MTR's tree felling under fire again

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 September, 2011, 12:00am


The MTR Corporation's failure to save two trees has been cited by critics as the latest example of its 'faulty' preservation programme that will fell nearly 6,000 trees to make way for the South Island Line project.

The Conservancy Association rounded on the MTR Corp yesterday, but the rail operator contended the trees had been approved for felling.

The two mature African mahogany were found lying in the sun with their roots exposed at Kellett Bay, an area in Southern district being used as a temporary nursery by the MTR, according to the association.

Last night, an MTR Corp spokesman said the two trees would not be transplanted, a decision approved by the government. He said they were among six trees removed from a work site in South Horizons.

'To prevent any blockage to the nearby roads, the contractor temporarily stored the two trees in the Wah Kwai nursery site awaiting proper disposal,' he said.

But Ken So Kwok-yin, chief executive of the Conservancy Association and a certified arborist, was sceptical about the MTR's claim. 'It is unreasonable - if you don't want a tree, you just cut it into pieces and send it to landfill. It costs much more to remove the whole tree and then dump it temporarily in a nursery,' he said.

So urged the MTR to give more information on the six trees that it said had been scheduled to be removed and clarify whether other trees at the nursery would be dumped.

Earlier yesterday, the MTR defended its tree preservation efforts along the South Island Line project linking Admiralty with Lee Tung, via South Horizons, Ocean Park and Wong Chuk Hang. It insisted decisions to fell or transplant 5,768 trees affected by construction followed strict procedures and were subject to government approval.

According to the MTR, trees to be transplanted will be temporarily moved to two designated areas - one in Stanley and the other in Kellett Bay, which the rail operator has pledged to turn into a recreational area. It has also promised to manage the transplantation for 10 years.

Dr Peter Yau, an Australia-based arboricultural consultant who has been advising the MTR on tree preservation issues in its rail projects, said each of the affected trees had been assessed to determine whether it should be retained.

About 1,100 trees would be preserved, including five old and valuable ones. But more than 4,100 would have to be uprooted, which includes felling 1,000 exotic trees not suitable to the local ecology and transplanting 1,600 trees on slopes. Unhealthy specimens and those with a low chance of survival would be among those felled and not replanted.

As compensation, the MTR is planting 2,000 trees and 7,300 seedlings. 'What we do to each of the trees has to be scrutinised by government departments, and it can take months for them to approve or disapprove,' Yau said.

He added that for some local species such as Chinese banyans, the destructive power of their roots made them poor candidates for transplanting. Another factor, he said, was finding sufficient space. 'Hong Kong is already well vegetated as lots of trees have been planted over the past two or three decades,' Yau said.