A colonial legacy this city rightly cherishes

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

If there is a colonial legacy that has been absolutely positive, it is the network of country parks that now cover 38 per cent of Hong Kong's land mass. Without them, the city, with its fug and fumes, would be barely breathable and liveable. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the opening of the first parks at Shing Mun, Tai Tam and near Lion Rock. So it is worth remembering, and celebrating, what many of us have taken for granted - a successful system of law, recreational services and ecological management that has preserved and protected 41,582 hectares, and their fauna and flora, for all to enjoy.

On any given weekend, thousands of families leave behind the hustle and bustle of city life to go hiking, biking, camping and picnicking in the great outdoors, accessible via a highly efficient and affordable public transport system. Together, the parks draw more than 12 million visitors a year.

Despite the city's undeserved reputation as an urban concrete jungle, the government, with widespread public support, has, over three decades, maintained 23 country parks against the encroachment of rapid urbanisation, property development and population growth. Developers may be among the most powerful constituencies in Hong Kong, but even they understand that any property project which threatens to occupy even a small corner of a country park will provoke an intense public backlash.

Our successes in managing and protecting the parks, as much by explicit laws as by tacit public understanding, are in marked contrast to the way we have managed, or rather mismanaged, our other natural treasure - Victoria Harbour.

If there is a downside to the country parks, it is that some of them are not entirely safe to visit alone. There are periodic reports of robbery and even rape. And smugglers have continued to chop down Buddhist pines and other valuable trees to sell on the mainland. The police force, with its limited manpower, cannot be expected to patrol every park corner. But with surveillance cameras and other advanced security technology available, the government should consider upgrading park safety for all.