GUANGZHOU, June 5 (Xinhua) -- In the midst of bustling factories and glitzy highrises in Foshan, a manufacturing city in south China, Xian Quanhui is the proud owner of a unique bamboo forest, which has emerged as the refuge for thousands of birds.
Locals deem it the "egret paradise," a secluded, lush wood -- the size of 16 football fields -- in the Shunde District.
While the surrounding factories produce most of the world's air conditioners and microwave ovens, this green enclave is where about 20,000 egrets are born every year.
Wearing black rain shoes, baggy jeans, and a worn plaid shirt, Xian is the guardian of the forest. His efforts to create the micro wetland from scratch in the past 20 years won him the sobriquet "Uncle Bird of Shunde."
"There are many people in the world who have lots of money, houses, and cars. I can't match them. But I have many birds, and that's something few can have," Xian said.
The 51-year-old was a scaffold builder, a profitable trade in the 1990s when China embarked on the path of rapid urbanization. To source inexpensive materials for construction site scaffolding, Xian contracted a large tract of land in Shunde to plant bamboos in 1998.
But before his business could take off, birds landed in the forest -- not a random few, but large flocks of migratory birds, including night herons and egrets that were rarely seen locally.
Raised in the countryside and close to nature, Xian made his decision: he chose to buy bamboos from other places at higher prices and spare the birds' winter home from axes.
To guard against intruding bird hunters, Xian even dug a moat and planted banyan trees around the egret haven. He then raised fish and shrimp there, as bird foods, and used the river to adjust the water level in the forest to simulate the wetland environment.
"In the beginning, the moat was to fend off the hunters but now it has become part of the eco-system," he said. The forest is also benefiting from the country's greater focus on environmental protection.
In 2013, Guangdong Province, where Foshan is located, launched a greening drive to create more wetlands in and around its cities. Xian feels the rise of urban wetlands and greenbelts have drawn more birds to the region.
"The environmental law is enforced stringently, and people are paying greater attention to the environment. Bird eaters are gone, while more are joining the cause of bird conservation," he said.
The forest is now a bird-watching hotspot, drawing thousands of students, nature lovers and researchers every year.
The local government of Shunde has brought the forest under the ambit of its recognized park and greenbelt to spare it from future industrial, housing, or commercial development.
"In the past 20 years, I witnessed how highrises prop up and how my rural hometown was absorbed into the city," Xian said. "Now, I wish to reserve a place for our kids to get closer to nature and birds." Enditem