A dedicated team is to patrol Great Wall to check against damage of the mammoth structure.
The unit will focus on the 630-kilometre-long section in Beijing. Team members, who will be paid by local governments, will be mainly rural residents who live near the Wall, said Yu Ping, deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage.
It is the first time that the Wall in Beijing has had a special team to guard its ancient facade, of which only less than 20 per cent has been well preserved, Yu said.
It follows growing concern over the impact of tourism on the structure.
Currently, about 10 kilometres of the Beijing section of the Great Wall, such as Badaling and Mutianyu, is open to visitors. Saturated tourism is often blamed for damage to the oriental epitome of ancient Chinese civilization. Almost every brick at Badaling has been carved with people's names and graffiti.
Other sections, which are called "wild wall" and not open to the public, also suffer from man-made damage. Neighbourhood villagers often put up iron ladders illegally to lure hikers to step up to it.
Apart from the patrol team, Yu said her administration will start to draw up a detailed layout of a buffer zone this year for the Wall, which will take up to three years to be finished. At present, only a general standard ranging from 500 metres to 2 kilometres away from the Wall is designated as a buffer zone to protect it.
The administration also plans to draw up an overall report this year, including the history, current condition and future protection plans of the Wall.
"The report is expected to come out in 2008 or 2009," Yu said. "We will open the report to the public when it is finished."
Besides the Great Wall, dozens of other heritage sites in the capital will be repaired this year.
Renovation efforts will first kick off in March to repair the Temple of Dragon King (or God of Rain), the only heritage site located at the heart of the future Olympic Village, according to Mei Ninghua, director of the heritage bureau.
There are two main halls, several affiliated rooms and some carving stones left at the site of the temple, which was first built in Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), archaeologists said.
The project will cost about 5 million yuan (US$616,500), said Mei, adding that it is part of an ambitious heritage protection plan that aims at rehabilitating the city's ancient flavour for the 2008 Olympic Games.
The municipal government pledged to invest 120 million yuan (US$15 million) in heritage renovation every year between 2003 and 2007.
"As the Games is impending, the year of 2006 will be crucial for the protection of cultural relics in the capital," said Mei.
Wang Yuwei, an official with the bureau in charge of relics protection, said more than 200 famous heritage sites around the city, including ancient temples, imperial gardens, residences of nobility and imperial tombs, have already been repaired or are to be repaired before 2008.
A survey carried out by Mei's bureau showed more than 60 per cent of the city's heritage sites are occupied by residents and institutions that do not pay enough attention to maintenance and protection of the ancient buildings.
"The lack of efficient protection at some sites has led to worse destruction than the burning of the Old Summer Palace, which was ignited by English and French armies in 1860," Mei claimed.
Apart from the preservation of famous heritage sites, the city will make more efforts to protect its old city regions as a whole, including the traditional alleys and courtyards, cultural heritage officials said.
Reviewing last year's work, Mei said one of the most prominent events was the "explosive" development of the relics auction market.
More than 70,000 ancient works of art went under the hammer last year, raising nearly 5.2 billion yuan (US$650 million) in Beijing, a historical year-on-year increase of 233 per cent, said Fu Gongyue, another official from Mei's bureau.
However, only 61.3 per cent of the auctioned relics were under the supervision of heritage authorities, he said.
Among them, 25 national treasures were pulled from auction, raising awareness of the need to better protect cultural relics, Fu said.