Documentary series. A look at how tea-growing cultures, bird-filled wetlands and futuristic cities jostle along China's eastern seaboard in a battle for resources.
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From the eastern end of the Great Wall,
China's coast spans 14,500 kilometres
and more than 5,000 years of history.
This is the area which shows the greatest contrast
between China's past and its future.
Today, China's eastern seaboard is home to 700 million people,
packed into some of the most dazzling hi-tech cities on earth.
Yet, these crowded shores remain hugely important for a wealth of wildlife.
Now, as ancient traditions mingle with new aspirations,
is there any room at all for wildlife on China's crowded shores?
In northern China's Zhalong Nature Reserve,
a pair of red-crowned cranes have staked out their nesting territory
in the stubble of a commercially managed reed bed.
For centuries, cranes have been revered in China as symbols of longevity.
Their statues were placed next to the Emperor's throne.
The cranes have cause to celebrate.
This chick is a sign of hope in difficult times.
Red-crowned cranes are one of the world's most endangered species.
Over the last century, China has lost nearly half of its coastal wetlands
and most of what remains is managed for the benefit of people, not wildlife.
A few months from now, this chick and its parents
will face a long migration south to escape the harsh northern winter.
Their route will take them along a coast which has been greatly affected by human activity.
Along their journey,
the cranes will be joined by many thousands of other migrating birds,
all heading south across the Bohai Gulf
and along the shores of the Yellow and East China Seas.
Some even reaching as far as the South China Sea
in search of a safe winter haven.
The annual bird migration has been going on for thousands of years.
Here at Mount Jinping, on China's northeast coast,
there is surprising evidence that people have lived here almost as long.
Seven thousand years ago,
members of the Shao Hao tribe carved magical symbols
representing significant elements of their daily lives.
The petroglyphs show wheat sheaves connected by lines to human figures,
the first-known recordings of cultivation in China.
Familiar with the spectacle of yearly bird migrations,
the Shao Hao people chose the symbol of a bird as their totem.
Mount Jinping lies near the Shandong peninsula,
an important wintering site for migrant birds
and even today, there are still communities along this coastline
who retain a special affinity with their local birdlife.
Yandun Jiao village, on the northeastern shore of the peninsula,
is famous for its traditional seaweed-thatched cottages.
On a chilly morning in early spring,
Mr and Mrs Qu venture out at first light,
armed with the traditional seaside accessories of bucket and spade.
As the Qus head down into the harbour, a flock of whooper swans,
known affectionately here as "winter angels", are waking out in the bay.
The Qus and their neighbours search for tube holes in the mud at low tide,
the sign of cockles and razor shells hidden deep below.
While gathering shellfish is a popular pastime,
the main business of Yandun Jiao happens further out at sea.
As the boats set out with Mr Qu on board,
the swans set a parallel course.
The whole of the bay is a gigantic seaweed farm.
The men work all day cleaning and tending the kelp fronds
that are grown on ropes linked to a vast armada of buoys.
The swans eat native seaweeds growing on the surface ropes,
rather than the valuable crop of kelp,
so they do no harm to the commercial operation.
In the afternoon,
as the wind picks up out at sea,
the workers and swans return to shore.
While the culture of seeking balance with nature
goes back a long way in China,
it is rare to see such harmonious relationships on China's crowded coast.
As evening draws on,
the Qu family prepare their evening meal of cockles, steamed bread and seaweed.
Leftovers are given to the village children to feed the swans.
It's fun for the kids and provides an extra energy boost for the birds,
as they face another cold night.
The swans have been using this sheltered bay as a winter refuge
for many generations.
As long as the tradition of respect for nature persists,
this remarkable association between the Yandun Jiao community
and their "winter angels" looks set to continue.
Out in the Bohai Gulf, northeast of the swan village,
a small rocky island provides a quiet resting spot for migrating birds.
But Shedao Island has hidden dangers.
Pallas pit vipers, trapped here 6,000 years ago by rising sea levels,
have evolved a sinister lifestyle.
For ten months of the year there is nothing substantial to eat on the island,
so the reptiles conserve their energy by barely moving at all.
As the sun warms their rocky home,
the snakes climb up into the bushes and trees.
But they aren't here to sunbathe.
More and more vipers appear
until virtually every perch where a bird might land has been booby trapped.
Then the waiting game begins.
The serpents' camouflage is remarkable
but so are the birds' reactions,
as this high-speed shot reveals.
The birds will only stay on the island for a couple of weeks,
but although the snakes have been starving for months,
their only hope of bagging a meal is to be patient and sit tight.
The slightest miscalculation
and the snake is left with a mouthful of feathers.
The dropped meal is tracked down mainly by smell -
the viper using its forked tongue
to taste the air until it's close enough to see its quarry.
The final challenge is to swallow a meal that's twice the size of its head.
It does so by dislocating its jaws
and positioning its prey so the beak is pointing backwards.
For the reptiles, this time of plenty is all too brief.
In a couple of weeks the migration will be over
and the birds will have moved on.
This could be the snake's last meal for six months.
But it isn't just islands that experience cycles of feast and famine.
The sea too has its seasons.
A fact well known to fishing communities along the neighbouring coasts.
TRADITIONAL CHINESE MUSIC PLAYS
In Chuwang harbour, the start of a new fishing season provides the excuse for a massive party.
But for boat owner Mr Zhao,
it's a day of prayer as well as celebration.
Zhao hopes that by presenting gifts
and showing respect to the Sea Goddess,
he can help ensure a prosperous and safe year ahead, for him and his crew.
Meanwhile, drums, firecrackers and fireworks reflect the ancient belief
that loud noises will frighten off dangerous sea devils and bad fortune.
Occupying centre stage is a representation of the sea dragon,
mythical ruler of water and weather.
In the calm of the evening,
Mr Zhao and his family light paper boat lanterns.
Each flickering flame carries a wish to the Sea Goddess -
a tradition passed on from parents to children over countless generations.
On China's crowded coasts, fishermen need to be extremely resourceful.
Hauling in the nets is hard work
and so far there's not a fish in sight.
Each year, millions of jellyfish are carried south with the currents in the Bohai Gulf.
The ecological story behind this event is complex,
but by no means unique to China.
Jellyfish are fast-breeding plankton feeders.
In recent years, human sewage and fertilisers from intensive farming
have increased plankton blooms in the Gulf,
providing extra jellyfish food,
while over-fishing has reduced their enemies and competitors.
It's a phenomenon that has become increasingly widespread across the world's seas.
However, what is seen elsewhere as a problem,
in China is perceived as an opportunity.
Back on shore, mule carts transport the jellyfish to nearby warehouses,
where they will be processed and sold as food all over China.
Four generations tuck in to a bowl of sliced jellyfish -
the recipe for a long and healthy life.
Leaving the Bohai Gulf behind,
migrating cranes, spoonbills and ducks are joined by other birds,
all heading south in search of a safe winter haven.
The birds' migration route follows the coast of the Yellow Sea
down into Jiangsu Province,
a fertile agricultural landscape,
with some of the last remaining salt marshes in China.
At Dafeng, a small salt marsh reserve is home to an animal
which is lucky to be alive.
The Chinese see these milu as a curious composite animal,
with a horse's head, cow's feet,
a tail like a donkey and backwards-facing antlers.
In the West we know it as Pere David's Deer,
after the first European to describe it.
During the rut,
stags decorate themselves with garlands of vegetation collected in their antlers.
Fierce battles decide mating rights.
The females still have last year's fawns in tow.
They haven't been weaned by the time of the rut
and band together in large creches,
only returning to their mothers to feed.
This unique behaviour helps to keep them clear of the aggressive males.
Today, there are just 2,500 milu in China...
..but it is remarkable that there are any at all.
In the early 1900s, milu became extinct in the wild,
but luckily some of the Imperial herd
had been sent as a gift to Europe.
Those at Woburn Abbey in England prospered, and in the early 1980s,
40 of the deer were returned to their homeland,
where they continue to thrive.
The migrating cranes have so far travelled over 2,000 kilometres
southwards along the coast.
Passing the milu deer reserve at Dafeng,
they are approaching another salt marsh,
which will provide the perfect conditions for them to spend the winter.
This is Yanchen, the largest coastal wetland in China,
visited by an estimated three million birds each year.
Crane chicks that were only born seven months ago
have now completed the first leg of a round trip
which they will repeat every year.
The hardy cranes can cope with winter temperatures which may drop below freezing.
However, other migrating birds like the endangered black-faced spoonbill,
are less cold-tolerant
and will continue even further south in search of warmer climes.
At this point, many of the migrating bird flocks
are barely halfway along their southward journey.
Ahead of them lies a new challenge.
China's greatest river - the Yangtze -
and the venue for a very different kind of migration.
Each year, millions of tonnes of cargo travel up and down the river,
making this one of the busiest waterways in the world.
These are Chinese mitten crabs, named for their strange hairy claws.
They may migrate as much as 1,500 kilometres
from tributaries and lakes to the river mouth,
where they gather to breed.
A similar migration is made by the giant Yangtze sturgeon,
which can reach four metres long and weigh half a tonne.
In recent years, its numbers have declined dramatically
as its migration is impeded by ever more river dams.
But it isn't just animals like the sturgeon that are in trouble,
the entire Yangtze river ecosystem is being poisoned.
In spite of being the subject of an ambitious clean-up plan,
today the river is reckoned to be the biggest single source of pollution
entering the Pacific Ocean.
Situated right at the mouth of its estuary,
Chongming Island provides a vital resting and feeding spot for migrating shorebirds
and a place which offers welcome evidence
of changing attitudes towards the Yangtze's beleaguered wildlife.
For centuries, these coastal mudflats have attracted hunters like Mr Jin,
who have honed their trapping skills to perfection
to put rare birds on the tables of Shanghai's elite.
For 40 years, Mr Jin has used a net, simple decoy birds
and a bamboo whistle to lure passing birds towards his nets.
It takes both patience and consummate skill.
HE IMITATES A BIRD WHISTLE
But all is not as it seems.
Mr Jin, like many of the best conservationists,
is poacher turned gamekeeper,
using his hunting skills to benefit his old quarry.
The staff here at Dongtan Bird Reserve
will measure, ring and weigh the trapped birds before releasing them unharmed.
The information gathered by Mr Jin and his colleagues
helps to protect over 200 different species of birds
which visit the island each year.
Just south of Chongming Island
lies China's largest coastal city - Shanghai.
Situated on a major migration route for birds as well as river life,
Shanghai is now preparing for an even bigger invasion.
Barges loaded with building materials constantly arrive in the city's docks,
feeding one of the greatest construction booms in the world.
Last year, half the world's concrete was poured into China's cities,
all in preparation for the biggest mass migration of people in the history of the world.
In the next 25 years,
well over 300 million people are predicted to move from rural China
into cities like Shanghai.
The migration of people from country to city is being mirrored around the world,
and by 2010,
over half of the world's population will be urban dwellers.
As night falls, Shanghai reveals its true colours.
China's fastest-growing financial centre
is in the midst of a massive boom.
With an estimated population of more than 20 million,
Shanghai is officially China's largest and certainly its most dazzling city.
But there is an environmental cost.
Shanghai residents now use 2½ times more power per head than their rural cousins.
The city's seemingly insatiable energy demands
currently require the output of 17 power stations.
South of Shanghai,
the city lights gradually fade as we enter an ancient world.
This is Fujian Province,
a rugged terrain guarded by sheer granite mountains
which have helped to forge and preserve some of China's
most ancient sites and traditional cultures.
Towering above the coast, the 1,400 metre-high Taimu mountains
are known to the Chinese as "Fairyland on the Sea".
Moist sea breezes condense on the cool mountain tops,
and combine with well-drained acid soils to produce
the perfect growing conditions for acid-loving plants like wild azaleas.
It's also home to camellias,
including the most famous of all - the tea plant.
Similar growing conditions all along the Fujian coast
make this the treasure chest for China's tea,
the heart of an industry dating back almost 4,000 years.
One of the most traditional tea growing cultures in the area
is that of the Kejia people.
Every morning, goats are let loose among the tea terraces,
a centuries-old tradition.
This might seem surprising,
given goats' reputation for eating anything green...
but tea isn't as defenceless as it looks.
Tea leaves are loaded with bitter chemicals
designed to repel browsing animals.
It works on the goats, who leave the tea untouched
and instead eat up the weeds,
fertilizing the tea plants with their droppings.
The surprise is that we humans should find the same bitter chemical cocktail
Among the Kejia people, tea-growing is a family business.
Women do the picking, while the men process and pack it.
Mrs Zhang belongs to a Kejia family that has
lived and worked for generations among these same tea terraces.
The finest tea needs to be gathered quickly in warm sunshine
as this brings out flavour-enhancing oils inside the leaves.
This sustainable industry has protected one of China's finest
landscapes and one of its most traditional cultures.
At the end of the morning's picking,
Mrs Zhang returns home to drop off her tea ready for processing.
This fort-like design has survived from a time when the Kejia
needed to protect themselves against hostile local tribes.
Each house has three or four levels,
designed to accommodate 50 to 250 people.
The ground floor houses the kitchens and animal stock
with access to a well for water.
The first floor rooms are used for storage
and the upper floors are bedrooms.
Some of these remarkable buildings are 800 years old
and have survived earthquakes and typhoons.
Once enough tea has been gathered in, the processing begins.
Turning green leaves into saleable tea
involves at least eight different stages.
Including drying, bruising, sifting, squeezing and twisting,
before the finished product is finally ready for packing.
The Zhangs' village produces "little black dragon" or Oolong tea,
so-called because of the way its twisted leaves unfurl
when water is poured over them.
Tea plays a vital part in Kejia life, not only as a source of income
but also as a way to welcome visitors and bring people together.
In traditional Chinese life, even the simplest cup of tea
is poured with an intricate amount of ritual.
In the past, the Kejia people's
other main income came from transporting goods like tea
across the treacherous topography of mountains and river estuaries.
Their route was suddenly made easier when, in 1059,
this remarkable bridge was built.
Made from massive ten-tonne slabs of granite,
it is one of China's lesser-known architectural gems.
Luoyang bridge has withstood earthquakes and tempestuous tides.
Known as "10,000 ships launching", the bridge's 46 piers
have withstood time and tide for almost a millennium.
According to folklore,
its success is due to a far-sighted piece of bio-engineering -
oysters were seeded on the piers and ever since,
their concretions have helped cement the granite blocks together.
Today, oysters are still cultivated here
in the traditional way by Hui'an women.
Stones are stood in the mudflats below the bridge
to encourage the oysters to grow.
Luoyang bridge is now mainly used by locals carrying goods
across the estuary towards the coastal ports.
For more than 2,000 years, coastal trade in China has depended
on a remarkable and pioneering type of ship,
known to us as "the junk".
This working vessel follows a general design
that's been in use in Fujian for at least 600 years.
Its bows take the form of a beak with two large painted eyes,
evoking the traditional seafarers' belief
that the bird's image would help sailors return safely,
like the migrants that return each spring and autumn.
Tea and other goods were stored in strong bulkheads,
each waterproofed and separated from the next to minimize flood damage.
This innovation, introduced to keep precious tea cargoes dry, spurred on
the improvement of not only Chinese boats, but Western ones too.
The distinctive rigging of the junks' sails allows easy
handling in bad weather, essential along this storm-battered coast.
Each year from July to November, up to a dozen typhoons -
a corruption of the Chinese word for "great wind" -
head north-west towards China.
Typhoons are becoming more frequent as sea temperatures rise, aided by
a global increase in greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.
But satellite pictures have revealed a surprising twist.
It seems that typhoons can pull deep, nutrient-rich
seawater up to the surface, causing plankton blooms,
which, in turn, soak up large quantities of carbon dioxide.
When a typhoon strikes, one of the best places to be
is Hong Kong harbour, with its sheltered anchorage.
A centre of international trade, the city is famous for its jumble
of skyscrapers and its bustling commercial centre.
But there's a side to Hong Kong that's less well-known.
Behind the urban sprawl
lies a swathe of wetlands which include the Mai Po Nature Reserve.
Managed principally for the benefit of migrating birds, the reserve
maintains a series of traditional prawn farms known as "gei wais"
and their adjoining mangroves and mudflats.
Every two weeks from November to March, one of the gei wais
is drained by opening up the sluice gates.
As the water level falls, birds begin to gather.
Herons, egrets and cormorants
mingle with a far rarer visitor -
the black-faced spoonbill.
These endangered migrants have travelled the length
of the Chinese coastline from Northern China and Korea.
Mai Po marks the end of a 2,000 kilometre journey,
during which the birds may have lost up to a third of their body weight.
400 black-faced spoonbills,
a quarter of the world's population, pass the winter here.
At low water, trapped shrimps and fish become easy prey -
a life-saver for these endangered birds.
The Mai Po marshes are part of the Pearl River estuary,
whose muddy shores abound with crabs, worms and mud-skippers.
Exposed at low tide, this smorgasbord of mud-life
attracts both waders and the gei wai birds.
Here on the mudflats of Inner Deep Bay, each kind of bird
has its own specific feeding zone defined by the depth of the water,
the length of its beak and its feeding technique.
Once refuelled, they revel in synchronised aerial displays.
More than any other place on China's coastline,
Inner Deep Bay demonstrates that with help,
resilient nature can still thrive, even when boxed in
and overshadowed by towering cities like Shenzhen.
Another successful example of man's intervention on behalf of nature
can be glimpsed in the waters around Lantau Island.
While egrets make the most of an easy meal,
other creatures have their eye on the fishermen's catch.
Chinese White dolphins are estuary specialists.
Found widely in the Indian and Pacific Ocean,
this species is rare in China.
The young are born dark grey and become spotted as adolescents,
finally turning creamy-white as adults,
though on some occasions they may blush a delicate shade of pink.
Three groups of dolphins live close to Lantau Island.
As the tide comes in, they move with it to feed on small fish or squid
which travel with the currents,
using echolocation to "see" their prey through the murky water.
They also use sound to communicate.
But they face a deafening problem.
BOAT ENGINES ROAR
The Pearl Estuary has become one of the busiest shipping channels
in China and the dolphins are constantly bombarded with sound.
New research suggests that they may now pack more information
into shorter calls in a bid to be heard.
Local conservationists have now set up a protected zone near Lantau Island.
So for now, China's white dolphins are holding on.
South of Hong Kong lies the South China Sea,
studded with more than 200 hundred islands and reefs.
Potential reserves of fish, oil and gas make each one strategic
and the whole region has become a political hot-spot, as territorial
disputes simmer between its many neighbouring countries.
The waters themselves are low in nutrients and would be poor in life
if it wasn't for the other resource that's here in abundance.
In the shallows of the coral atolls,
small jellyfish point their tentacles towards the sun.
Like many animals here, they depend on a close partnership
with microscopic algae
which turn solar power into food.
The most famous of these relationships
is the reef-forming corals,
which provide the foundation of the sea's most dazzling ecosystem.
Their branches provide shelter
for a wealth of small and vulnerable creatures...
many of them beautifully camouflaged.
But the ultimate master of disguise has to be the octopus,
able to change not only its shape and colour,
but its skin texture too.
Where the reefs meet deeper waters,
up-welling currents carry nutrients to the surface.
Reef fish swim out to gorge themselves on the resulting food,
in turn attracting larger predatory fish to the reefs.
Trevally prowl in dense packs.
Giant rays sweep in on graceful wings
to hoover up the remaining plankton...
which also attracts the king of fish!
Growing up to 12 metres long, the whale shark is a gentle giant.
And these days, a rare sighting.
As sharks small and large are plundered
to supply the East-Asian shark meat trade,
the fate of these fabulous creatures hangs in the balance.
While healthy coral reefs still survive in the remote islands,
the situation close to the Chinese coast is quite different.
BOAT ENGINE RUMBLES
The waters along the shores of Hainan,
China's largest tropical island,.
have been fished for thousands of years.
As the reefs become less and less productive,
fishermen from Tanmen harbour
need all their resourcefulness to make a living.
Dicing with death, they breathe air pumped through hose pipes
in a desperate bid to catch the last remaining sea life.
Over the years, increased sedimentation and the use
of dynamite and cyanide means the corals close to shore
are barely hanging on.
Recently, the government has recognized that regulation is needed
if the local fishery is to survive for the future.
Fishing is now banned for two months of the year
to allow marine life a chance to breed.
One of the most important tropical habitats
for young fish is mangrove swamps.
In the last 40 years, 80% of China's mangroves have been destroyed.
But at the Dahuajiao Mangrove Reserve in Hainan,
a remarkable conservation initiative is bringing
young Chinese volunteers together
to plant mangrove saplings in the glutinous mud.
For many of these city-born students, such unglamorous work
demonstrates their commitment to their country's environment.
Like other heavily populated countries,
China today is faced with a challenge -
how best to protect nature in an increasingly crowded space.
These wild macaques live on a tiny Hainan Island Reserve,
where they are carefully managed and looked after.
Most of the island's hillsides are covered with tropical woodland,
but there are also areas of flower meadows
where the monkeys gather to feed.
Each morning as the tropical sun heats their island,
the macaques head downhill in search of somewhere cooler...
And what could be more refreshing than a dip in the pool?!
To the Chinese, combining a wildlife reserve with a tourist development
makes perfect commercial sense.
And the monkeys don't seem at all unhappy with the deal!
The question is,
where to draw the line.
Like the rest of the world, China is still feeling its way
towards a harmonious relationship with nature.
600 years ago, the people who lived here carved this calligraphy
in the rocks, announcing it to be, "the end of the world".
In recent years, that world has undergone a massive expansion
as tourists from all over China
have discovered the delights of Hainan's tropical seaside resorts.
By 2010, China's total tourism revenue
is expected to hit £75 billion a year.
While insensitive development could destroy China's natural environment,
well managed eco-tourism could provide huge benefits for China's wildlife.
The issues that face China today - increasing pressure on resources
and living space and quality of environment -
are those that face us all.
If there is any country in the world
equipped to solve environmental problems on a vast scale...
..it has to be China,
with its tremendous human resources and powerful political control.
The path it chooses will affect not just its own people
and its natural environment,
but the rest of the world too.
Documentary series featuring pioneering images that capture the dazzling array of mysterious and wonderful creatures populating China's most beautiful landscapes.
Ancient tea-growing cultures, traditional seaweed-thatched villages, bird-filled wetlands, rare white dolphins, snake-infested islands and futuristic cities jostle along China's fertile eastern seaboard, which marks the front line in the scramble for resources and space between 700 million people and a surprising wealth of wildlife.