Chinese official says boundary change puts Winter Olympic venues outside nature reserve
County official insists rezoning means planned facilities won't encroach on nature reserve
China has hit back at environmental critics of its Winter Olympics plans, insisting that venues will not be built in a nature reserve because its boundary had been moved to exclude the proposed construction sites.
About 1,100 hectares had been excised from the northern part of the Songshan National Nature Reserve in Yanqing county on the capital's outskirts, The Beijing News on Friday quoted county executive deputy head Zhang Suzhi as saying.
"The locations of the Winter Olympic venues are not included in the reserve after the adjustment," Zhang said, without saying when the rezoning occurred.
But the northern section of the reserve covering the proposed venue sites was still identified on a map on the reserve 's website on Friday as a "core area", meaning it was off-limits to all human activity except scientific research.
News of the rezoning comes after an outcry online triggered by Beijing's winning bid for the 2022 Winter Games.
By comparing International Olympic Committee photos, satellite images and official geological data, a group of outdoor enthusiasts discovered that the preferred sites for the alpine skiing and bobsleigh venues shown in an IOC report encroached on a core section of the reserve. Their findings were widely circulated on mainland social media before being deleted by censors.
Zhang told The Beijing News the boundary shift was in the interests of the region's "sustainable development" and "ecological preservation".
She said another 2,655 hectares of Little Haituo Mountain east of the reserve had been included in the conservation zone, making the whole area about a third bigger.
Citing various experts, Zhang said the changes meant the reserve now had nine more types of vegetation.
But Beijing-based amateur botanist Zhou Zhuocheng said the flora numbers were not convincing because they were very different from figures he had seen. "If there is no chance to relocate the venues, the authorities must commission reliable experts to conduct thorough research on the vegetation in the affected areas … and transplant [endangered species]," Zhou said.
An IOC assessment released last year said the venues and the Olympic Village in Yanqing would be adjacent to the reserve. "This would impose a number of environmental requirements that would have to be taken into consideration during the detailed planning phase," it said.
The Songshan reserve is one two national conservation zones in Beijing.
According to the reserve's official website, it has "the best-preserved ecological system" in the city's northwest, and plays an important role in preserving water resources, fending off wind and sand, and purifying the air.
Additional reporting by Li Jing