BEIJING -- Built 2,000 years ago to keep out Mongol marauders and Manchu militias, the Great Wall of China now faces a more modern threat. And this time, it's from the inside.
City dwellers on holiday strew garbage over the wall's battlements and carve their initials into its bricks. Villagers cart away pieces to make sheep corrals and developers are leasing land at the wall's base to build tract homes.
"The wall is already in grave, grave danger," said William Lindesay, an Englishman living in China who hiked along 1,530 miles of the wall in 1987 and has wrote a book about it, "Alone on the Great Wall."
Hoping to beat back the threat, Lindesay on Tuesday announced a new conservation group that will try to protect the most spectacular sections of the wall located around Beijing.
Restored sections of the wall around Beijing account for only about dozen of the 390 miles inside China's capital.
Lindesay wants other parts kept in their current weathered state and hopes to safeguard the spectacular vistas around the wall from what he called "view pollution."
With the backing of Beijing's Cultural Heritage Administration and the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Lindesay's group plans to hire Chinese farmers to pick up garbage and make sure pieces of the wall aren't carried off.
The International Friends of the Great Wall will place signs along trails leading up to the wall reminding visitors not to smoke, litter or otherwise disturb the environment.
They eventually hope to lobby local governments to ban development that would tarnish the wall's natural setting.
Lindesay has organized several trips to clean up trash around the wall, and in 1998 China awarded him its friendship medal, given to foreigners who make substantial contributions to the country, for his dedication to preserving the wall.
Beijing's legislature has agreed to consider a draft law on preserving the wall, Lindesay said.
The wall, built over 2,000 years ago, is about 1,800 miles long and stretches from the seacoast east of Beijing to Gansu province in the western desert. The modern sections around Beijing date from the Ming Dynasty, which lasted from 1368 to 1644, and have some parts been restored since the Communist Party took power in 1949.
China boasts thousands of historical monuments from its 5,000-year history and hundreds of major archaeological finds are uncovered each year. But funds and preservation know-how are stretched thin. That makes it even more important for nongovernment groups to help, Lindesay said.
While the wall is already "considerably damaged," it isn't possible to continue the rebuilding done over the past decades, said Kong Fanzhi, deputy director of Beijing's Bureau of Cultural Relics.
He agreed, though, that efforts must be made to preserve the wall and keep surrounding areas from being overwhelmed by new buildings.
"We want the 90 percent of the Beijing wall that is in its natural state to stay that way," Kong told Associated Press Television News.
"We want to prevent any rebuilding -- and any new buildings in the area around the wall. We don't want a newly built, 21st-century wall."