Environment Hong Kong 2009
 
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Chapter 10 Nature Conservation

Mission

To conserve natural resources and the bio-diversity of Hong Kong in a sustainable manner, taking into account social and economic considerations, for the benefit of the present and future generations of the community.

WIDENING THE BOUNDARIES OF CONSERVATION

Highlights in 2008

HONG Kong is commonly regarded as a crowded, highly urbanised city. But beyond the high-rises and highways is a place of stunning natural beauty, of pristine beaches, wooded valleys, steep green hillsides and craggy coastlines. These are Hong Kong's natural resources and the Government is working hard to protect and conserve these most precious sites.

Photo - This map shows the extent of country parks in Hong Kong, as well as built-up areas.

Some 40 per cent of Hong Kong's total land area is country parkland, where development is restricted or prohibited. In 2008 we pushed that boundary further with the opening of the Lantau North (Extension) Country Park. We also proposed establishing a geopark to protect and showcase some of our remarkable rock formations and other geological features, and approved a private-public partnership project to enhance conservation in Sha Lo Tung while allowing for limited development.

Hong Kong may be a small place, but there are still valuable natural treasures to record and conserve for future generations.

A geopark for Hong Kong

Geopark is a concept launched by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2004 to protect geological sites of special scientific significance, rarity or beauty that also have high archaeological, ecological, historical or cultural value. So far, 57 sites are recognised by the UNESCO, including 20 in Mainland China.

Hong Kong has some fascinating rocky coastlines and formations and in 2008 we commissioned a study to investigate the feasibility of establishing a geopark. The study identified Sai Kung and the Northeast New Territories as rich in geological features and rock clusters (see Sites of Geological Interest for details) and recommended setting up a geopark there. The Chief Executive included the Geopark proposal in his 2008-09 Policy Address and stressed the high value of these sites for academic research, tourism and scenery.

Photo - This rock formation on High Island in Sai Kung illustrates the geological history of Hong Kong.

Our intention is to develop the Geopark under the framework of the Country Parks Ordinance and the Marine Parks Ordinance. Preparation is underway to acquire national geopark status from the Ministry of Land and Resources, hopefully by the end of 2009. The initiative will be supported by promotional activities to increase awareness and interest in geological conservation, including geopark visitor centres at suitable sites, geowalks, guidebooks and educational packages for schools.

Lantau North (Extension) Country Park

Country parks benefit the environment by establishing safe zones where the natural ecology is largely untouched. They also provide the community with much needed open space. About 44 000 hectares of Hong Kong land area is country parkland, a sum that was increased in 2008 with the addition of the Lantau North (Extension) Country Park.

Photo - The Lantau North (Extension) Country Park is easily accessible from Tung Chung.

The new park covers 2 360 hectares with high conservation and landscape value. The park is mainly mountainous and upland valleys covered with natural woodland, shrubland, grassland and unspoiled streams. It is also a scenic backdrop to urban Tung Chung, with magnificent views of the airport to the north and rural and wilderness areas to the south.

The addition of this new park means 70 per cent of Lantau, or 10 000 hectares, is now country park area. This is in keeping with our overall effort to ensure the airport and other developments on some of the island's edges are balanced with conservation practices that keep a very healthy portion of our environment untouched for future generations.

Conservation and development

Conflicting demands for land inevitably arise in small city like Hong Kong. This creates special challenges for nature conservation, particularly on privately-held land which is not subject to the same development restrictions as protected areas such as country parks. The Government announced the New Nature Conservation Policy in 2004 to balance the demands of those who want to develop sensitive privately-held sites, with the need to protect these sites.

Two approaches were adopted: Management Agreements (MA) and Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Pilot Schemes. Under MAs, non-government organisations can apply for funding that is used to provide landowners with financial incentives in exchange for allowing enhanced conservation of the sites concerned. PPPs allow applicants to develop the less ecologically-sensitive portion of a site, so long as they agree to conserve and manage the remainder on a long-term basis.In late 2005, three pilot MA projects were launched and have since helped to conserve more than 100 000 square metres of land in co-operation with landowners. Two sites are at Long Valley and focus on managing the land to attract more bird species, prevent habitat deterioration and promote environment-friendly practices such as organic farming. The third is at Fung Yuen where a butterfly reserve has been established.

All three projects have helped to increase species diversity and raise public awareness about nature conservation. In 2008 they were awarded additional funding from the Environment and Conservation Fund to continue for another two years. The Long Valley projects, managed by the Hong Kong Birdwatching Society and the Conservancy Association, were merged into a single joint project by the two non-governmental organisations that received $3.97 million; while the Fung Yuen project, managed by the Tai Po Environmental Association, received $2.85 million.

PPPs have taken longer to implement because of the more complex issues involved in developing areas near ecologically-sensitive sites. The first PPP was supported by the Advisory Council on the Environment in 2008 for the ecologically important Sha Lo Tung Valley.

The Sha Lo Tung project proponent plans to surrender some of its private land in the valley to the Government for setting up an ecological reserve, and provide $50 million to cover the start-up costs and $120 million as long term financial resources for the reserve. The proponent also plans to develop adjacent land into a Multi-cultural Education Retreat cum Columbarium Complex and a Nature Interpretation Centre.

Partnerships like these are essential in nature conservation, especially in a small place like Hong Kong. We have to strike a balance between private and public use of our resources, not only for economic benefits, but also for the long term benefit of our natural environment. Hundreds of thousands of residents and visitors enjoy Hong Kong's seaside and hiking trails each year. Our aim is to ensure they continue to enjoy these quality of life pursuits, while protecting areas from disturbance and enabling development to continue at a safe distance.We also hope that through our efforts, our present and future generation may continue to enjoy and benefit from our natural environment.

Photo - A variety of bird and mammal species can be found in the natural environment of Hong Kong.

Looking Ahead

  • The New Nature Conservation Policy will continue to be implemented, with a particular focus on taking forward the Sha Lo Tung Public-Private Partnership project.
  • A geopark will be established, with the aim of acquiring national geopark status by the end of 2009.
  • A legislative proposal will be put forward to extend the Convention on Biological Diversity and Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to Hong Kong.
 
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