland ecosystem, while the wetland area is the smallest (Table 3).
Table 3 The areas of different ecosystems in Fangshan town and Longxian village (Unit: ha)
Ecosystem types Fangshan Town Longxian Village
2005 2013 Change 2005 2013 Change
Farmland 863.79 860.78 -3.01 78.13 78.74 0.61
Forest 2755.75 2763.03 7.28 371.26 372.15 0.89
Wetland 2.51 2.47 -0.04 0 0 0
River 25.32 25.50 0.18 1.19 1.19 0
Reservoir 9.56 9.53 -0.03 0 0 0
Grassland 317.02 288.15 -28.87 4.56 0.35 -4.21
Bare land 11.30 15.49 4.19 0 0 0
Urban 116.47 136.76 20.29 9.14 11.85 2.71
Total 4101.71 4101.71 0 464.28 464.28 0
From 2005 to 2013, the ecosystem areas of river, forest, urban and bare land increased, in which the urban ecosystem area increased the most, reaching 20.30 ha. This increase shows the rapid speed of urbanization in the 10-year period. Under the circumstances of a relatively high coverage rate of forest and precious land resources, the area of forest ecosystem still increased by 7.29 ha, which indicates that the basis of ecological environmental protection in the heritage site is relatively strong. The area of the bare land ecosystem increased by 4.20 ha, which may be associated with the decrease of the rural labor force and the abandonment of farmlands during the 10 years.
From 2005 to 2013, the ecosystem areas of wetland, reservoir, farmland and grassland each decreased, in which the grassland area decreased the most, reaching 28.87 ha, which is probably due to the urbanization mentioned in the above analysis. Largely due to the discontinuation of farming and letting land go out of cultivation, the area of the farmland ecosystem decreased by 3.01 ha. According to our investigation, most farmers in the heritage site chose to cultivate the land near their house and gradually abandoned the more remote land areas. The areas of wetland and reservoir did not decrease very much over the 10 years.
In Longxian Village, which is the core area of Rice-Fish Culture System protection in Qingtian, the grassland ecosystem area decreased by 4.21 ha, the urban ecosystem area increased by 2.71 ha, the farmland ecosystem area increased by 0.61 ha, and the forest ecosystem area increased by 0.89 ha in the recent 10 years. Among the area changes of different ecosystem types in Longxian Village, the construction area increased rapidly, which is consistent with our field investigation. A major cause of this increase is that there are many overseas Chinese in Longxian Village, and they like to build houses in their hometown when they have a certain economic basis.

3.2.2 Ecosystem service changes

The total value of ecosystem services in Fangshan Town was reduced from 4030.70×10 4 yuan yr-1 in 2005 to 4024.15 ×10 4yuan yr-1 in 2013 (Table 4). The reduction of ecosystem services may have largely been caused by the increase of the urban area. Judging from the changes in the service values of the different ecosystem types, the service value of forest ecosystem increased the most, reaching 92000 yuan yr-1, while river and bare land ecosystems increased slightly; and grassland, farmland, reservoir and wetland ecosystems showed a declining trend.
The value of ecosystem services in Longxian Village decreased by 8900 yuan yr-1, with the service functions of both the farmland ecosystem and forest ecosystem increased, indicating that the heritage conservation in Longxian Village had made some achievements in the 10 years period.
Table 4 The ecosystem service values of different ecosystems in Fangshan Town and Longxian Village (Unit: 104yuan yr-1)
Ecosystem types Fangshan Town Longxian Village
2005 2013 Change 2005 2013 Change
Farmland 306.46 305.39 -1.07 27.72 27.93 0.21
Forest 3480.20 3489.35 9.15 468.90 469.97 1.07
Wetland 6.18 6.08 -0.10 0 0 0
River 51.58 51.94 0.36 2.43 2.43 0
Reservoir 19.47 19.40 -0.07 0 0 0
Grassland 166.15 151.02 -15.13 2.39 0.18 -2.21
Bare land* 0.71 0.97 0.26 0 0 0
Total 4030.70 4024.15 -6.55 501.40 500.51 -0.89

Note:*The unit area ecosystem service value of the bare land in this research is equal to the desert in Table 2.

3.3 Ecological environment quality of the paddy field

3.3.1 Soil nutrients

In the Rice-Fish Culture System, fishes can absorb organic matter in the paddy fields through swallowing and digesting various materials, and their excreta can transform 30% to 40% of the organic matter into fertilizer. This conversion increases the organic matter content and nutrients in the paddy fields, so as to achieve the purpose of fertilizing the soil. By means of raising fishes in the paddy fields, the movements of the fishes constantly turn over the soil so as to enlarge the soil porosity and increase the oxygen level, which is also helpful for accelerating the decomposition of organic matter (Wang et al., 2006; Sun et al., 2008). The soil test report shows that the paddy soil in this area is slightly acidic with high organic matter content, which is especially suitable for planting rice (Table 5).
Table 5 The test report of soil quality in paddy fields in Longxian Village
Items Limit value Result Decision
pH - 5.92 -
TP (%) - 0.026 -
Available P (mg L-1) - 12.5 -
Available K (mg L-1) - 92.5 -
TN (%) - 0.133 -
SOM (%) - 3.41 -
DDT (mg kg-1) ≤0.50 6.67×10-3 Up to standard
HCH (mg kg-1) ≤0.50 <1.0×10-5 Up to standard
Pb (mg kg-1) ≤250 32 Up to standard
As (mg kg-1) ≤30 4.04 Up to standard
Hg (mg kg-1) ≤0.30 0.08 Up to standard
Cr (mg kg-1) ≤250 <30 Up to standard
Cd (mg kg-1) ≤0.30 <0.2 Up to standard
Cu (mg kg-1) ≤50 19 Up to standard

Note: The data in Table 5 came from “Environmental monitoring report of Longxian Village, Fangshan Township, Qingtian County in 2013”.

3.3.2 Water quality

In the Rice-Fish Culture System, the swimming of fish can increase the dissolved oxygen in the water, so as to improve the water quality. The main ways by which water quality are improved include increasing the amount dissolved oxygen and reducing the reducing agents such as H2S, Fe2+, etc.; mineralizing the material medium and continuing to release energy; and the movement of fish could make the nutrients more concentrated on the roots of rice (Sun et al., 2008).
According to the results of an investigation published in PNAS and conducted by Zhejiang University and South China Agricultural University on Longxian Village of Qingtian County, although the rice yields in the Rice-Fish Culture System mode and rice monoculture system mode are basically the same, the amount of pesticide used by the Rice-Fish Culture System is less than that of the rice monoculture system by 68%, and the amount of chemical fertilizer used by the Rice-Fish Culture System is less than that of the rice monoculture system by 24%, both of which contribute greatly to the protection of water quality in the rice fields in the heritage site (Xie et al.,2011).
The water sample test report shows that the water quality of the Rice-Fish Culture System is better than that of the general paddy fields (Table 6). Good soil and water conditions are an important guarantee for the quality of Qingtian fish. According to the inspection report on the paddy field fish, none of the hazardous substances, such as inorganic arsenic, lead, cadmium, total mercury, chromium, oxytetracycline or HCH, were detected in the Qingtian fish.
Table 6 The test report of water quality of the paddy fields
Items Limit value Result Decision
Anionic surface active agent (mg L-1) ≤5 Not detected (<0.05) Up to standard
pH 5.5-8.5 8.17 Up to standard
Total salt content (mg L-1) ≤1000 (Non-saline land area) 21 Up to standard
≤2000 (Saline land area) Up to standard
Chloride (mg L-1) ≤350 2.7 Up to standard
Sulfide (mg L-1) ≤1 Not detected (<0.005) Up to standard
Total Hg (mg L-1) ≤0.001 Not detected (<0.0001) Up to standard
Cr (mg L-1) ≤0.01 Not detected (<0.0001) Up to standard
Total arsenic (mg L-1) ≤0.05 Not detected (<0.007) Up to standard
Chromium (hexavalent) (mg L-1) ≤0.1 Not detected (<0.004) Up to standard
Cu (mg L-1) ≤0.5 Not detected (<0.01) Up to standard
Zn (mg L-1) ≤2 Not detected (<0.006) Up to standard
Se (mg L-1) ≤0.02 Not detected (<0.00025) Up to standard
Fluoride (mg L-1) ≤2 (General area) Not detected (<0.05) Up to standard
≤3 (High fluorine area)
Cyanide (mg L-1) ≤0.5 Not detected (<0.25) Up to standard
Total phosphorus (mg L-1) - Not detected (<0.01) Up to standard

Note: The data in Table 6 came from “Test report of farmland irrigation water sample submitted by the Tianyu Professional Cooperative of Xiaozhoushan in Qingtian County in 2013”.

3.3.3 Plant diseases and insect pests in the paddy fields

A fixed field experiment (completely randomized block) was used from 2006 to 2010 to study the regularity of plant disease and insect pest outbreaks in the Rice-Fish Culture System and rice monoculture system. The results of the six years of light trapping show that the occurrence of rice planthoppers in the rice-fish symbiotic system was significantly lower than in the rice monoculture system, especially in the years of high-frequency occurrence of the rice planthopper. The results of the five-year field experimental study show that under the condition of no pesticide usage, the biomass of weeds in the Rice-Fish Culture System was reduced by 93.57% (as an average of the 5 years), the incidence of sheath blight was reduced by 54.35% (as an average of the 5 years) and the density of rice planthoppers was reduced by 44.74% (as an average of the 5 years) compared with the rice monoculture system. In the years of a low frequency of occurrence for sheath blight and rice planthopper, the result of controlling them by the fishes in the Rice-Fish Culture System was similar to conducting pesticide treatments in the rice monoculture system (Xie,2011).

3.4 Ecological environment quality of the rural area

3.4.1 Rural landscape

Since 2005, the government of Qingtian County has attempted to simultaneously promote village renovation and environmental protection by granting tens of millions in funds each year to improve the conditions of road, water, toilet, afforestation, brightness and beautification in the countryside. This effort has greatly improved the production and living conditions in rural areas, as well as the residential environment of the farmers.
In 2006, 218 villages in Qingtian County had implemented centralized waste collection and disposal. A total of 72600 m2 refuse landfill, 71 waste transfer stations and two refuse incinerators were constructed; 28 waste transport vehicles and 5387 garbage cans were allocated; and the centralized processing rate of rural waste in Qingtian reached 51.4%, which significantly improved the ecological environment in the rural areas.

3.4.2 Farmland landscape

The terrace ridges are mostly soil structures with a poor penetration-preventing capacity, which are easily damaged and not conducive to agricultural planting and leisure tourism. In order to prevent the field paths from collapsing, as well as reduce the cost of peasant labor, many villages with Rice-Fish Culture Systems began to harden the field paths. Meanwhile, through creative agriculture, the farmland landscape construction has achieved rapid development.

3.4.3 Water environment

The water environment in the rural areas has improved significantly in recent years. The “Evaluation Report on Zhejiang Ecological Environment Condition” issued by Zhejiang Environmental Monitoring Center in 2007 showed that the ecological index in Qingtian County was 97.02, far higher than the provincial average of 82.8 and ranking twelfth in the whole province. Statistical data in 2009 showed that the water qualification rate for centralized potable water sources above the Qingtian County level reached 100%, and the surface water qualification rate achieved 100%.
Since the launch of the “Five water governance” in 2013, Qingtian County has actively explored its options for water control, which has created a good atmosphere of caring, support, participation and supervision of the water environment treatment by the whole society, and has also created a new mode for the overseas Chinese to participate in the “Five water governance”.

4 Problems and countermeasures

4.1 Wild animals have caused serious damages

With the improvement of the ecological environment, the wildlife in the heritage site have caused serious damage. The increasing population of egrets, which belong to the second-class of national protected animals, began to fish in the rice fields. Keeping the harmony and unity between protecting the egrets and maintaining the farmers’ legitimate rights and interests has become an urgent task for both farmers and managers.
The main measures adopted currently for egret management in the heritage site are manual chasing and laying plastic network barriers. Due to the necessity of additional capital investment, plastic nets are only used by farmers in the fields with high yields of Qingtian fish. According to Article 29 of the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of Wild Animals, the relevant local governments shall take measures to prevent and control the harm caused by wild animals, and guarantee the safety of humans and animals and the production of agriculture and forestry. It is also responsible for formulating the specific policies and measures for the economic compensation for the harm to Qingtian fish in paddy field brought by the egrets. Moreover, including the egret impacts in the agricultural insurance items, and making corresponding economic compensation according to the degree of damage, can effectively reduce the anxiety of farmers, reflect a certain degree of fairness and rationality, and preserve the enthusiasm of farmers for fish culture in their paddy fields.

4.2 Long-term ecological impact of the ridge hardening project remains to be seen

Traditional ridges are mostly piled up with soil, so they cannot play a satisfactory role in retaining water, and may collapse in the event of a sudden heavy rain. Ridge hardening has the obvious effects of saving labor and increasing efficiency. Hardened the ridges in the paddy field can be used for the long term continuously, without the growth of grass or leakage of water, eliminating the need to repeatedly ridge and weed, and saving one-third of the labor each year as compared with the conventional land. Hardened paddy field ridges also increase the effective impoundment depth, buffer the drainage speed, and avoid the accidents caused by heavy rain, effectively solving the problem of preventing the triploid fish from escaping from the fish culture in the paddy fields.
However, in conjunction with facilitating the cultivation, ridge hardening has reduced the farmland biodiversity to some extent, which may become a barrier to biological communication. Earthworms in paddy fields can loosen soil, increase soil organic matter, improve soil nutrient structure, regulate the soil pH value, and increase phosphorus and other fast-acting ingredients, making the soil more suitable for crop growth. After ridge hardening, however, the earthworms can only feed in one piece of land, and thus these ridges prevent them from finding another channel for working and feeding. The ridge hardening project in the heritage site has not yet shown any negative ecological effects, but its long-term ecological impacts remain to be seen. Long-term observation of the ecological environments in the farmland should be strengthened after the hardening of ridges to prevent any negative effects from the hardening.

4.3 Ancient buildings lack protection and new buildings need unified planning

Wooden buildings, the special architecture in Longxian Village, retain the traditional cultural characteristics of nearly a hundred years, with black and white walls and generally using a two-layer construction. Most of them have the value of cultural relics. For example, Wu Family Ancestral Hall is the key cultural relic protection unit in Zhejiang Province, Yanling Old Home, and Wu Family Ancestral Temple have high cultural ornamental value, so they serve is a kind of good tourist resource. However, due to years of neglect, many buildings have become dilapidated.
With the improvement in the degree of modernization and the reduction of the resident population, the wooden buildings in the village are seldom inhabited. On the other hand, an increasing number of concrete structure buildings with 3-6 floors and luxurious styles are being constructed in the villages, which cannot exist in harmony with the ancient wooden buildings so they result in visual pollution of the heritage protection site. According to the survey, the new large-scale buildings in Longxian Village in 2015 accounted for more than half, producing an increase in the income of the villagers and the growth in the living standard. So, the protection and development of traditional villages in the heritage site have a long way to go. Comprehensive protection shall be conducted based on the perpetuity and integrity of the regional landscape, locality of the buildings, compatibility of environments and representations of cultural heritage to effectively achieve sustainable development.
On the whole, the heritage conservation of the Qingtian Rice-Fish Culture System has significantly improved the local ecological environment and protected the species diversity. According to the changes in ecosystem service values of different ecosystem types, the service value of the forest ecosystem has increased significantly. The traditional rice varieties in the heritage site are basically stable, and other crop species are basically unchanged. Fruit trees and medicinal plants are developing rapidly. There was no significant change in soil nutrients and water quality, and there was also no significant increase in pests and diseases. At the same time, the production and living conditions and living environments of farmers have been greatly improved. With the improvement of the ecological environment of the heritage sites, the species and richness of the biodiversity in the site have increased.

5 Conclusions

The Qingtian Rice-Fish Culture System, combining rice and fish in one system, is a typical example for Chinese traditional eco-farming systems. By maintaining natural symbiosis, this system establishes the fish-insect-rice food chain that reduces application of chemicals, improves soil fertility and water conditions, reduce fish diseases and control rice pests, etc. Being the first GIAHS pilot project, this system has the opportunity to sustain itself by exploring its multiple values and functions and by gaining attention and support from outside. It is also the goal of and challenge facing the GIAHS project to develop dynamic in-situ conservation of such an Agricultural Heritage System. Through this evaluation, it is intended to increase the attention and recognition of the value of GIAHS in China so that future policy and market environments will become more favorable for the conservation of GIAHS. The success of this system preservation would encourage more special areas to join the efforts to conserve heritage systems and contribute to the diversity of the world’s biological resources, knowledge and cultures. This will make an important contribution towards the sustainability of Agricultural Heritage Systems.
Fang L, Zhang J E, Jiang Y P. 2007. The conservation and sustainable development of the Rice-Fish farming system in Qingtian County, Zhejiang Province as one of Globally Important Ingenious Agricultural Heritage Systems. Chinese Agricultural Science Bulletin, 23(1):389-392. (in Chinese)

Jiao W J, Fuller A M, Xu S Y, et al. 2016. Socio-ecological adaptation of Agricultural Heritage Systems in modern China: Three cases in Qingtian County, Zhejiang Province. Sustainability, 8(12):1260. DOI: 10.3390/su8121260.


Koohafkan P, Cruz M J. 2009. Conservation and adaptive management of Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS). Resources Science, 31(1):4-9. (in Chinese)

Li W H, Liu M C, Min Q W. 2012. Agricultural heritage conservation: New opportunity for developing eco-agriculture. Chinese Journal of Eco- Agriculture, 20(6):663-667. (in Chinese)


Min Q W. 2006. GIAHS: A new kind of world heritage. Resources Science, 28(4):206-208. (in Chinese)

Min Q W, He L, Zhang D. 2011. Agricultural heritage research in China:.

Sun Q Z, Guan Y. 2012. Agro-cultural heritage research and conservation practices in China: Progresses and perspectives. Journal of China Agricultural University ( Social Sciences) , 29(3):34-43. (in Chinese)

Sun Y H, Min Q W, Cheng S K. 2008. Value of the GIAHS-China traditional Rice-Fish system. Chinese Journal of Eco-Agriculture, 16(4):991-994. (in Chinese)


Wang C H, Li S F, Xiang S P, et al. 2006. Genetic parameter estimates for growth-related traits in Oujiang color common carp ( Cyprinus carpio var. color). Aquaculture , 259(1-4):103-107.


Wang C H, Li S F. 2004. Phylogenetic relationships of ornamental (koi) carp, Oujiang color carp and Long-fin carp revealed by mitochondrial DNA COII gene sequences and RAPD analysis. Aquaculture, 231(1-4):83-91.


Wang X F, Yu S L, Chen H W. 2006. Qingtian Rice-Fish Culture System and it’s development measures. Journal of Zhejiang Agricultural Sciences, 5:492-494. (in Chinese)

Wang Z. 1997. Chronicles of agriculture of Yongjia County. Beijing, China: Ocean Press. (in Chinese)

Wu M F, Zhou A L. 2014. Protection and development experience of Globally Important Agriculture Heritage System (GIAHS) Rice-Fish Culture System in Qingtian County, Zhejiang Province. World Agriculture, (11):152-155. (in Chinese)

Xie G D, Zhen L, Lu C X, et al. 2008. Expert knowledge based valuation method of ecosystem services in China. Journal of Natural Resources, 23(5):911-919. (in Chinese)

Xie J, Wu X, Tang J J, et al. 2010. Chemical fertilizer reduction and soil fertility maintenance in Rice-Fish coculture system. Frontiers of Agriculture in China, 4(4):422-429.


Xie J, Wu X, Tang J J, et al. 2011. Conservation of traditional rice varieties in a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS): Rice-Fish co-culture. Agricultural Sciences in China, 10(5):754-761.


Xie J, Hu L L, Tang J J, et al. 2011. Ecological mechanisms underlying the sustainability of the agricultural heritage Rice-Fish co-culture system. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 108(50):1381-1387.

Xie J. 2011. Ecosystem functioning of species interactions in farming system: A case study on globally important Agricultural Heritage System. Diss., Hangzhou, China: Zhejiang University. (in Chinese)

You X L. Zhong Q H eds. Multi-stakeholder processes in the conservation of Agricultural Heritage Systems in China. 2006. Rice-Fish agriculture:One of the typical sustainable traditional agricultural models . In:Min Q W, China: Environmental Science Press. (in Chinese)

Zhang D, Min Q W, He L, et al. 2016. Agro-biodiversity features, conservation and utilization of China’s globally important Agricultural Heritage Systems. Chinese Journal of Eco-Agriculture, 24(4):451-459. (in Chinese)