A man and his egrets: Woodland caretaker determined to safeguard birds against all odds
Tang Bo

Over 4,000 egrets are taking shelter in a 20-square-kilometer woodland in Guanhan of southwest China's Sichuan Province. Full of agriculture, this place is regarded as an ecological sanctuary to the locals.

Liao Quanfu initially planned to start a timber business on his land, but he changed his mind as he discovered thousands of egrets attracted by the plants. Immediately, the business plan turned into a two-decade-long mission of bird preservation. Since then, not a single piece of wood has been sold.

As more and more egrets attracted to the woods, the woodland became an ideal spot for the birds to breed. To Liao, it all started with a simple idea of sheltering the birds as this is the best place for them. 

But now, the woodland has become not only home to the egrets, but also 40 other bird species. And the number is still growing.

Liao Quanfu and his wife cleaning the Egret Garden. /CGTN Photo

Liao Quanfu and his wife cleaning the Egret Garden. /CGTN Photo

Liao works to preserve the forest for the birds every day. Things were going well until a power substation was built nearby in 2014. Trees were cut down during the construction. Many young egrets were hit by the electric wires. They had to fly either really high or extremely low to avoid the cables.

Liao Fan, Liao's daughter, used to find it difficult to understand his father. However, seeing her mother break down to the rattle of egrets that just lost their home changed her mind. At that moment, she realized how much her mother had bonded with those birds.

This incident caused great tension between Liao and the local power authorities. However, it made the family more determined to protect the birds as they later moved to the woodland in 2017 and named it the Egret Garden.

Egrets at Liao Quanfu's Egret Garden in Guanghan City, Sichuan Province. /CGTN Photo

Egrets at Liao Quanfu's Egret Garden in Guanghan City, Sichuan Province. /CGTN Photo

Liao spent two years building their house. As he used recycled construction materials, photos of the new home went viral on social media.

But the popularity didn't translate into profit. Over the past two decades, the woodland hasn't brought in any economic benefits. Liao even sold his apartment to support the garden's daily operations.

Some people suggested he make the house a home inn. But that requires more manpower that would likely create disturbance to the birds.

At present, all visitors are required to book online and complete a survey before entering the garden. Only those who show genuine interest in birds can enter.

The woodland has also been chosen as an outdoor educational site for a kindergarten. Children can have first-hand experiences with birds, trees and eggs, and learn more about nature at the same time. This is what Liao and his family had not expected, and they believe it adds more value to the woodland.

Instead of developing tourism, Liao prefers this kind of outdoor education. He and his family hope to explore more similar programs in the future and more importantly, to continue their mission on bird preservation.

(Cover image via VCG)

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