Thirty-three thousand hectares of forest on the Bashang plains, Beijing's last line of defence against sandstorms, are dead or dying. The State Forestry Administration said last month that in 90% of cases the trees were simply dying of old age.
Large scale die-backs are happening in all three of the shelterbelts (rows of trees) designed to protect Beijing from sandstorms.
Work on these, in the north-west, north and north-east of China, started in 1978. They were planned to last for 73 years, cover an area of 4.069 million square kilometers (42.4% of China's total territory) and to surpass Roosevelt's Great Plains Shelterbelt and Stalin's Great Plan for the Transformation of Nature. This was to be China's "Green Great Wall".
There are different types of poplars, with different lifespans. Those grown from cuttings will usually die off after 30 or 40 years. Trees grown from seeds are recorded to have lived past 800 years in Europe. One in Hainan is 300 years old and still flourishing. Generally they'll live for over a century. But those grown artificially only last a few decades. And that's how all the trees in China's shelterbelt were grown. And that's why those trees tend to be small and die young.