Biodiversity and Hong Kong city parks

I was recently among a small group of people from Living Cheung Chau and the Association for a Beautiful Hong Kong who visited an urban park in north Cheung Chau together with a team from the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD). Our primary focus was on recently installed railings – as a Living Cheung Chau member believed far more had been added than was really necessary.

            During discussions, there was agreement that some of the new railings could indeed be removed. But also, after looking around the park, I remarked that there were very few plant species in the flowerbeds, and there was great scope for improvement. Plus, with more species of plants, the park would be richer in biodiversity, such as through attracting more birds and butterflies.

            “Biodiversity” may seem a rather fancy, almost technical term. Yet really it’s simply about numbers of plants and animal species, and abundance of individuals. With its sub-tropical climate and natural habitats ranging from sea, through mangroves and mudflats to rivers, forests and hills, Hong Kong is home to high biodiversity, with over 3000 species of flowering plants, over 300 tree species, more than 230 species of butterflies and just over 500 bird species.

kowloon park

            And yet, how much of this biodiversity do you or most Hongkongers really experience on a day-to-day basis? How many birds do you see or hear, how many butterflies and dragonflies do you come across, how many kinds of trees and flowers are in your neighbourhood?

            For most people, biodiversity is surely something that is mostly “out there”, someplace beyond where they live and work. Urban parks offer an outstanding opportunity to partly remedy this situation.

            Before writing this article, I emailed the LCSD, asking about Hong Kong’s urban parks and biodiversity, and noting some shortcomings. I received a reply from an anonymous spokesperson, pointing out some of the good things being done – like planting over 2.8 million shrubs/trees last year, and using the “right species for the right place” to select plants. But the email gave no solid information on animal species found in our parks, and ignored issues such as my comment that perhaps dead leaves are often swept from soil for the sake of cleanliness.

            On the LCSD website, there is a section about a Green Hong Kong Campaign. Looking through it, I get the impression that there is official confusion, as though the concept of “green” begins and ends with adding the colour green: grow plants that make an area look green, and that will suffice, job done. There are photos with ornamental plants, but scant information on biodiversity. A section on birds covers a mere 21 species – just four percent of Hong Kong’s total.

            Compare information on New York’s Central Park, which notes that over 230 bird species may be found there, which is around half the total for New York State. This impressive tally is partly a result of the park having a range of habitats, including some areas that were created by people, but have been allowed to develop like wild woodland.

            According to the anonymous spokesperson, Hong Kong’s urban parks now have 35 “conservation corners”, and vegetation clearance is kept to a minimum, to preserve wildlife habitats. But picture a typical urban park, and I expect you picture a place with concrete paths between closely cropped lawns, lines of trees, and neatly manicured flowerbeds. There isn’t much space for any wildness.

            So, what would I suggest? Mainly, I think, that the LCSD management consider whether having more biodiversity in our parks would indeed be worthwhile and – if so – have the courage to implement policies that can realise this goal. This would involve seeking advice of experts outside the department, and outside government; and allowing areas of some parks to become wilder.

            Benefits would include parks becoming home to far more of Hong Kong’s plants and animals. This could help with conservation of some species, but will also make the parks more enjoyable to visit: even people with no expert knowledge of birds, butterflies and beautiful plants enjoy seeing and photographing them.

            More biodiversity will involve areas perhaps looking messier to some people’s eyes. But education will be needed, too, such as explaining that dead leaves on soil are not “dirty”: they quickly decay to become food for plants. More education will be possible, as city parks bring people and wildlife closer together.

            It is not just the LCSD that can become involved in such efforts. So too might the Civil Engineering and Development Department, which is currently implementing a Greening Master Plan; and the Lands Department, such as with the slopes it manages.

            Such initiatives would dovetail with the Environment and Nature Bureau’s current efforts to develop a Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan. By making the city home to more of our native plants and animals, it would bring us just a little closer to living in harmony with nature. With wildlife as neighbours, we might have more chance of achieving real sustainable development.

Written for Ming Pao Weekly; published [in Chinese] during April 2013

Green Hong Kong Campaign

Central Park - birding

Martin Williams

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Martin Williams's picture

我最近與來自「活力長州」與「美港聯盟」幾位成員,一同和代表康文署的小組前往長州北部的公園考察,主要目的是審視最近安裝的圍欄,因為其中一位活力長州成員相信現時所安裝的數目有過多之嫌。

討論後,我們同意確可移除部份新安裝的圍欄。但在公園周圍檢視後,我發現花槽中的植物品種寥寥可數,實在大有改善空間。再者,公園內種植更多品種可豐富生物多樣性,吸引更多雀鳥與蝴蝶。

「生物多樣性」看似深奧難懂,但其實它只代表著動植物品種的數量,和每個品種都數目充足。香港的氣候屬亞熱帶,境內擁有各式天然棲所,包括海洋、濕地、泥灘、河流、森林和山丘,本身是生物多樣性高的地方,有超過3000種開花植物、超過300種樹木、逾230種蝴蝶和稍稍超過500種雀鳥。

然而,你又或者是大部份為香港人,有多少會每天都會感受到這些生物多樣性?你看或聽見過多少雀鳥、和多少隻蝴蝶和蜻蜓相遇過,又在社區內看過多少花草樹木?

對大部份人來說,生物多樣性確是「外在」的,它活於人們居住與工作地方以外的範圍。市內公園便成為這種情況的最佳補償。

在撰寫本文前,我曾向康文署發電郵,詢問香港市內公園生物多樣性的問題,並提出自己發現的缺點。我收到佚名代言人的回覆,簡述了一些當局已實行的措施,例如在去年種植了超過280萬棵灌木/樹,並以「在適當的地方擺放適當的樹木」原則來選擇植物。但電郵並沒有提供關於公園內動物物種的資料,更忽略了很多事情,例如我對為了清潔美觀而經常在土地上掃走枯葉的意見。

康文署網站有一關於綠色香港運動的部份。讀後令我大感不惑,好像只要在「綠色」概念前後加上綠這顏色,種種植物令周圍看上去綠油油便夠了,大功告成。網頁中有裝飾用植物的照片,卻少有關於生物多樣性的資料。網站中有關雀鳥的部份僅包括了21個品種,即本港總類的4%。

相比下,紐約中央公園網站的資料便指出園內可看到超過230種雀鳥,即整個紐約州可見品種的一半。數字所以令人刮目相看,部份是因為公園提供了多種棲所,包括一些任由其像野生樹林生長的人工範圍。

據佚名代言人所說,香港的市區公園現有35個「保育角」,這些地點會盡量不會清除植物,以保護野生動物的棲所。但試想像一個典型的市區公園,我想你腦中也會畫出這樣的景象:草坪修剪整齊、中間鋪有混凝土小徑、樹木有序排列,花槽工整勻稱。整個公園裡沒有多少空間留給野生動物。

那我有什麼建議?主要來說,我認為康文署高層應考慮在公園中增加生物多樣性是否值得,如果值得,當局又有沒有勇氣施行政策,推動目標成真。這將涉及向康文署和政府以外的專家徵詢意見,並容許某些公園的範圍變得更接近野生生態。

令公園變成更多香港動植物的家,將有助保育某些物種,而且令公園成為更多人樂於享用的地方。即使對鳥類、蝴蝶和美麗植物沒有專業知識的人們,都會喜歡欣賞動植物、為牠們拍照。

在某些人們眼中,更豐富的生物多樣性或許會令某些地方變得較凌亂,但我們需要從中學習,明白泥土上的枯葉並不是「骯髒」,而是很快會腐化並變成植物的養份。市內公園能吸引更多市民參觀、吸引更多野生動物居住,便可以推動更深入的教育。

除了康文署外,現正推行綠化總綱圖的土木工程署,還有負責管理斜坡的地政總署也可參與這些計劃。

這些計劃將可緊密配合環境局現時積極制訂的生物多樣性策略及行動計劃。讓香港成為更多本地原生動植物的家,將可令我們更接近大自然,與它和和諧共處。和野生動物成為鄰居,我們或會有更大機會達成直正可持續發展。

Martin Williams's picture

Excellent letter from Prof CY Jim to S China Morning Post, published on 17 Aug:

Bona fide woodland park needs native species, not artefacts

I echo K. N. Wai's letter on behalf of the Hong Kong Alternatives ("Swift action needed to create world-class park at arts hub", August 6).

I want to see the creation of a bona fide woodland park, not a second-rate parody. The woodland should occupy not less than 75 per cent of the site area and the bulk (over 90 per cent) of the site should be covered by soil with vegetation.

It should be composed of native tree species, and plenty of them are well suited for the site.

Concrete, asphalt, tile or other artificial paving materials, and unnecessary and visually obtrusive metal railings, should not be used.

A natural woodland does not have such artefacts.

The species palette should be determined as soon as possible.

As native species are seldom raised by tree nurseries in the region, advanced ordering is a must to tackle the critical supply bottleneck.

Otherwise, they will be substituted by commonplace exotic species. We have to pre-empt this eventuality, which may make or mar the scheme.

The park should not be adulterated by structures unrelated to its core function - as a venue for informal outdoor recreation in a natural setting. Plenty of land has been allocated adjoining the park for cultural buildings; there is no justification to intrude into the park to build more.

The lack of progress in park design is worrying. As an integral component of the West Kowloon Cultural District, its planning is evidently lagging behind other built structures.

It should not be relegated to a secondary or peripheral position. It will be a travesty of justice if funding for the park is fleeced to subsidise expensive cultural buildings. The park will enrich our culture and play an equally important social-cultural role as concert halls and museums. Please treat it with equal opportunity and enthusiasm.

Fine examples of urban woodland in other cities could serve as sources of inspiration, such as Berlin, London, Le Havre, Leipzig, Milan, Paris and Tokyo.

The key green infrastructure project has the potential to become a world-class signature project and a source of pride. Properly designed, it will provide salubrious enjoyment to generations of citizens who will be truly grateful for the attractive public amenity.

I plead with the government not to squander it. Let us join hands to turn the dream into reality.

C. Y. Jim, chair professor, department of geography, University of Hong Kong

 

Martin Williams's picture

Hong Kong’s urban parks need ‘nature corners’ to nurture city’s ‘rich diversity’ of butterfly life, HKU experts urge

Study by University of Hong Kong ecologists finds environmental and spatial designs of downtown parks crucial to protecting city’s 250 species, in the absence of more dedicated nature reserves

http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2023698/ho...

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