Hong Kong Countryside Needs You!

Grassroots support for conservation is building, and surely now ahead of the government, and especially developers who too often seem out of touch with our changing society

Grassroots support for conservation in Hong Kong is building, and surely now ahead of the government, and especially developers who too often seem out of touch with our changing society

You may have seen news of the plastic pellets spill, which happened as six container loads of plastic pellets were tossed off a freighter during Typhoon Vicente on the night of 23 July 2012. Maybe you were among the thousands of people who took part in the many beach cleanups in response to the spill.

Though the pellet spill itself was not a disaster for Hong Kong’s marine environment – which already suffers greatly from chemical pollution, dredging, over-fishing, reclamation projects and an unrelenting onslaught by plastic debris – the response seems of huge significance. I’ve been astonished to see and read of so many people coming out to fill bags with pellets and other waste, as well as sift through sand to pick out pellets. This response is unprecedented, and [at the time I hoped] may prove a milestone in environmental protection in Hong Kong.

I’ve been in Hong Kong since 1987, and always been strongly interested and involved in local conservation. Over the years, I’ve witnessed environmental changes for the worse, especially at sea; but also noted a great change in people’s attitudes to our natural environment, and willingness to support conservation.

I remember that as I arrived in the late 1980s, there were commentaries indicating that many Hong Kong people were only recently coming to regard Hong Kong as their home – instead of a place they passed through on the way from mainland China to a life overseas. There was nature conservation, but it was mostly “high level”, such as initiated by the government, and WWF Hong Kong managing Mai Po Marshes Nature Reserve, and with no great grassroots participation that I recall.

During the 1990s, there was news of potential development work that could threaten Ham Tin, at Tai Long Wan, Sai Kung. This prompted an initiative by Friends of the Earth, which prepared a statement with signatures from several green groups and concerned individuals – helping lead to the Town Planning Board establishing a Development Permission Area, effectively halting whatever the potential development may have been.

Also at the end of the 1990s and early last decade, the KCRC planned to build the Lok Ma Chau Spur Line across Long Valley, Hong Kong’s last and largest agricultural wetland. Yet Long Valley is excellent for birds, including species that are rare in Hong Kong, and the Hong Kong Birdwatching Society spearheaded a campaign to protect the site. This included courtroom “battles”, and attracted considerable media attention – leading to extensive public support for protecting Long Valley and its birdlife, even though most people had never been there. Eventually, the KCRC relented, and built a tunnel beneath Long Valley, which survives today, albeit its future is not secure.

Hong Kong people’s interest and participation in conservation has increased since the Long Valley case.

This column is arranged by the Lung Fu Shan Environmental Concern Group, a small but active group that has focused on threats to Victoria Peak and nearby, including Lung Fu Shan. Chairwoman Vivian Leung Tai Yuet-kam proudly tells of the group gaining widespread public support that has helped prevent hillside paths being despoiled by over 1000 metres of unnecessary railings.

Living on Cheung Chau, I have become heavily involved in opposing the government’s plans to build an artificial island with gigantic waste incinerator beside neighbouring Shek Kwu Chau. In this case, too, citizens’ action has been crucial in raising some public awareness of the issue, and in helping prompt the Legislative Council’s Panel on Environmental Affairs to vote against the project.

Yet this vote did not mean an end to the incinerator, just as protecting a site one day may not keep it safe for long. In summer 2010 came reports of a development project damaging Tai Long Wan, this time at Sai Wan, south of Ham Tin. A Facebook group on protecting Sai Wan was started, and within a week attracted over 65,000 members. This plus protest hikes generated media interest, and prompted the government to act in order to stop the development. “We helped wake up a giant,” said Wayne Yim, founder of the Facebook group. “The quiet majority of Hong Kong people have shown they will no longer stand by and let developers take away their core assets.”

Now, there are more Facebook groups and pages dedicated to helping protect sites ranging from Po Toi to Shalotung and Lantau Island. Members of a website, HKWildlife.Net [now more active on Facebook?], played an active role in trying to protect the shoreline at Lung Mei, near Tai Mei Tuk. They helped boost awareness and support for this site; even so, failed to save it from a fate as an artificial – with imported sand – bathing beach.

As grassroots support for conservation builds – and is surely now ahead of the government, and especially developers who too often seem out of touch with our changing society – the Lung Fu Shan Environmental Concern Group is itself changing, to become the Alliance for a Beautiful Hong Kong, and with greater opportunities for Hongkongers’ involvement.

Perhaps you will get involved in the new alliance; I hope so! But remember there are a myriad ways you can make a difference, from a simple Like for a Facebook page, to getting out to clean up coastal lap sap, join protests, help spread awareness ­– and show you care about Hong Kong, our home.

This is a slightly updated version of the original English draft of an opinion piece, which was published in Ming Pao Weekly on 8 September 2012.

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One comment

  1. 香港的郊野需要你

    衛林士 [Martin Williams]

        同樣是在1990年代末、千禧年代初, 九廣鐵路公司計劃興建落馬州支線、鐵路將橫誇香港最後一個,而且面積最大的農業濕地塱原。塱原是雀鳥的天堂,不少在香港罕見的品種也會飛經此處。香港觀鳥會帶頭發起保護塱原的行動,包括數場法庭「大戰」,引起了傳媒注意。即使大部份人其實沒有踏足過塱原,但行動卻喚起了公眾對保護塱原和該地雀鳥生態的廣泛支持。最後,九廣鐵路公司「大發慈悲」,改為在塱原地下建設隧道,令濕地得以保留至今,至於未來能否受到保障則尚是未知之數。
        這一票其實並不代表焚化爐計劃就此告終,正如今天能保護一個地點,亦難保它會永遠安全一樣。在2010年夏季,便有報導指有工程項目正破壞大浪灣,這次發生在鹹田灣以南的西灣。一個保護西灣的Facebook群組隨即成立,並在短一星期內吸引了65,000人加入。這項行動連同多次示威,引起了媒體的關注,亦提醒政府應採取行動停止發展。該Facebook群組的發起人Wayne Yim表示:「我們喚醒了沉睡的巨人,香港人沉默的大多數終於都站出來,表達自己不會再坐視不理,任由發展商肆意取走屬於香港的核心資產。」
        現時,已有越來越多Facebook 群組和網頁為幫助保護各區自然地點而成立,包括蒲台島、沙螺洞和大嶼山等。網站HKWildlife.Net的成員,在保護位於大尾篤附近的龍尾亦擔演著十分主動的角色。他們幫助提高公眾對這個地點的認識和支持,也許能夠拯救這個地方,避免它成為人工泳灘的命運。

    Published in Ming Pao Weekly on 8 September 2012.

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