Wetlands to be ranked under policy proposal

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 December, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 December, 2000, 12:00am

Wetlands considered 'less important' might have to be sacrificed to make way for essential development projects under a revised green policy being considered.

The policy, to be finalised within a year, would seek to compensate villagers for the loss of development rights on their land once it was zoned as an environmentally protected area.

A survey will be conducted to rank the ecological importance of the SAR's 10,000 hectares of wetlands, the Legco environmental affairs panel heard yesterday.

But some green groups warned it could give the public the wrong impression that the less important wetlands could be exploited.

Deputy Secretary for Environment and Food Kim Salkeld said a database of wetlands could be created to enable officials to better manage land. He conceded some wetlands might have to be sacrificed for housing or recreational areas.

'We are not saying all these areas must be protected. We are trying to establish what we need to protect,' Mr Salkeld said.

Conservancy Association secretary-general Lister Cheung Lai-ping welcomed the study but warned against using the results as an excuse to exploit wetlands. 'Setting priorities is good. But the Government should be careful not to give the developers or villagers an impression that they can do whatever they like to those lower-ranking wetlands,' Ms Cheung said.

Wetlands include reservoirs, seasonally flooded farmland and drainage channels, according to the 1975 Ramsar Convention - an international convention on wetlands of international importance. Most wetlands are in the northwest and northeast New Territories.

A row flared in October when the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation's $7 billion Lok Ma Chau spur line was vetoed because it cut across the Long Valley wetland. Some locals argued the Long Valley was only a 'wasteland'. The KCRC has appealed against the Director of Environmental Protection's decision.

Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department assistant director Lay Chik-chuen said: 'The Ramsar definition is broad and does not specify which wetland is important and which is not. That is why we need a study.'

Panellist Wong Yung-kan, also a member of the Wetland Advisory Committee, urged cash compensation to farmers if land was zoned a protected area. 'It is against the farmers' human rights if they are not allowed to develop their own land.'

Albert Chan Wai-yip, of the Democratic Party, proposed a 'land-for-land exchange' option to grant villagers a site elsewhere to develop in exchange for surrendering their farmland. Cyd Ho Sau-lan, of The Frontier agreed, adding: 'Farmers should also be encouraged to develop agriculture in the protected area.'

Mr Salkeld said systems were being examined to deal with protected sites on private land.