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The South China Karst Landscapes

The South China Karst region extends over a surface of half a million km2 lying mainly in Yunnan, Guizhou and Guangxi provinces. It represents one of the world’s most spectacular examples of humid tropical to subtropical karst landscapes. The stone forests of Shilin are considered superlative natural phenomena and a world reference with a wider range of pinnacle shapes than other karst landscapes with pinnacles, and a higher diversity of shapes and changing colours. The cone and tower karsts of Libo, also considered the world reference site for these types of karst, form a distinctive and beautiful landscape. Wulong Karst has been inscribed for its giant dolines (sinkholes), natural bridges and caves.

South China Karst Heritage Site
Continent: Asia
Country: China
Category: Natural
Criterion: (VII)(VIII)
Date of Inscription: 2007

South China Karst

South China is unrivalled for the diversity of its karst features and landscapes. The property includes specifically selected areas that are of outstanding universal value to protect and present the best examples of these karst features and landscapes. South China Karst is a coherent serial property comprising three clusters, Libo Karst and Shilin Karst, each with two components, and Wulong Karst with three components. South China Karst represents one of the world's most spectacular examples of humid tropical to subtropical karst landscapes.

The stone forests of Shilin are considered superlative natural phenomena and the world reference site for this type of feature. The cluster includes the Naigu stone forest occurring on dolomitic limestone and the Suyishan stone forest arising from a lake. Shilin contains a wider range of pinnacle shapes than other karst landscapes with pinnacles, and a higher diversity of shapes and colours that change with different weather and light conditions.

The South China Karst Landscape
The South China Karst Landscape

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The cone and tower karsts of Libo, also considered the world reference site for these types of karsts, form a distinctive and beautiful landscape. Wulong includes giant collapse depressions, called Tiankeng, and exceptionally high natural bridges between which are long stretches of very deep unroofed caves. These spectacular karst features are of world class quality.

Both Shilin and Libo are global reference areas for the karst features and landscapes that they exhibit. Major developments in the stone forests of Shilin occurred over some 270 million years during four major geological time periods from the Permian to present, illustrating the episodic nature of the evolution of these karst features. Libo contains carbonate outcrops of different ages that erosive processes shaped over millions of years into impressive Fengcong (cone) and Fenglin (tower) karsts.

Slideshow for this Heritage Site


It contains a combination of numerous tall karst peaks, deep dolines, sinking streams and long river caves. Wulong represents high inland karst plateaus that have experienced considerable uplift, and its giant dolines and bridges are representative of South China's Tiankeng landscapes. Wulong's landscapes contain evidence for the history of one of the world's great river systems, the Yangtze and its tributaries.

The property is well managed, with clear management plans in place and the effective involvement of various stakeholders. There are strong international networks in place to support continued research and management. Of the three clusters, Wulong has suffered the least human impact by virtue of its remoteness and retains natural values that have been reduced in other comparable areas.

Continued efforts are required to expand and refine buffer zones to protect upstream catchments and their downstream and underground continuation in order to maintain water quality at a level that ensures the long term conservation of the property and its subterranean processes and ecosystems. At Wulong the boundaries of the core zone should be considered for extension, and a single landscape-scale buffer zone would be a significant improvement to encompass all of the Tiankeng elements to the north of the Furong gorge.

Traditional management by minority peoples is an important feature of both clusters, and the relationship between karst and the cultural identity and traditions of minority groups including the Yi (Shilin) and the Shui, Yao and Buyi (Libo) requires continued recognition and respect in site management. Potential for further extension of the property requires development of a management framework for effective coordination between the different clusters.

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