HEFEI — On a weekend in early October, Hu Wenjue and a group of children gathered in a wetland park. Hu pointed at a wild bird and spoke in low tones while the children listened carefully.
Hu, 31, is a pioneer in nature education in Hefei, Anhui province. He founded an organization five years ago to offer nature-based programs for children under 12 years old.
"Nature is generous to us if we protect her, and don't forget that we all belong to nature," Hu said.
Through various outdoor activities, such as identifying plants and exploring forests, nature education aims to teach participants, mostly urban residents, how to appreciate, respect and live in harmony with nature.
"Respecting the laws of nature and coexisting with nature harmoniously, we could change our lifestyle for the better, and it is a virtuous cycle," Hu said.
Hu hopes to see more people protect nature in various ways and promote green development and ecological civilization in China.
In recent years, China has seen explosive development in nature education, which is nourished by the country's abundant natural resources such as nature reserves, forest parks, wetland parks and geological parks.
Yang Fan, a 27-year-old geologist, has also been engaging in nature education. On weekends and during vacations, she takes children for expeditions to look for fossils and minerals.
"Those treasures from hundreds of millions of years ago can tell us about both the consequences of overexploitation and the benefits of ecological restoration," Yang said.
From constant exploitation to active protection of nature, Yang feels participants in her expeditions have gained a strong desire to improve the environment and ecosystem.
Speaking of this shift, scientist and nature educator Yu Lei chuckled as he recalled an episode that happened during his research work in Hefei.
"I was once misreported as an illegal fisherman by the local people when I did biodiversity research at night at Chaohu Lake," Yu said.
Chaohu Lake, also known as the "kidney" of the Yangtze River, is the fifth-largest freshwater lake in China. Last month, Hefei, where the lake is located, was among the 25 cities from 13 countries to be accredited as international wetland cities.
Every winter, migratory birds move to Chaohu Lake from the north. In mid-October, Yu and his team completed another bird diversity survey in the area.
"A total of 274 species of birds were observed since our first survey, including 14 species that had never been spotted in this area," Yu said.
Over the years, Chaohu Lake has become a habitat for more rare birds. In Yu's opinion, this should not only be attributed to an improved environment, but also to increased public awareness of the need to protect nature.
"Chinese modernization is a modernization of harmony between humanity and nature," Yu said, adding that nature education meets the expectations and needs of the public.
Nature education has also been integrated into the curriculum of public schools.
At Yangguang Primary School in Hefei, a plot of land, about 30 square meters in size, has been reserved for vegetables, which is used to satisfy student interest in nature classes.
"The concept of living in harmony with nature should be established at an early age," headmaster Wang Ling said.
As an advocate of nature education, Wang believes the philosophy can be summed up in one saying — if we don't fail nature, nature will never fail us.