Antiquities officials ignore NT heritage trails research

Antiquities officials hired a consultancy to study early links in the New Territories, despite extensive fieldwork by a local expert

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 October, 2012, 3:42am

For the past five years, veteran hiker Guy Shirra researched the oldest trails in the New Territories, vainly urging government officials to protect these boulder-paved links with the city's earliest inhabitants.

His calls for some response from the Antiquities and Monuments Office fell on deaf ears.

But now it turns out that, in January last year, the office quietly hired a private consultancy to do Shirra's research all over again - at a cost of HK$870,000.

"I have spent the past few years utterly frustrated by their apparent unconcern and lack of interest, and now I find they went behind my back and kept me in the dark," said Shirra, who was informed about the move in July.

"I was working on this for five years and they suddenly said they had appointed a consultant, presumably at taxpayers' expense, to study the matter. I can do it for free," said Shirra, the operations officer of Friends of Sai Kung.

The 65-year-old said there was no point in starting from scratch. It was time for a roundtable involving several departments - and including knowledgeable volunteers like him - to work out a preservation plan to give the oldest Chinese-built heritage its long overdue recognition and protection.

Shirra said a friend, Dr Patrick Hase, a scholar on the New Territories, could also help dig out the history of the trails.

A spokeswoman for the antiquities office said the study, to be completed by early next year, was being carried out by the ERM consultancy. The study would assess the value and cultural significance of the old trails and identify issues related to their preservation, she said.

It would review archival material about the origin, function and historical development of the trails. A report, along with recommendations, will be presented to the Antiquities Advisory Board.

A police superintendent until his retirement, Shirra made frequent and extensive use of the old boulder tracks and village paths when he was in charge of a village patrol unit in the early 1970s. The patrols covered the large rural areas in the New Territories, including Sai Kung.

He later developed an interest in researching these trails, some of them dating back to the 18th century and documented in maps by the early colonial government or the British military.

He and his friends even opened up some boulder trails in Sai Kung that had been buried in dense vegetation - including some linking Sha Tin and Sai Kung - and found some stone bridges and ancient markings. But many have been lost to development, covered by cement.

Shirra wrote to the government many times, urging that the heritage trails be protected as monuments. But his calls were ignored until June 2010 when a member of the Antiquities Advisory Board raised the issue.

Shirra was promised a chance to present his research and findings of fieldwork to the board, but that never happened.

He said: "It seems that whenever a member of the public has the temerity to propose a course of action to government it is treated with disdain, or quietly taken over and adopted as a government idea."


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