Parks official praises city's 'refuges'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 August, 2007, 12:00am

Country parks are refuges in the city whose future will depend on their distinctive character being retained, a senior outgoing conservation official said, announcing a series of activities to celebrate three decades of country parks.

Retiring this week after 29 years, Wong Fook-yee, assistant director of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation, said the people of Hong Kong should be proud of their achievement in terms of land protection.

Among the celebratory activities is a programme to train expatriates as volunteers to promote the facilities.

Country parks were a legacy of the colonial government which, some critics said, were created to give the younger generation an outlet for their excess energy after the 1967 riots.

After the Country Park Ordinance was enacted in 1976, the first parks in Shing Mun, Lion Rock and Tai Tam were designated by governor Lord MacLehose in June 1977, based on a blueprint proposed by the 'Father of Country Parks', Lee Talbot.

In all, 23 land-based country parks covering 41,000 hectares have been set up, drawing more than 12 million visitors a year. During the Sars outbreak, the parks also became an escape for the city's fearful.

'Many people were barbecuing there, with their masks on,' Dr Wong, a regular visitor to the parks during the outbreak, recalled.

But Dr Wong said the parks could not be expanded indefinitely, as the bigger, most vital ones had already been designated, while smaller ones had been turned into either special areas or reserves.

'Apart from developing parks, we also need to preserve them well, too,' Dr Wong said. 'But we just can't put too many facilities in the parks or they will turn into urban parks, losing their distinctive status.'

While the parks were personally favoured by hiking-loving, former governors such as Sir Edward Youde and Lord Wilson, Dr Wong said the parks' development should not depend on the will of political leaders.

'It's all about policy, not individual will,' he said, adding that a strong legal framework, professional management and a quick designation process were the keys to protecting the parks system.

Dr Wong said more people were enjoying the country parks in an increasingly sophisticated way, shifting away from barbecuing to hiking and eco-tourism. More overseas tourists were also attracted to the areas and their proximity to urban zones.

But the parks were not free from threats. Vandals continued to chop Buddhist pines and other trees for sale on the mainland and some visitors defaced rocks or trees. Dr Wong said police enforcement had been stepped up to address these threats.