Green group raises concerns over safety of temple banyan tree

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 April, 2009, 12:00am

Burning incense and the paving of nearby ground are likely to blame for the poor health of a giant Chinese banyan tree outside Yuen Long's Tin Hau Temple, according to environmental group Green Power.

The group said it was concerned the tree could pose a danger to the public if left unattended.

Branches that fell from another banyan, the Lam Tsuen Wishing Tree in Tai Po, injured visitors in 2005 and a young woman was killed when she was hit by a section of coral tree that gave way in Stanley last year.

The Tin Hau tree stands within the temple's boundary, near Tai Shu Ha Road East.

Its deteriorating condition was spotted through a comparison of recent photographs with ones taken in July 2007.

'After a visit last week, we found that the leaves of some main branches of the tree were wilting, although new leaves were emerging on the other branches,' the group said. 'Some branches had even shed all their leaves. The health situation of the tree has severely deteriorated.'

Group members found the tree could have been affected by smoke from fireplaces and shrines placed underneath it for people to burn incense and paper money. The group said the heat and pollutants might have affected branches above.

It said the banyan's deteriorating condition could also be attributed to the paved ground that surrounded the tree, preventing water from reaching its roots.

The aerial roots of the tree were also found to have been trimmed, making it impossible for them to absorb extra nutrients to support its growth.

The environmental organisation filed a complaint to government departments yesterday in and effort to see whether officials could help address the problem.

It said it was concerned that visitors to the temple might be at risk when worshipping activities increased on Saturday, as the public started to celebrate the Tin Hau Festival.

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department said it could not take any action because the tree was not listed in the old and valuable tree registry and was not managed by the department. The Lands Department, which is responsible for trees on government land, said the tree was on private land governed by old leases, meaning there were no statutory provisions for tree maintenance.

Temple officials were not available for comment yesterday.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen asked Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen to lead a taskforce on better management of trees after a Coroner's Court hearing on the death of the 19-year-old woman in Stanley last August.