Grannie Green Revivial

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Preface – Forty years champion for the environment


Conservancy Association: The Beginning

By Hung Wing Tat and Chan Wai Kwan

The bustling port of Hong Kong in 1955 was the destination of a young commander of the British Army, John Pain. He enjoyed working in Hong Kong and in 1964 he joined the Hong Kong Tourist Association, an organization he was later to spend 23 years serving. He, a country man, together with his friends Prof. Brian Loft and Jeremy Brown who were brought up in the Scottish and Welsh countryside, are genuine nature lovers. Friends before coming to Hong Kong, they had a habit of roaming the countryside together during weekends.

The three friends were soon joined by the strong-willed Scottish lady Agnes “Agony” Black who moved to Hong Kong after a long stint in Beijing. They wanted to give a name to themselves; Agnes suggested the name “Banyan Tree” but the men decided that they would name themselves “Bauhina’s Circle”, after the floral emblem of Hong Kong. That was in 1967.

Their regard for the Hong Kong countryside came at just the right time as the Hong Kong government made plans in 1968 for a “Provisional Council for the Use and Conservation of the Countryside”, an idea from a government-commissioned report “Conservation of the Hong Kong Countryside” in 1965 by Lee M Talbot. Between rounds of country-roaming and chit-chatting about life in the British colony, the Bauhinia’s Circle made their cause known to the Hong Kong government, mostly through persistent phone calls to officials by the indefatigable Agnes Black promoting tree planting or complaining of hill fires.

The idea of forming an association came during one of these walks when three friends saw the mass destruction of the village land, mainly because of the influx of the Chinese settlements and the rapid road works and industrial expansion. They knew that that had to be changed, so they talked about forming an interested group to preserve Hong Kong’s countryside. As a senior person at the Hong Kong Tourist Association, John also saw the necessity of stopping the littering habit of the local residents. Like good young men in those days, the three friends, John, Brian and Jeremy, started a litter collection campaign at a very dirty bay between Tsuen Wan and Tuen Mun. They picked the litters among the beach-goers which got widely reported in the newspapers. The next time they went to the same beach, the local boys picked up the litters with them.

And so, one day in October 1968 when they were gathered at the “Virgin’s Retreat”, a.k.a. Helena May Institute on Garden Road of which Agnes Black was a member, the Zoology professor of Hong Kong University, the young partner from Jardine Matheson, and the Scottish lady from Beijing joined the Assistant Director of the Hong Kong Tourist Association in declaring themselves the Conservancy Association – thus was born the first ever green group of Hong Kong.

In choosing the name “Conservancy” both the expertise of Messrs Brian Loft and John Pain were called upon. Professor Loft had been organizer of an earlier international conference on conservation and in the course of doing so he had sought to harness the experience of the HKTA in doing conferences. So when they considered the name of the new association, “Conservancy” was the term that satisfied both the scientist and the marketing man as being one that would best suit their purpose.

Soon they recruited Robert Rayne, the scholar from Lincolnshire who enjoyed walking the hills of Hong Kong whilst not attending to his duties as Vice President of the Chinese University’s Chung Chi College; and Michael Webster, a keen bird-watcher who frequented the Mai Po marshes. Through Prof Loft, many of his academic colleagues were drawn into the work of the Association, including Sir Lindsay Ride, former Vice Chancellor of Hong Kong University and Dr Hu Shiu Ying, renowned botanist at Chinese University. The Chinese name of CA was probably given by Hu, a self-contained young lady who was the first local Chinese to participate in the work of the Association although she only formally joined later after much persuasion.

John Pain was regarded as the leader among them although no election was held; it was all very informal. They were later joined by a junior biology teacher Father Harold Naylor of Wah Yan College Kowloon who was initiated into conservation education after a five-day ecology course at Hong Kong University earlier; the Irish priest caught Robert Raynes’ eyes by his insistence to bring students outdoors instead of just imparting knowledge in the classroom. A conference in March 1969 on the Development and Conservation of the Countryside organized by Professor Lofts at Hong Kong University provided another occasion for them to expand their network.

Though still relatively amorphous, the group took their business increasingly seriously, the boardroom of the Hong Kong Tourist Association at Realty Building becoming their regular meeting place. Importantly, when handling CA’s work John had strong support from his personal assistant, Teresa Chen who was an animal lover. In late 1969, slightly more than a year after the group was founded, it was formally registered as a society. But it wasn’t until 1970 when the first proper Annual General Meeting was held, at which Robert Rayne was elected Chairman with Michael Webster as Secretary. The Second AGM was held on 21 October 1971, the year that saw social activist Dr LK Ding joining their ranks. In the same year John Pain himself had been elevated to become Executive Director of the HKTA.

In the early days of CA, everyone worked on a voluntary basis, there was no permanent staff and strictly speaking no office space of its own. Soon it became apparent that CA could not continue like that without having its own office and staff. A membership drive and fund raising campaign was launched, with all 111 individuals and 31 companies declared “Founding Members” in May 1972.  Through Dr LK Ding’s connection, the Association got office space provided by the Methodist church on the seventh floor of Metropole Building, 57 Peking Road, while Robert Raynes made a personal grant to finance the office equipment. There was enormous generosity and goodwill. The membership fee and sponsorship collected was sufficient for CA to maintain the office and install a small staff to run its activities.

After CA’s office moved away from the HKTA, John gradually drifted away from the core of CA, although he remained ever generous in giving time to the Association. Professor Brian Loft left Hong Kong later and Jeremy Brown as Managing Director of Jardine flew all around the world and was never permanently stationed in Hong Kong. These initiators completed their romantic tour with CA and moved on, carrying with them the fond memories of the old days and the good wish that Hong Kong will ever be striving to become a better place.

(This is a reconstruction from notes of an interview with John Pain by Hung Wing Tat on 4 August 2008, and snippets provided by John Pain, Father Naylor and the late Dr LK Ding.)


April 6, 2015 - Posted by | Dr WK Chan book

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