Concrete vandalism destroys natural beauty of our trails

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 April, 2006, 12:00am

Having taken part in the annual Trailwalker event on the MacLehose Trail for three consecutive years almost 20 years ago, I can still recall the endurance needed to negotiate the rugged footpaths snaking over the peaks of the New Territories. Alas, the natural aesthetics of this ancient series of trails are gone forever, and the MacLehose is now a concrete footpath, a long nanny stroll still requiring endurance, but infinitely less authentic. No wonder Trailwalker time records are regularly broken.

The MacLehose is not the only trail to be vandalised. Other ancient trails are also now covered in cement, their flora and fauna damaged, their village heritage of dry stone walls and paving stones destroyed.

It has been argued that cementing the trails prevents soil erosion. Actually, it worsens it. The rain water rushes around the concrete like a river around the pillars of a bridge, washing away soil and plants, and creating great gullies that leave the paths isolated like giant tombstones.


Kevin Sinclair's piece 'Atrocities with a cement mixer' (April 11), on the concrete paths proliferating in our countryside, struck a chord with me. I used to love walking along an earthen track from Wong Nai Chung Gap to Mount Butler Road. After describing its joys at length to a guest, we arrived at its starting point only to be bewildered by its transformation into a suburban road littered with dustbins, picnic tables and signs. The expectation seemed to be that walkers would generate waste every few paces and need reminding of where they were going just as regularly. This is in line with the general policy of sanitising the environment at the expense of its charms, as seen in the proposals for the Wan Chai market.


What makes Hong Kong perhaps unique is the way in which steep hills and valleys thickly-covered with vegetation are interwoven with spots of high urban density. Shielded by the sharp natural topography and dense overgrowth, one can be only a moment away from a highway or skyscraper and yet feel in touch with the natural world. Until, that is, the Department of Concrete (there surely must be such a department, and it surely must be one of the best-funded) comes along and plasters the path with cement, metal and plastic in what must be a determined effort to inject some of the Arcadian bliss of Central or Causeway Bay into the environment. I wonder what the next step might be? Perhaps installing escalators up the steeper inclines and piping music to us along the way, in the manner of Disneyland?


As Hong Kong residents, we are already surrounded by cement. We walk the trails because we want to leave the urban jungle behind us. If the countryside is turned into yet another urban jungle, where can we escape to? To the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, please listen to the people of Hong Kong and leave the trails alone.

PHILIP HEUNG, Kowloon Tong