Get out of town

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 January, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 January, 2002, 12:00am

MOST OF US SPEND our lives shuffling between buildings. The closest we get to anything green are the plastic plants in shopping centres, and fresh air is a matter of turning up the air-conditioning. But it need not be like this.

Country parks make up more than 40 per cent of Hong Kong. In less than an hour from any urban area we can be in the great outdoors - and it is all free.

Hong Kong's leading environmental group Friends of the Earth (FoE) is running a training programme to raise awareness about the territory's most under-utilised natural asset.

The 'Green Footprints - Eco-tour and Eco-guide Training Programme' aims to give teachers and trainee teachers the skills to guide students through the countryside. The programme was first run last year and was such a success that the green group has decided to make it an annual event.

There is more to taking a school group into the deepest darkest countryside than knowing the bus route. Teachers must be prepared for any eventuality: What if they get lost? What about snakes? They need to help nurture an appreciation for the great outdoors. And they must be able to do all this without harming the environment.

Fifty-three teachers signed up for the programme that kicked off at the Lion's Nature Reserve in Sai Kung last Saturday. It was the first of six weekend workshops to be held over the next three months.

Green Footprints has the backing of half a dozen other organisations that have either helped with the logistics of the project or presented the lectures. The Hong Kong Hiking Association gave the first of three talks on mountain craft training, offering practical and theoretical tips on how to organise a hike through the mountains.

After the three-session workshop, participants will be awarded a 'Level One Mountain Craft Certificate'.

The Agricultural and Fisheries Department will hold a workshop on insects and flora - with special mention of toxic plants and what to do if you see a snake. Other lectures will cover the facilities and management of the country parks.

Eco-tourism - learning about the environment first-hand - has been a buzzword among environmentalists for the past decade. Finally it is coming to mean something in Hong Kong. FoE hopes that by showing teachers how to appreciate and respect the countryside they will pass that knowledge on and inform the next generation.

The final stage of the Green Footprints programme requires teachers to take a group of students on two hikes. Most of the teachers plan their routes along part of the MacLehose Trail but, with 21 country parks to choose from, there is room for plenty of variation.