Wetlands waiting for protection damaged by construction waste

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 April, 2007, 12:00am

Two wetlands that are among 12 priority areas to be protected under the new nature conservation policy have been damaged by the illegal dumping of construction waste.

The discovery has led to green groups criticising conservation policy as ineffective, saying the dumping had been prompted by introduction last year of the waste-charging scheme, under which contractors have to pay for construction debris dumped in landfills.

Inspectors from the Environmental Protection Department and the Planning Department, responding to complaints, found that about 1,000 square metres of wetland at Mai Po Lung in San Tin and 100 square metres at Long Valley in Sheung Shui had been filled in last month, spokeswomen for both departments said.

Cement, plastic and other construction materials were yesterday piled up on farmland at Long Valley, near the Yin Kong village. This included hazardous waste such as glass tubes and plastic which might release heavy metals and toxic chemicals.

At San Tin, two fish ponds together covering half a hectare were encroached on by several piles of debris, including bricks and paint cans.

The Planning Department said the debris had been dumped on both private and government land. Warnings had been given to private land owners and further enforcement actions were being considered.

Cheng Luk Ki, division head of scientific research and conservation for Green Power, said toxic materials and heavy metals such as mercury would contaminate the food chain of wetlands and harm wildlife.

Mike Kilburn, vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society, who reported the cases to the government, said the banks of the fish ponds had become four times wider since the waste was dumped at San Tin.

The society and the Conservancy Association were granted rights to maintain and manage portions of wetlands at Long Valley under the conservation policy announced three years ago. But Mr Kilburn said they were not empowered to stop illegal dumping. 'The conservation policy provides little protection to private lands of high ecological value; illegal activities still harm the sites.'

He urged the government to reconsider the land use, enhance enforcement and allow land owners to transfer development rights to other, ecologically less-sensitive areas.

Although six public-private partnership projects were proposed two years ago under a new policy to protect ecologically important sites, an interdepartmental taskforce is still examining the applications.

The Environmental Protection Department spokeswoman said more time was required for the examination process because of the complicated policy issues involved.