Letter: Legco re. trees 2014

Letter to Legco Panel on Environmental Affairs (trees)

May 2014

Dear Legco Members:

I have attached our report on trees from October 2012. We have been communicating with various different departments on this since 2010, but just see buck-passing and little change to address the problems raised in the paper. The 2012 version was updated to include a section on the heung trees after there were a spate of attacks on these trees around Mo Tat Wan and Yung Shue Wan at the time.

These attacks are not well publicised and there is little by way of education to help people value the trees, or indeed any aspect of the natural world around them. A recent sign informing people about habitats has just been erected in the Yung Shue Long valley, right in front of a concrete nullah (which was a beautiful stream with fish in it until the Drainage Services Department carried out works there) and a former lily pond on agricultural land until dumping occurred and it was turned into a building site. The latter was also a former breeding ground of the Romer’s tree frog, but though the case was reported to EPD, AFCD, DSD, LandsD, PlanD, Home Affairs and the Legco panel on environmental affairs, no action has been taken. One can only wonder at how visitors to the island will react when they see how Hong Kong treats its habitats.

Back to the trees. As Legco members will see, our paper deals with tree management on Lamma. There are two issues: 1. education & control and 2. provision of local services.

  1. Education & Control

For the case of the heung trees, we see the plight of this species as typical of the plight of Hong Kong’s ecology in general. There are people in society for whom land holds little value unless they can build on it. There are others for whom nature holds no value unless they can make money from it. There are still many others who are so disconnected from the natural world that they really do not care to protect it. Even when protection is enshrined in law, it is not enforced.

Changing mentalities through education to allow people to make the connections necessary for them to care to change their behaviour is a massive task, particularly in a system based so much on rote learning and examination rather than enquiry and exploration. A good first step is to put resources into understanding the problem and we would urge Legco members to support Pui Han’s campaign and others like it.

  1. Provision of Local Services

In the 1980s, Lamma had few trees, now it is covered in forest. Much of this was planted by government, Hong Kong Electric and local residents. However, little thought was given to the ongoing maintenance of the trees or for the disposal of green waste. We simply do not have the equipment, facilities and expertise to do what would be routine work in other countries. Though government has set up a Tree Management Office for Hong Kong, this operates far away from the needs of the community and we see no improvement in the problems of tree management and green waste disposal. If anything, things are getting worse. A dedicated tree warden would be able to tell you about Lamma’s heung trees (and other species), where they are, what state they are in and whether they have been attacked.

We have campaigned on many different aspects to improve both the living and natural environments in our community. We have found time and again that what is intended by government strategy is not reflected in experience on the ground. Those at the top of government cannot/will not/do not involve themselves in “local issues” and those at the bottom are not empowered to change anything or even to report the problems to those higher up. This situation is having disastrous consequences, yet when we try to tackle the bigger issues – on waste or development, for instance – all we see is conflict.

Heung trees are an important part of Hong Kong’s ecological heritage. It should not be beyond our capabilities to protect them. In other countries, trees of such importance become part of the attraction of a place. They are valued not for how much money they can make or what people can take from them, but just for being. This is why it is good to put resources into research and education of the heung trees. Furthering an appreciation for intrinsic value in Hong Kong could go a long way to improving society, not only from an environmental point of view, but also for the people that live here.

Should you require more information, I would be very happy to speak to you.

Best regards

Jo Wilson

Lamma resident & Chairperson of Living Lamma