Homing in on their turf

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 May, 2011, 12:00am


A re-zoning plan for a piece of farmland in Sheung Shui has sparked concern among green groups that a haven for wetland birds will be destroyed for a residential project.

Birdwatchers say 152 species of birds have been recognised in the area of Ping Kong village, where a development of 184 three-storey houses is proposed. They warn that the number of species could drop to a dozen if the project goes ahead.

Developer Join Crown submitted a re-zoning application last June seeking to change the land use of the 209,000-square-metre block from 'agriculture' to 'comprehensive development area'. About 30 families of non-indigenous villagers live in Ping Kong, paying rent to indigenous landowners. Some have lived there for two or more generations. Some still rely on farming for a living.

An environmental assessment has concluded the building project is feasible. But green groups say the environmental value of the area has long been underestimated.

The public consultation period of the application ended recently. The Planning Department said it had received a number of objections expressing concerns about the site's ecological value.

Cheng Nok-ming, an officer for the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society, said people were unaware of the site's environmental value because few studies had been done on it.

It was the only place in the city where Malayan night herons, common in Taiwan, had been recorded breeding, he said.

'The woods, farms and abandoned farms here have created a great environment for birds,' he said. 'If the village is to be developed into a residential area, many of them will be gone.'

Conservancy Association campaign manager Peter Li Siu-man said the site and the nearby Tai Lung Experimental Farm nurtured many wetland insects, including rare dragonflies and butterflies. 'People thought they were just farms, but they were actually important to our ecology,' he said.

Join Crown has not yet bought any land in the village. Yet Chan Kim-ching, a member of the Northeast New Territories Development Concern Group, said villagers would have no choice but to give up their land if the re-zoning was allowed. 'In comprehensive development, the area has to be considered as a whole. Villagers would lose their rights to build stand-alone houses and develop the area on their own,' he said.

Chan said the developer had started approaching landlords, telling them they would get a better offer for their land if the tenants had left. That had become an incentive for the landlords to send the villagers away, even though the project would not start in the near future, he said.

A 61-year-old farmer said his landlord had encouraged him to give up farming and apply for public housing. 'He said he would compensate me. But how could I make a living after I moved to a public estate? I make HK$6,000 to HK$7,000 a month,' he said.

These are edited versions of articles that appeared in the South China Morning Post on May 3