BEIJING, December 29, China daily -- Since last December, Chinese researchers have been working on a project to manage bamboo forests that used to grow naturally in Sichuan province in order to increase the number of plants and help giant pandas return to nature.

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One of two female giant pandas is released on Thursday into a national nature reserve in Dujiangyan, Sichuan province, by the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda. [Photo by Li Chuanyou/Provided to China Daily]

The project is a collaboration among the National Forestry and Grassland Administration, Ministry of Finance and the Global Environment Fund, with a total investment of 400,000 yuan ($58,300).

An experimental base of about 14 hectares on Huaying Mountain in Guang'an, Sichuan province, has improved its annual yield of stalks and fresh shoots by about 33 metric tons, according to the Giant Panda Rewilding Training Centre.

Liu Yong, an engineer from the center, said that a naturally-grown bamboo forest cannot guarantee a sustainable setting for pandas since bamboo can only survive about seven years. So the project helped to create a sustainable environment.

"Pandas like eating. They could spend more than 12 hours a day eating fresh bamboo, which they like because it is easy to get and they are a little lazy. As a result, a dense forest is needed, both to provide them with enough food and shorten their foraging distance," he said.

To have more green coverage on the mountain, Liu said his team needed to cut the old and slim stalks to make more space for new shoots.

Other daily jobs are killing pests and applying organic fertilizers. Since the area is of karst topography, they also need to cover the stone areas with 3 centimeters of soil.

Li Junqing, a professor of forestry from Beijing Forestry University, also the adviser to the project, said that bamboo roots have the ability to maintain the soil and are useful in creating a better ecological environment.

"They prevent lands from degrading, and increase the forest's soil and water conservation capacity. And in the future, we plan to plant more arbors, which are taller and keep sunlight off the bamboo so it grows more tender," he said.