Greening Master Plan – A4 – Tree Management Report

A Living Lamma Report

Tree and Vegetation Management on Lamma Island

This report was first drafted in December 2010 and remains current two years later. It was undertaken as part of follow up efforts to clean up Lamma Island

  • the lack of proper tree care being identified as one of the contributing factors to environmental degradation in our community

Over the last couple of years, Living Lamma has raised the points contained within this report with various government departments, but there has been little substantive action. The Lands Department continues to fell trees, but does not replant. There is scant evidence of ongoing maintenance – government acts on complaint or not at all. There have been no public education forums or appointment of a dedicated tree warden for Lamma.

Green waste continues to be dumped into landfill or along the side of pathways – adding to our environmental concerns. And there is, as yet, no effective deterrent to the destruction of valuable trees on the island, while Lamma’s forests are afforded little protection.

Public consultation for the Greening Master Plan for the Islands District is under way, yet the remit for this study does not extend to solving the problems of tree and vegetation management in our community. Instead, though some tailoring in the selection of species is promised, it follows the same structure as the GMP for urban areas, which may not be appropriate for rural areas.

This report has been sent to the Legco Panel on Development to help inform the discussion on Tree Management. We urge the members of the Panel to consider the recommendations of this report. We hope that the Panel can provide constructive feedback that can lead to improvements in our community.

Jo Wilson, Chairperson, Living Lamma livinglamma@yahoo.com

October 2012

Introduction

Trees are part of our natural heritage. They define our cultural landscape and improve the aesthetics of our environment. Larger trees can represent an investment of hundreds of years – an investment that is impossible to replace once destroyed. It is important to care for this investment.

Living Lamma has become concerned about the apparent lack of maintenance of the trees on Lamma. We have been in contact with the Lands Department over the felling of trees. We understand that this is sometimes necessary, particularly on Lamma, where a number of trees that were planted in the 1950s have come to the end of their natural lifespan. However, there is no evidence of on-going maintenance taking place and this is needed to keep trees healthy. Many of Lamma’s trees are being attacked by mikania or scindapsis vines, which will kill them if left untreated. We also see no evidence of tree planting to replace the increasing number of trees that are being felled.

The felling of trees creates a great deal of green waste, but government does not appear to possess the right equipment for processing this effectively. Thus the waste is either stockpiled alongside the paths or put in plastic bags and put into landfill. We would like to see better procedures for handling green waste, so that it no longer becomes a nuisance.

Living Lamma supports the pro-active management, protection, removal and replacement of trees. In producing this report, we have made some suggestions for good practice in this area. Many of these suggestions are included in government best practice guidelines, but in our experience, they are not implemented. We hope to promote better tree care, replacement of trees that have been felled and the sustainable processing of green waste and prompt changes in how government approaches tree care at an operational level.

Living Lamma’s suggestions for good practice in tree and vegetation management on Lamma are as follows:

1. Public Education

Given the large number of trees all over the territory, we hope to work hand in hand with the public through community-wide surveillance such that we can carry out our tree risk management work more effectively. The TMO has prepared a pictorial guide to explain how to identify health and structural problems of trees.

“Tree Management Office”

Living Lamma supports the advice of the Tree Management Office. However, the public on Lamma does not appear to be aware of their role.

Many Lamma residents own private land adjacent to public land. The level of tree care on private land is often primitive and the kinds of pruning that are often performed are not only detrimental to the tree but also likely to cause long term damage and thus increase the possibility of severe failure in the future.

Furthermore, the lack of education often leads to an emotional response when a tree is felled. There is a growing perception that government is keen to fell trees. This perception is reinforced by the apparent lack of on-going maintenance of the trees. The Lands Department has also recently suspended the practice of notifying the public on when they are intending to fell a tree, which means that there cannot be any second opinions on the need for such a drastic measure. Increasingly, Living Lamma is receiving calls from worried residents about trees that are being felled. Equally, some of our members have reported that certain trees need trimming, but they are unwilling to report these cases, as they believe that government will cut the trees down.

Living Lamma has made enquiries and found that some of the trees on Lamma, imported in the 1950s and planted as a source of fuel for the villagers before gas or electricity was available on the island, have surpassed the end of their natural life cycle and should be taken down. However, many of Lamma’s tree lovers are unaware of this and only have the evidence of the increasing number of tree stumps that are appearing as the government fells the trees.

We would, therefore, encourage the Tree Management Office to provide education for the people of Lamma. This would provide the following benefits:

    • Improved government/public co-operation,
    • Improved quality of tree management for trees on private land, and
    • Trees that are good to look at and safe to have around.

Figure 1: Government care of trees – what the public sees:

Photo credits: Jo Wilson

2. Preliminary Maintenance Inspections

The primary purpose of Preliminary Maintenance inspection is to identify the need for tree maintenance works. Property owners as well as property management or maintenance staff should carry out such preliminary maintenance inspections before seeking professional advice as necessary…

Owners should inspect trees within their premises at least once per year.

“Keep Your Trees Safe Leaflet, Tree Management Office, May 2010”

Living Lamma supports the advice of the Tree Management Office. As such we would expect that each government department that deals with trees would:

    • Have a tree maintenance plan that satisfies this policy,
    • Keep records of the areas and/or trees that have been inspected, and
    • Be prepared to provide copies of these records to the public.

We see no evidence that the advice of the Tree management Office is being followed. We have written to the Lands Department to ask:

  1. Why are trees on Lamma allowed to get into such a state that they have to be felled?
  2. Is there a Lamma “tree warden” responsible for the on-going maintenance of trees on the island?
  3. Is there a tree-planting programme to replace trees that have been felled? Which department is responsible for this?
  4. How many trees have been felled on Lamma by the government in the last year?
  5. How many trees have been planted on Lamma by government in the last year?

We have been unable to get any clear answers to these questions. Such information should be readily available if proper tree maintenance is being carried out and adequate records kept.

3. Maintenance

Routine tree maintenance works should be carried out by a competent landscape service provider or an arborist/tree specialist.

“Keep Your Trees Safe Leaflet, Tree Management Office, May 2010”

Living Lamma supports the advice of the Tree Management Office. As such we would expect that each government department that deals with trees would:

    • Require that government employees who make decisions about trees be appropriately qualified,
    • Require that the contractors who maintain trees be competent landscape service providers or arborist/tree specialists,
    • Mandate these requirements during the tender selection process for contractors, and
    • Guarantee standards by making records open to the public.

Living Lamma does not believe that trees can be properly assessed via photographs, which seems to be standard practice. It is important that the person who assesses the tree be physically present to do so.

The government guidelines on trees have only been produced recently. As of December 2010, Living Lamma found that contractors might not have been chosen with regard for these guidelines. A department might be reliant on its Vegetation Contractor but this contractor might not have any tree specialists because they were not required at the time they bid for the tender. In the long term, the solution is to incorporate this requirement into the tender process. However, in the short term, departments should avoid requiring contractors to complete tasks that they may not be competent to perform.

Living Lamma has been unable to establish the qualifications of the government’s recently appointed vegetation contractor for Lamma. We have, however, reported cases of workers employed by the government who used strimmers to indiscriminately cut back vegetation destroying saplings and flowering plants.

One would hope that contractors would react to changes in government policy by hiring appropriately qualified staff or through in-house training. However, our understanding of the standard tender process is that the current contractor will always be replaced at the end of their contract period. This gives them little incentive to invest in staff or machinery.

Perhaps it would be a good idea to allow the current contractor to bid for the next contract?

Proper maintenance should include the clearing of vines as well as pruning. We see no evidence of this taking place on Lamma. Many of the trees have long branches that have grown in search of light, and far too many are covered with vines, as in the following examples:

Figure 2: Vines and the Need for Pruning

Photo credits: Jo Wilson

4. Consultation and Communication

The Government exists to serve the community well within available resources. To this end, it recognises the need for the community to be well informed about the Government, the services it provides and the basis for policies and decisions that affect individuals and the community as a whole. The Code authorises and requires civil servants, routinely or on request, to provide information unless there are specific reasons for not doing so.

“Code on Access to Information, Hong Kong Government”

Living Lamma believes government departments should consult with the public before taking major action on trees. We consider major action to be anything that is likely to substantially alter the appearance of a tree. This includes removal of a major limb or indeed the removal of the entire tree.

The form of the consultation should be a notice detailing the work to be carried out. This should be pinned to the tree at least two weeks prior to the scheduled work. This serves two functions. Firstly it informs the public and secondly it ensures that the contractor carrying out the work can easily identify the tree and the action to be taken.

The department should be prepared to field enquiries regarding the nature of the decision. In the unlikely event that a member of the public disagrees with the assessment they should be invited to submit their own professional assessment and the decision should be reviewed in the light of that assessment.

In the rare case that a tree presents a clear and immediate danger to the public then of course the two-week consultation should be dispensed with. However, the department should understand that this is a rare event and that they must collect evidence so that they can justify emergency action should a member of the public query it after the event. Such an emergency assessment should be signed off by a qualified arborist, who would take professional responsibility for the assessment.

Lack of consultation is a missed opportunity for government to understand the needs of the community and respond appropriately. Living Lamma was once again dismayed by the lack of public notice on Lamma about CEDD’s GMP for the Islands District, or any effort to hold forums on Lamma that include elected representatives, NGOs, and local residents, many of whom could provide professional input or local knowledge. Currently “District Participation Groups” formed to discuss such projects exclude NGOs and residents, and there is no cross- community communication on the work of these groups.

5. Waste Management

Each year, Hong Kong produces millions of tonnes of municipal solid waste (MSW). …At the current rate of solid waste generation, our landfills will be full in 6 to 10 years, posing the question: what do we do with our waste then? …

Waste recycling is a key element in our MSW strategy. The Government’s intention is to promote the local recycling industry and jump-start a “circular economy”.

“Environmental Protection Department Policy on Municipal Solid Waste”

The management of vegetation on Lamma produces a vast quantity of green waste. Sometimes this is discarded where it is generated, creating eyesores, habitats for snakes and breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other insects. In dry weather these piles could easily become fire risks.

Often litter is thrown on top. While this can be seen from the public path, it is extremely difficult and often dangerous to retrieve.

Alternatively green waste is wrapped in black plastic, disposed of, and becomes part of the landfill problem. This form of waste is easy to deal with as it can be shredded, mulched or chipped and then composted. Living Lamma feels that vegetation contractors should be required to have a waste removal and recycling policy and to demonstrate that they have sufficient investment in equipment to be able to implement it.

Indeed once such a composting scheme is established one could even expand it too allow household waste to be added to the mix. About half of typical household waste is compostable and so this could reduce Lamma’s waste output by a factor of 50%. Needless to say such a scheme could achieve significant prestige in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, Living Lamma has been unable to find a government department that is willing to take the lead in establishing composting on Lamma, and it is the government contractors and workers who are creating most of the stockpiles of green waste, or who are putting green waste in black plastic bags to be taken to landfill.

Figure 3: Lamma’s Green Waste – Put in Landfill or Dumped

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Photo credits: Jo Wilson

6. Enforcement

Though Hong Kong has a Register of Old and Valuable Trees, there is no entry for Lamma Island. Yung Shue Wan, Lamma’s main village, was named after the Banyan trees along the bay area. Few are left today along the waterfront, though there are still some beautiful examples elsewhere on the island. There seems to be no attempt to register these and other old and valuable trees or to afford them the protection that government policy promises.

There have been a number of attacks on aquilaria sinensis, the Incense or Heung trees. Concerned residents try to act to protect the trees but have reported sluggish response and no significant follow up on the part of government. We would like to see better enforcement of the law with government working with local residents to formulate and enact plans for better protection of old and valuable trees.

Figure 4: The hacking of a Heung tree

Photo credits: Siu Yu Yeung (top left) and Paul Lau (top right and below)

Report ends.