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Chp 121, Tree Ordinance – Forty years champion for the environment

Tree Ordinance 保護樹木法例

Since 2001 Choy So Yuk (蔡素玉) has been the legislator most committed to a law to protect trees. She started a motion debate on a Tree Ordinance on 22 May 2001, to which CA showed support through a public statement. In 2002 Professor CY Jim (詹志勇), a former adviser of CA and renowned expert on trees, prepared a draft “Urban Tree Ordinance for Hong Kong” detailing provisions on tree planting, maintenance, removal and protection and proposing the formation of an Urban Tree Advisory Board. Despite all the lobbying, the government remained unconvinced of the need for a Tree Ordinance.

During Chinese New Year in 2005, one of the main branches of the famed Lam Tsuen Wishing Tree broke due to weights thrown upon it from the traditional “wish-throwing” ritual. The tree’s health was severely damaged but it was saved from demise because of extensive media coverage. Taking the opportunity, CA hosted a press conference on 15 March 2005 with Professor CY Jim and Professor Lung Ying Tai (龍應台), then Visiting Professor of Journalism and Media Studies Centre of Hong Kong University and former Cultural Minister of Taipei. They lashed out at the inadequacies of the current system – no statutory protection for trees, shabby management, lack of expertise, sloppy enforcement and inadequate punishment. Professor Jim emphasized the importance of such an Ordinance for if Hong Kong were to really become a green city. Professor Lung lamented at the “mass murder” of trees by developers and government public works departments, and called for an ordinance with “teeth” to offer genuine protection for trees.

The Earth Day (22 April) 2005 was the occasion for another boost of the campaign. By then CA had collected 10,000 signatures with its “A leaf for each of us” campaign and the “Tree for Life” programme, using the Earth Day as the occasion for a pledging ceremony in support of a Tree Ordinance.

The campaign proved its worth as 2005 turned out to be a bad year for trees in Hong Kong: besides the Lam Tsuen Wishing Tree, the wall trees along Hollywood Road and Forbes Streets in the Western District were under threat; tree murderers appeared in Tai Tong; and Incense Tree and Buddhist Pine thieves lurk around.

So CA’s campaign had to take much more than slogans and demonstrations. A serious stakeholder dialogue was initiated with developers at which consensus was reached over the need for clearer guidelines on tree protection. As a result of the stakeholder engagement, CA developed the following six principles for a Tree Ordinance for Hong Kong:

  1. Trees, especially mature trees and woodland in the urban area or urban fringes, are important asset and should be protected. Woodland with important ecological or environmental value should be designated as Tree Conservation Area. The Area should not be void even when leased. Trees with unique cultural and historical value should also be protected.
  1. Felling of a tree larger than a certain size should be approved by the responsible Authority. Written approval must be obtained before trees could be felled. Unauthorized tree felling will be penalized.
  1. The process of tree felling application should be transparent. Tree felling larger than a certain scale should be disclosed to the public. The public should be duly consulted.
  1. Planting trees in private lots should be encouraged. If the site is open to the public, the developer or owner should be compensated, such as by transfer of plot ratio.
  1. Management and maintenance works of trees should be performed by qualified arborists. A professional body should be authorized and responsible for maintaining the standards and handling complaints.
  1. As trees are public asset, there should be adequate and genuine community participation in tree protection and devising greening policy.

A survey conducted by CA in July 2005 found overwhelming support for legislation to protect trees. But a more important survey than people’s opinions was the Tree Survey conducted by CA. After a 4-month training programme including seminars, field trips and green-spotting techniques, some 400 “Tree Lovers” were tasked to identify major trees on Hong Kong Island and to report seriously threatening cases to the authorities. The results were released on a “Tree Lovers Day” 「惜樹靈人」 in Chater Garden on 30 October 2006. A total of 245 trees were assessed, from where major health problems were identified, including leaning (30%), pest and disease (24%), physical damage (14%), pruning wound (13%), cavity (7%), fungal fruiting bodies (5%) and dieback (5%). The findings showed that poor tree management practices such as improper trimming, topping, negligence and poor gardening have caused life-threatening conditions to hundreds of trees in Hong Kong, exacerbated by poor coordination by government departments, ignorance of developers and landowners and shortage of qualified arborists.

With the help of the “Tree Lovers”, CA undertook a half-year long Tree Survey in 2007, studying 339 trees in housing estates and along roadsides, and by December 2007 completed a survey of 113 out of 526 Old and Valuable Trees. The result was released on 16 December 2007. The picture was grim: the survey found that 85% of the trees in housing estates and along roadsides had potential structural risk which would be prone to collapse if no proper conservation measures were taken. As to Old and Valuable Trees, the condition was better but still unsatisfactory, with 52% having structural problems such as decay, cavity, leaning or over-growth of canopy. The CA statement then called on the government to “legislate for trees and increase the resources to protect trees and safeguard public safety.” This followed an earlier letter of 5 November 2007 to the Leisure and Cultural Services Department expressing concern that if roadside trees were not properly maintained, they might be a potential danger to the life and property of residents.

Unfortunately, 2008 saw a series of mishaps: In May an Old and Valuable Tree in Bonham Road collapsed; in August about one-third of a champion tree in Kowloon Park broke off; in September a tree collapsed on a taxi. Finally, tragedy hit on 27 August 2008 when a coral tree in the Old and Valuable Tree Register in Stanley Main Street collapsed on a 19-year old girl killing her. CA convened a press conference on 2 September condemning the government’s lack of action in maintaining unhealthy trees. The need for a Tree Ordinance was as urgent as ever.

Links:

1. Conservancy Association’s position on tree conservation

2. UK – Tree Preservation Order

3. Singapore – Cap. 216, Parks and Trees Act

4. Singapore – HSBC’s Heritage Trees Fund & Heritage Tree Scheme

5. 台北市樹木保護自治條例

6. 蔡素玉議員就保育樹木所提出的議員條例草案(見第二屆立法會規劃地政及工程事務委員會文件)

7. 關於《2004年林區及鄉郊(修訂)條例草案》的資料文件及蔡素玉議員建議的條例草案擬稿(同上)

8. Audrey Eu on tree conservation

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August 10, 2015 - Posted by | conservation, Dr WK Chan book

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