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Freeloading seniors dig up palace

By Yin Yeping (Global Times)

08:55, April 10, 2013

Administrators of Yuanmingyuan, often referred to as the Old Summer Palace, have said they are powerless to prevent elderly people from digging up wild herbs in the park, as they do not have enough resources.

Photos showing people digging up wild herbs on the slopes of the northeast side of the park were posted on Sina microblogs Monday.

Many Web users who commented suggested that the freeloaders were harming the park's environment and should be punished.

Yuanmingyuan's administration office said Tuesday that seniors living locally had been coming to dig for wild herbs in the early mornings in the grounds for years.

"This behavior has somewhat affected the landscape but there is nothing we can do about it. We don't have the right to fine them as there are no regulations regarding this," he said.

"We have tried to stop this illegal behavior by the local retirees, but if you stop them in one place in the park, they just move over to another spot to avoid us," said Li.

Although there has been a government rule regarding appropriate behavior in Beijing's parks since January 2003, it has never been enforced, the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Landscape and Forestry said.

According to the rule, people who do things like camping, burning, capturing wild animals and digging up plants in parks can be fined from 50 yuan ($8) to 100 yuan.

Zhang Yahong, the director of the park landscape management office under the forestry bureau, said they are still working on implementing the regulation that aims to punish both the park administrators and tourists if they break the rules.

"There are two reasons why the rules are not enforced. One is that a list has never been drawn up to establish which parks are covered under the rule, and it is undecided which authorities should take responsibility for implementing the enforcement," she said.

Zhang said that currently they are working on the details.

"One of our plans is to authorize the legal right of punishment at 11 municipal parks by June," she said, noting that there will be more parks authorized to do so in the latter part of this year.

On Tuesday afternoon at the Old Summer Palace, there was nobody digging for wild herbs.

A gardener working in the park, surnamed Shi, said that people come to dig in the early morning and then leave with bags of wild herbs.

"They take them as a natural healthy food to eat," she said.

Shi said that she did try to persuade them not to dig them up since it ruins the grass but they do not listen.

"These plants are everywhere in the park," she said.

The gardeners said there are several wild herbs such as wild garlic and plantain herbs that are edible in the park.

A tourist surnamed Zhang said that digging for herbs should be punished, especially in a place like this.

"The Old Summer Palace is an important site and whoever visits should respect it," he said, noting that he has also seen people pick the buds from willow trees in other parks without being stopped.

Xu Jianing, an expert who has studied the history and culture of the Old Summer Palace for years, said that since it was burned by the British and French troops in 1860, local people have continued to cause damage at the park.

"Some people take this as a sacred historical and cultural spot while others consider it to be just a park with grassland. But I don't think that digging up wild herbs will hugely damage the park," he said.

Xu noted that he also saw people digging for wild herbs in other parks like the Temple of Heaven.

"Making this into a story is rather like making a mountain out of a mole hill," he said.

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