Grannie Green Revivial

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Chp 124, Wall trees at Lung Chu Street Nulluh – Forty years champion for the environment

Wall trees at Lung Chu Street Nullah

The open nullah at Lung Chu Street (龍珠街) has been a regular nuisance to residents due to the occasional bad smell. The Drainage Services Department (DSD) had agreed with the Sham Shui Po District Council to cover the nullah and to remove the odour once and for all. Except that there were mature trees along the stone walls of the nullah, which had to be felled as a result.

In CA’s view, the wall trees had significant ecological and cultural values, and removing them would be a great loss to Hong Kong. To cover the nullah is an incomplete way of resolving the odour problem; the right way should have been to remove illegal dumping of polluted water. CA’s green ribbon campaign struck on 20 March 2006 to urge the Drainage Services Department to withdraw the tree felling plan. As CA stressed in its statement, “the only way of tackling the problem of odour is to clean up the source of pollution, not to cover it and pretend that the pollution is solved.”

There were then more than 20 wall trees along the nullah, most of them being Chinese Banyan and Common Red-stem fig. All of them were mature trees with a height between 3 to 11 metres high. In particular, the group of Common Red-stem figs was considered unique as the majority of wall trees in Hong Kong are Chinese Banyan. There are no other sites with a dozen Common Red-stem fig trees in one location with buttress roots adapted to the condition of the masonry walls. The nullah was, therefore, a scene with special scientific value for further study. Besides, the trees formed a green canopy and functioned as a green lung for the community, reducing the heat island effect. As to the nullah itself, it was located in the area of Tai Hang (Big Nullah) and was the only remaining open nullah. As such it has a symbolic meaning locally and historically. CA also found several species of birds on the trees along the nullah, for example, yellow wagtail and white wagtail.

On the same day, CA wrote to the District Council to seek their understanding and support. To try to reverse a District Council decision was thought to be monumentally difficult, but CA’s perseverance paid off, as some councilors began to symphathise with preservation. After further negotiations, DSD agreed at a meeting on 28 April 2006 that it was possible not to completely deck over the nullah and hence to preserve some of the trees.

On 16 June 2006, at a tripartite meeting among CA, the District Council and DSD, a compromise solution was agreed under which 8 of the wall trees would be preserved, and the area around the open nullah would be enhanced to become a public space. The District Council and the DSD were commended by CA for the open and cooperative manner in finding a sustainable solution that benefit the community in the long term.

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August 13, 2015 Posted by | conservation, Dr WK Chan book | Leave a comment

Chp 123, Wall trees at Forbes Street – Forty years champion for the environment

Wall trees at Forbes Street

A “flash mob” gathered on 10 July 2005 at Forbes Street (科士街) just underneath a line of well-grown stone-wall trees (石牆樹). The flash mob had one message: preserve the trees and the stone-wall.

CA was the organizer of the flash mob. The gesture was to capture the attention of the MTRC, which was conducting consultation on the new stations to be built as extension of the Island Line. According to MTRC’s preliminary plans, the stone-wall trees would be a casualty of the project. Though an avowed supporter of railway, CA found that unacceptable and asked the MTRC to design the route alignment carefully to minimize impact on trees during construction. CA also wrote to the Antiquities and Monuments Office requesting that the government declare valuable stone wall trees as monuments, as the trees and the stone wall were one organic unit of heritage. A total of 14 sites were put to the AMO.

For Forbes Street, the protest action had the desired effect; later the MTRC agreed to re-align the Kennedy Town Station layout to preserve the trees and the stone wall.

But there are many other stone wall trees which are just as worthy of protection. And the value of wall trees must be appreciated more:

  • Many wall trees have been living for several decades, most of them native species. They proffer shades to the cramped, hillside communities.
  • Wall trees flourish from the joints, unattended, just like the can-do spirit of Hong Kong people. The disappearance of wall trees would mean the demise of another symbol of the Hong Kong spirit.
  • Wall trees bring together the unique forms of natural vegetation and man-made structures. It is a sheer coincidence of early artisanship and natural environ­ment. They are the living witnesses of the early history of Hong Kong.
  • Wall trees consist of various species and most of them native. The rich bio­diversity is beyond doubt and is important to greening as well as ecological research.

Some may already have the assurance that they would be protected, like the wall trees on Hollywood Road outside the Police Quarters, which was the subject of an earlier “green ribbon” action by the Central and Western District Council in June 2005. Those in Bonham Street near Centre Street and King George V Memorial Park are listed in the Register of Old and Valuable Trees and would hence be looked after by the Leisure and Cultural Services De­partment. But the future of others is unknown, such as those in Ship Street in Wanchai.

2006 saw another protest action to save wall trees, this time in Lung Chu Street in Kowloon. To promote understanding of this unique urban heritage of Hong Kong, CA organized a stone wall tree survey with the Wanchai District Council and published a guide to stone wall trees in Wanchai in June 2006.

August 12, 2015 Posted by | conservation, Dr WK Chan book | Leave a comment

Chp 122, Tree destruction – Forty years champion for the environment

Tree destruction

Cases of tree destruction were always sad news to CA, whether that was the result of mischief or negligence. In all of the major cases where CA took a public view, the need for a Tree Ordinance was always reinforced.

In 2005, CA was shocked by what it described as a “mass murder” of some 200 trees in Tai Lam Country Park on 13 July. The crime scene was Tai Tong Shan Road inside Tai Lam Country Park. The felled trees consisted of 10 species planted along a 1 km forest track, mostly sweet gum, include acacia, Chinese guger tree and pine.

Describing the act as “a blatant breach of law and an affront to the Administration’s conservation works”, CA petitioned the Environment, Transport and Works Bureau and LegCo, urging the Administration to bring the vandals to justice.

Then in November 2006 CA received a complaint about “topping” of mature trees from residents of Leung King Estate in Tuen Mun, a public turned private housing estate under Tenants Purchase Scheme. A site visit revealed that many mature trees were “decapitated”. According to the property manager, the “pruning” trees necessary to avoid the risk of falling branches hurting people, and was supported by the Owners’ Corporation. CA expressed deep regret and advised the property management that new shoots from topped trees were more prone to breaking, and the trees that were not properly topped would be more vulnerable to diseases thus posing bigger threats to the public. For proper tree pruning, professional arborists must be hired.

In 2007 the “King of Hong Kong Urban Tree”, the Banyan in Kowloon Park, made newspaper headlines when one third of its tree trunk collapsed on 13th August. Situated at the football pitch in Kowloon Park, it was the largest Chinese Banyan with the thickest trunk in Hong Kong, but it fell prey to construction works and ineffectual tree conservation measures. The tree is still in bad condition in 2008.

In a way that was not surprising. The tree team at the Leisure and Cultural Services Department Tree Team comprise only 110 staff, but they have to take care of 700,000 trees in Hong Kong. Although Old and Valuable Trees are inspected twice a year, the collapse of the King Banyan clearly revealed the inadequacy of resources in tree conservation. As CA stated, “Whether a tree is able to survive cannot be determined just by its health conditions, its structural stability is equally important. Even if the trunks are healthy, a tree with root decay still has chance to collapse. The Administration spares no expenses on greening, but it should also allocate resources for tree conservation, otherwise trees can hardly enhance the environment and increase the risk of collapses. The result is that it both waste public fund and jeopardize public safety.”

August 11, 2015 Posted by | conservation, Dr WK Chan book | Leave a comment

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

August 10, 2015 Posted by | conservation, Dr WK Chan book | Leave a comment

Wind farm dispute

中電提出在西貢東南建設離岸風力發電場,引起關注氣候變化的環保人士和熱愛自然地貌的保育人士之間出現齟齬。前者認為全球暖化關乎人類存亡生態平衡,必須要建設這這劃時代的清潔能源橋頭堡,而帶領香港進入低碳經濟的新世代;後者則認為那是人間一處淨土,是清水灣、果洲群島和糧船灣洲對開,沒有人工修飾的天然美景,不容人工現代產物視覺污染。

Gwsq hochits picture

Gwsq hochit’s picture

果洲群島

hochit’s picture

同樣,英國蘇格蘭最大的陸上風力發電場計劃,也遇到Shetland當地保育團體的反對。英國能源及氣候變化大臣文立彬(Ed Miliband)卻說,氣候變化對地貌的威脅,比風電場更大,反對建風電場,是 “socially unacceptable”。

其實,景觀美醜,在於一念之間,保育人士何不把風車看成是傳說的阿特蘭蒂斯,也有另一番詩意!

延伸閱讀: Latest protest leaves climate strategy twisting in the wind

July 29, 2009 Posted by | climate change, conservation, energy | | Leave a comment