Government must intervene if developers threaten wildlife sanctuaries

Filling in of land adjacent to a wetland butterfly haven is the latest case of damage to the environment

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 August, 2016, 12:37am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 August, 2016, 12:37am

Hong Kong is known for being an urban concrete jungle. But in some lesser-known areas lie pristine coastline and lush green countryside, home to a rich variety of animal and plant species. These wildlife sanctuaries are, unfortunately, threatened by development by private land owners. The lack of land-use restrictions in some areas makes such natural treasures even more vulnerable.

The latest case brought to public attention involves the filling of wetland near a butterfly haven in Tuen Mun Lung Kwu Tan. The 1.25 hectares of marsh were found to have been destroyed by dumping. The land, the majority of which is owned by rural leader Lau Wong-fat and his clan, is less than 200 metres from a site of special scientific interest – thanks to the 100-plus butterfly species found there.

Little is known of what is being built at this stage. But a green group believed it was a typical case of “destroy first, build later” – where land owners deliberately damage ecologically sensitive places to reduce public resistance against future development. This is not helped when many private agricultural sites were acquired without land-lease conditions in early years. The lack of statutory control means law enforcers can do little.

Destruction decried as 1.25-hectare Hong Kong wetland site near butterfly haven is filled in at Tuen Mun’s Lung Kwu Tan

This is not the first time land abuse has been reported. A group of angry villagers flattened a mangrove area in North Lantau to assert their development rights two years ago. The site in question this time is among a handful of land tracts that are not covered by zoning, interim planning controls or country park protection. Damage could be traced back to 1998 when an 8.5-hectare freshwater marsh that comprised 80 per cent of the area’s total wetland was destroyed. The following year saw several hectares of land razed for a golf course and go-kart track. Similarly, a tract as big as two soccer pitches became an open-air storage site five years ago.

The government response is anything but reassuring. The Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department admitted that it had been alerted to the suspected land filling early this year, though it was satisfied that no major damage had been done to the wetlands. Planning officials are also not forthcoming when asked about calls to impose better statutory control. Sadly repeated damage has been done over the years. The government has a duty to intervene when private development comes at the expense of public good. We trust officials will not wait for more incidents before they take action.