Saving graces

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 September, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 September, 2002, 12:00am

Green group The Conservancy Association has revealed its plan to farm in the environmentally sensitive Long Valley. The group wants to prove the concept of sustainable development works in a concrete jungle.

SCMP, September 9, 2002

The struggle to preserve Long Valley is destined to become an important chapter of Hong Kong's conservation movement. But that chapter may have a sad conclusion unless efforts to save the 36-hectare wetland are carried through to the end by putting in measures to maintain its ecological value forever.

Although the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation has been obliged to build a new rail line through the valley, at an additional cost of $2 billion - by way of a tunnel instead of a viaduct - fears remain that the site's environmental attributes could be jeopardised if farmers drained the land, which is privately owned, to push for commercial development. If they did, the huge cost of building the tunnel would be wasted.

To prevent that from happening, the Conservancy Association has proposed turning the area into an eco-tourism zone. The proposal involves enhancing the ecological value of the area by paying farmers seeding grants to restore agriculture at fallow plots. It is hoped that will lure more birds, making the whole area even more attractive to bird watchers and other nature lovers. In turn, revenues from eco-tourism will provide farmers with higher incomes.

Whether the idea will work remains to be seen. But it should be given a chance to work as Hong Kong tries to find a sustainable way of preserving its remaining sites of high ecological value, most of which are private property. Official estimates have put the cost of buying a dozen such sites at $70 billion. Even in the best of times, that would make it an unviable option, let alone at a time when plugging huge budget deficits will be the government's biggest task in the next few years.

Yet, the current policy of banning development at designated sites of high ecological value has bred frustration for both owners and conservationists. The former are upset that they have been barred from exploiting the economic potential of their properties without being compensated, while the latter are concerned that some ecologically sensitive sites are fast losing their allure through prolonged neglect.

For example, the Sha Lo Tung Valley in Tai Po, which is home to 10 species of freshwater fish, 68 species of dragonfly and 159 species of butterfly, has been threatened by deliberate setting of fires and use by off-road vehicle enthusiasts, according to the Worldwide Fund for Nature.

If Hong Kong is serious about conservation, the community must be prepared to pay for it. If it cannot afford to buy those sites of high ecological value, it should at least be ready to provide small grants to support schemes that can preserve them in a sustainable manner.


to be destined to become (v) to head towards a specific outcome

movement (n) a gradual development

to the end (phrase) to as long and to as great an extent as possible

to be obliged (v) to be compelled to do something Example: A court imposing life sentences on young offenders convicted of murder is obliged to specify minimum terms. Until their minimum terms have expired, their possible release will be brought up for review.

by way of (phrase) using a particular method, instrument or process Example: Officials maintained that the hostile situation could be contained by way of dialogue.

eco-tourism (n) tourism in areas of ecological interest for the purpose of observing wildlife and learning about the environment

fallow (adj) unused (to describe land)

sustainable (adj) capable of lasting for a long time Example: The United Nations has a difficult mission to achieve trade equilibrium and sustainable debt levels for poor countries.

breed frustration (v); past participle: bred) to cause particular feelings to develop

off-road (adj) using trails instead of public roads Example: Off-road driving requires different tyres than those used on modern motorways.

Discussion points

? If you own a piece of land in an environmentally sensitive area, how will you use it? Will you build your home on it? Or will you turn it into a hotel for eco-tourism? Or will you make it a natural haven for wildlife? Why?

? Discuss the issue with your classmates. Do they have different ideas?