Po Toi merits country park status

Po Toi: Magnet for Migratory Birds and Potential Ecotourism Hotspot

Though close to southeastern Hong Kong Island, Po Toi is an island that the modern world has mostly passed by. The population has fallen from around a thousand in the 1970s, to well under a hundred residents, most of whom also live in or near Aberdeen. Perhaps the last main news event here was a fire in 1991, which destroyed most of a row of restaurants and houses at the main village, Wan Tsai.

            Yet in recent weeks, Po Toi has featured in news reports following a halt to a columbarium project, which led to the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society spearheading calls for protection of the island as country park. Arguments in favour of conservation include the island’s splendid scenery, local culture, and importance for wildlife – especially migratory birds.

po toi buddha's hand

            Po Toi is fashioned from granite, which rises to around 200 metres, and is two kilometres wide, with Wan Tsai cradled in an inlet on the west coast, near which a wild, rocky headland is the southernmost land in Hong Kong. Many visitors come solely to enjoy seafood at Wan Tsai, but you can follow trails to the headland, up and over Po Toi’s hilly interior, and past natural rock sculptures such as Buddha’s Hand and Turtle Climbing the Hill.

Magnetic appeal for migratory birds

            Though for some years there have been indications that Po Toi could be good for seeing migratory birds, it was not until a Briton, Geoff Welch, began a bird study that it was found to be a real hotspot – as if it has magnetic appeal for birds travelling flyways along the south China coast.

            Welch says he started his study in 2006, after retiring. A keen birdwatcher as a boy, he had retained a lifelong interest in birds, and as he lives in Ap Lei Chau, Po Toi appeared a promising place to focus his efforts. Even in February that year, before spring migration really began, Welch found a Chinese Song Thrush on the island. It was only the second record of this species in Hong Kong, and Welch was soon to make more remarkable discoveries, leading to further visits by birdwatchers and bird photographers – and a host of notable sightings.

             To date, over 300 bird species have been recorded on Po Toi or at sea nearby: that’s more than 60 percent of Hong Kong’s total. Ten have been confirmed as new species for Hong Kong; at least seven are believed threatened with extinction. Po Toi is Hong Kong’s best place for seeing gorgeous forest birds that pass through Hong Kong – especially in spring, when there’s a good chance of finding Narcissus flycatchers that are black above, incandescent orange below, and Japanese paradise flycatchers with extravagantly long central tail feathers.

            Welch explains that Po Toi’s location is key to the numbers of migrants – with only open sea between here and the Philippines, it’s one of the first places birds can make landfall. Plus, there is a good mix of habitats; the landbirds are mainly found in fung shui woods, shrubs and patches of old farmland beside the village.

"Memorial Garden" - and Country Park Proposal

Late last year, workers began removing low vegetation along a small valley, and soon the cleared land was dotted with hundreds of ash cement squares, ready for a columbarium billed as a “memorial garden”. The project was reportedly illegal, and the Town Planning Board soon made Po Toi a Development Permission Area, putting a halt to the columbarium – though the owners may appeal in court.

In response, the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society has called for Po Toi to be designated as country park – which the government had recommended in 2001, though no action has been taken since. The society has a Facebook page to promote the campaign (支持蒲台郊野公園 Support Po Toi Country Park) and is proposing that southwest Po Toi become a Site of Special Scientific Interest, further protecting the key habitats for birds. Other wildlife is also found here, such as Burmese pythons, and the tiny Romer’s tree frog, which was known to naturally occur on only four islands in the world, all in Hong Kong (one of these islands, Chek Lap Kok, was all but destroyed to make way for the airport).

HKBWS conservation officer Beetle Cheng Nok-ming notes that protection of Po Toi could benefit islanders, including those running restaurants and small cafes for visitors: “It may be possible to develop Po Toi as an eco-tourism hotspot, which would bring more people.”

By late May this year, a series of rainstorms had created a small marsh in part of the columbarium, where ash cement patches were crumbling, and long grass had grown. Little bitterns – tiny members of the heron family – were among migrants that sought shelter there, encouraging birdwatchers such as Welch to dream of creating a mini wetland reserve.

Welch often stays overnight on Po Toi, and though conditions are tough – recently, a generator had burnt out so he spent several days and nights without electricity – he says, “The birds make it worthwhile.”

Reflecting on Po Toi’s significance for biodiversity, Welch remarks that the surrounding waters are also good for marine life: “In March, I see families of porpoises with young ones swimming by.” These are globally endangered finless porpoises – among the many species for which Po Toi and its surroundings are a haven that deserves lasting protection.

- written for Ming Pao Weekly; a translated version (below) was published on 23 June 2012

蒲台島:吸引候鳥的天堂、潛力優厚的生態旅遊熱點

衛林士博士

 

蒲台島毗鄰港島東南,但對於許多生活在現代世界人士的眼中,它只是個遊人擦身而過的小島。1970年代時,島上人口約為1,000人,現已降至少於100,而且大部份島民在香港仔或附近另有居所。這個南方小島上一次成為重要新聞主題,要數算到1991年的一場火災,大火當時燒毀了位於蒲台島主要村落灣仔村上整排酒樓與房屋。

         但就在數星期前,隨著蒲台島上一項骨灰龕場工程計劃被凍結發展,加上香港觀鳥會隨即發起「支持蒲台郊野公園」運動,小島的名字再次現身各大報章。支持保育人士指出,蒲台島不僅景色優美而富有本文化,更對野生動物–特別是候鳥–尤為重要。

         蒲台島是最香港南端的島嶼,由花崗岩形成,全島濶2公里,最高點約為200米,西岸灣仔村由小海灣環抱,旁邊是滿佈自然奇石的島岬。雖然不少旅遊人士前往蒲台島只是為了到灣仔村吃海鮮,但你也可以沿著小徑前往島岬,來到蒲台島中心滿佈小山的地帶,欣賞佛手岩、靈龜上山等天然石刻。

         雖然在近年不少人士都曾經指出蒲台島可以成為觀賞候鳥的理想地點,小島卻是在英國人Geoff Welch展開一項鳥類研究後,才被視為真正的賞鳥勝地。小島對飛往南中國海岸的雀鳥來說,有著磁石一樣的吸引力。

         Welch表示自己從小已熱愛觀鳥,而且研究鳥類已成為他的終身興趣,他於2006年開始有關研究。由於他家住鴨脷州,所以很快判斷蒲台島為讓他尊注發展的理想地方。就在那年的二月,當春季移棲尚未真正展開的時候,Welch已在島上發現一隻寶興歌鶇––那是本港第二次出現這種雀鳥的紀錄。此後,Welch的觀鳥發現很快便接蹱而來,而且吸引了其他觀鳥人士和鳥類攝影發燒友,當然還有一大群為數不小的賞鳥團。

         現時,在蒲台島或附近海面的有紀錄雀鳥品種已逾300,佔全港數字超過六成。其中,有10種已被確認為在香港發現的新品種;相信最少7種為瀕臨絕種的雀鳥。蒲台島是香港境內觀賞飛越本港的漂亮森林鳥類的最好地方,特別是在春天的時候,很大機會可以找到上身黑色、下身呈鮮明橙色的黃眉姬鶲,以及擁有華麗中央尾部長羽毛的紫壽帶鳥。

         Welch解釋指,因為由香港至菲律賓之間只有開放的海面,蒲台島便成為其中一個鳥類能著陸補給的地方,是候鳥的不可多得的據點。此外,島上亦為鳥類提供多種棲所。我們可以在風水林、灌木叢和村莊旁邊幾片古老的耕地中找到陸鳥的踪跡。

去年年底時,有人發現工人開始沿著島上小山谷移除矮生植物,大片夷平的土地上很快便放置大量石屎板,準備作為興建名為「紀念公園」的骨灰龕場之用。據報導指,有關項目屬於非法性質,而城市規劃委員不久後便宣佈把蒲台島列為發展審批地區,令骨灰龕場建築項目叫停;土地擁有人已對此作出反對。

為回應事件,香港觀鳥會呼籲政府按照2001年的建議,把蒲台島納入郊野公園範圍,但一直未獲落實。觀鳥會設立了Facebook專頁推廣一項名為「支持蒲台郊野公園」的活動,並建議把蒲台島西南部劃為具特殊科學價值地點,藉以進一部保護雀鳥的主要棲所。島上發現的其他野生重物還包括緬甸蟒、只天然存在於世界上4個小島的細小盧氏小樹蛙等。這4個小島全部位於香港,而在這些島嶼中,赤鱲角的環境早已因為興建機場而遭破壞。

香港觀鳥會自然保育主任鄭諾銘指出,保育蒲台島對島上居民而言是有利的做法,尤其是那些為遊客經營酒家和小咖啡室的居民來說。他稱:「蒲台島有可能發展成為一個生態旅遊熱點,將吸引更多遊客前來。」

到了今年5月底,連場暴雨已在骨灰龕場的部份地方形成小型濕地,令石屎板碎散、野草叢生。小麻鴘(蒼鷺家族的小成員)是其中一種在島上尋找棲所的候鳥之一,牠們鼓勵Welch一類觀鳥人士以在島上創造小型濕地儲備為夢想。

Welch經常在蒲台島上留夜,雖然環境艱難,特別是近期其中一部發電機壞掉後,他便曾試過連續幾日幾夜在沒有電力的環境下渡過。他表示:「為了各式雀鳥,一都是值得的。」

Welch在回顧蒲台島在生物多樣化上的重要性時指出,鄰近海域對海洋生物來說也極具好處。「三月時,我們看到一群群的海豚攜老扶幼地在附近暢泳。」對於這些在世界各地瀕臨絕種的江豚,還有其他多種以蒲台島和四周海面為家的生物物種來說,蒲台鳥是一個天堂,值得長遠保育。

衛林士

衛林士博士是作家及攝影師,專門研究野生動物和保育,在香港定居已逾25年。衛博士來自英國,擁有物理化學博士學位。他熱愛觀鳥,特別對候鳥遷移感興趣。他認為生態旅遊既能保護郊區環境和野生動物,亦能惠及香港市民,理應推廣。


本文刊登於2012年6月23日明報週刊第2276期專欄「香港老番」

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Martin Williams's picture

I wrote to govt departments (Lands?) to support proposal for Po Toi Country Park; received this reply:

Our ref:  AF GR CPA 10/29

Dear Sir/Madam,

I refer to your recent e-mail to this Department concerning Po Toi.

Please be advised that whether an area is suitable for designation as a country park should be assessed against the established principles and criteria, which include conservation value, landscape and aesthetic value, recreation potential, size, proximity to existing country parks, land status and existing land use.  Views of the Country and Marine Parks Board (the Board) on the assessment should also be sought.

Po Toi was first identified to have potential for country park designation by the Planning Department in 1993. This Department commissioned a study in 1999 which concluded that Po Toi would be suitable for country park designation.  The study was also endorsed by the Board in 2000. Due to the priority of the various designation proposals, the designation of Po Toi as a country park has yet to be initiated. Nevertheless, we have conducted various biodiversity surveys on Po Toi during the past decade, and confirm the ecological value of the Island.   

This Department would take the views and comments from members of the public, the latest development and planning of Po Toi, as well as the resource availability to consider the priority of the proposal to designate Po Toi as a country park.  At present, there is no definite plan to designate Po Toi as a new country park.

Thank you for your care towards countryside conservation.

Regards,

K. L. YIP
Country Parks Officer
Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department
--------------------------------


先生/女士:

日前寄交本署的電子郵件已收到,得悉你對蒲台表達的關注。

當局評估某幅土地是否適宜指定為郊野公園,是以一套既定的原則和準則作依據,其中包括該地的保育價值、景觀和美觀價值、康樂發展潛力、面積、與現有郊野公園是否接近、土地類別,以及現有的土地用途。此外,當局亦須徵詢郊野公園及海岸公園委員會(“委員會”)的意見。

一九九三年,規劃署認為蒲台具潛質成為郊野公園。本署在一九九九年委託進行的一項研究顯示,蒲台適合指定為郊野公園,而委員會亦於二OOO年贊同該項研究所得的意見。由於各項有關指定郊野公園的建議需要按優先次序推行,指定蒲台為郊野公園的程序尚未啟動。儘管如此,在過去十年,本署已對蒲台進行了多項生物多樣性調查,並已確認蒲台的生態價值。

至於把蒲台指定為郊野公園的建議,本署在審議其優先次序時,會考慮市民的意見、蒲台的最新發展和規劃以及可動用的資源。目前未有把蒲台指定為新郊野公園的明確計劃。

感謝你對郊野保育的關注。


漁農自然護理署署長

(葉國樑  代行)

Martin Williams's picture

Good news in SCM Post on 29 Sept:

Town planners to impose controls on Po Toi Island developments

Despite decision, town planners face court challenge from developers over island project
The Town Planning Board upheld its decision to impose controls on any development on Po Toi Island yesterday, but now faces a legal challenge from developers who are building a memorial garden there.

Splendid Resources and Sky Pacific, which have planned 4,400 funeral urn niches in a columbarium, said the hearing process was unfair.

"We wrote to the board four times before the hearing, asking for a deferral, but we were ignored," Splendid Resources spokesman Mak Chi-yeung said. "Many of the public submissions accepted by the board lack personal details. People did not provide their full names or contact details, which violates the town planning rules."

He said the company would take legal action contesting the board's decision.

Mak was referring to yesterday's hearing, at which board members examined public views on the move to impose a development permission area plan covering more than 90 per cent of the island. This would mean nearly all developments must obtain prior board approval.

The decision was welcomed by Eddie Tse Sai-kit, convenor of a concern group that focuses on illegal columbariums.

Po Toi Island is home to several rare butterflies and the endangered Romer's tree frog, and has rock carvings that are 3,500 years old.

But since last December, the columbarium developer has been installing memorial stones on the island. Two thousand niches have already been developed as part of the memorial garden. This triggered strong opposition from green groups and the concern group opposing illegal columbariums.

The developers said a government consultation paper on regulating private columbarium facilities, released in July 2010, made them believe that the memorial garden was legal.

But the Lands Department said the developer breached land leases and it may still repossess the site.

The department asked the developers to remove the concrete slabs on the site by February 28, but they did not comply with the order and filed a request with the Court of First Instance to clarify details of the breaches.

The island's indigenous residents said they were against a columbarium for fear that it may disturb their lifestyle, but some said they hoped any development would bring better electricity and water supply....

Martin Williams's picture

email from Town Planning Board:

Draft Po Toi Islands Development Permission Area Plan No. DPA/I-PTI/1
(Representation No. R82)

        I refer to my letter to you dated 21.9.2012.

        After giving consideration to the representations and related comments, the Town Planning Board (TPB) noted on 28.9.2012 the views of the representations in support of the draft Development Permission Area (DPA) Plan and agreed to advise you that:

the DPA Plan is an interim plan which can be replaced by an Outline Zoning Plan (OZP) within 3 years.  In the preparation of the OZP, land use zonings for the Area will be comprehensively reviewed subject to a more detailed analysis of the land use pattern, infrastructural provisions, environmental and ecological values and local need.  Relevant stakeholders including green groups, the concerned government departments, Islands District Council, and the Lamma Island South Rural Committee will also be consulted.

        The TPB also decided not to propose amendments to the above Plan to meet the representations for the following reasons:

Designation of Conservation Zonings (R1 to R7, R9 to R74, R76 to R79, R82 and R83)

(a)        whilst there is potential to designate conservation zonings, including “Conservation Area” (“CA”), “Coastal Protection Area” (“CPA”) and/or “Site of Special Scientific Interest” (“SSSI”), in the Area (especially in Po Toi), the details of the designation need to be carefully studied in the course of OZP preparation to ensure a balance between the rights of indigenous villagers of Po Toi and nature conservation should be struck.  Relevant assessments/studies on various aspects including ecology, environment, landscape, geology, etc. will be conducted in consultation with the government departments concerned.  Relevant stakeholders will be consulted during the process;

Designation of Country Park / Marine Mark (R1 to R7, R9 to R74, R76 to R79, R82 and R83)

(b)        designation of Country Park and Marine Park is under the jurisdiction of the Country and Marine Parks Authority (CMPA) governed by the Country Parks Ordinance (Cap. 208) and Marine Parks Ordinance (Cap. 476) which are outside the purview of the TPB;
        
        Boundary of the “Village Type Development” (“V”) zone (R2 and R3)
(c)        the current “V” zone boundary has primarily reflected the existing village clusters and has excluded the sandy beach at Tai Wan.  It has also taken the coastline, existing man-made features, the high water mark level, ‘village environs’, local topography and site characteristics into account, avoiding any ecologically sensitive areas and stream courses;   
        
Proposals not directly related to the DPA Plan

        Provision of facilities in the Area (R4 and R8)

(d)        the appropriateness to provide tourist, infrastructure and utility facilities for tourism and recreational purposes in the Area requires detailed consideration and assessments in consultation with relevant government departments.  As such, the need for providing such facilities in the Area and designation of appropriate zonings, if required, will be further studied at the preparation of the OZP stage;

        Resumption of village layout plans preparation (R1)

(e)        the preparation of new village layout plans for villages covered by existing OZPs will depend on a number of factors such as implementation prospect of the village layout plans, manpower and priority of work within Planning Department (PlanD).  For the new DPA Plans which has just been completed such as this DPA Plan, OZPs with specific land use zonings should be prepared before layout plans can be contemplated.  As the boundary of the “V” zone will be further reviewed and defined at the preparation of OZP stage, the need for preparation of new village layout plans for the “V” zone to be covered by the OZP will then be reviewed as appropriate;
        
Preparation of statutory plans for other areas (R1)

(f)        it has been the Government’s long-term target to prepare statutory plans for all areas of Hong Kong except areas covered / to be covered by Country Park (CP).  Such task will be undertaken having regard to development pressure, priorities and resource availability; and

        Suspend the processing of Small House applications (R1)

(g)        processing of land grant applications under the Small House policy is outside the purview of the TPB.

        The TPB also agreed to advise the representations that:

(a)        the issue of “Destroy First, Build Later” had been thoroughly discussed by the TPB on 24.6.2011.  The TPB is determined to conserve the rural and natural environment and will not tolerate any deliberate action to destroy the rural and natural environment in the hope that the TPB would give sympathetic consideration to subsequent development on the site concerned.  Since then, the TPB has adopted a practice to defer consideration of a planning application which may involve an unauthorised development (UD) so as to allow time for Planning Department (PlanD) to carry out full investigation into whether there is UD on the site; (R1, R2, R4, R7, R9, R75, R80 and R83) and

(b)        the DPA Plan is prepared to empower the Planning Authority to undertake enforcement action against any UD and undesirable change of use in the Area.  Should UD be identified in the future, enforcement action will be instigated under the Town Planning Ordinance. (R1, R2, R4, R7, R9, R75, R80 and R83)

        A copy of the relevant extract of minutes of the TPB meeting held on 28.9.2012 is enclosed herewith for your reference.

        In accordance with section 8 of the Town Planning Ordinance, the above Plan together with a schedule of the representation(s) and comment(s), if any, will be submitted to the Chief Executive in Council for a decision.

        If you wish to seek further clarification/information on matters relating to the above decision, please contact Mr. Tim Fung of Sai Kung & Islands District Planning Office at 2158 6157.


Yours faithfully,
 
( S.K. CHEUNG )
for Secretary, Town Planning Board