Green groups urge protection of Pak Sha O and its environs
Conservationists say the enclave that includes Pak Sha O needs to be quickly zoned and listed for heritage and ecology protection
Hong Kong's best-conserved village - a century-old jewel set amid hills rich in natural life - is under threat.
Green groups warn that Pak Sha O, and the rich ecological web that surrounds it, faces destruction if the government doesn't act to stop development at the enclave in Sai Kung West Country Park.
"[Pak Sha O] is a rare mixture of man-made heritage, rare ecology and beautiful, unspoiled natural habitat," said James Wong Ming, a conservation officer with Friends of Sai Kung. "Out of the 28 sites we've [researched and reported on], this is the most impressive."
A developer has bought up at least 40 per cent of the hamlet's saleable land, including several homes, and has already cleared 3,000 square metres of rich wetland for farming.
"If we don't speak out now and take [the area] into heritage conservation, we will lose all of it and also the harmony," said Wong. "These enclaves need to be zoned and listed for heritage and ecology conservation as soon as possible. We are racing against time here."
The area's forests, grasslands and wetlands are home to 75 species of butterflies, 11 types of freshwater fish, 38 types of birds, eight species of amphibians and 23 types of insects. Among them are the rare and endangered three-lines Bagrid fish, found in only two places in the world - one of which is Sai Kung.
Rare types of butterflies such as the white dragontail and chestnut bob can be seen, and the area is one of the few spots where butterflies take shelter through winter. Other rare species include the eagle owl, Chinese softshell turtle and Chinemys reevesii turtle - endangered species seldom seen in the wild today.
Green Power's Dr Cheng Luk-ki fears developers may destroy the village. "Destroying a section [of land] with inappropriate construction and development will jeopardise the whole region and the ecological system."
Pak Sha O is a 100-year-old village built by the Hakka, the original inhabitants of Hong Kong.
Most of the original villagers moved out in the 1970s. Expatriate families have lived there since the 1980s and can be credited with the restoration of the buildings and the village.
This includes the ancestral home of the Ho family, built in the 1910s, which is listed as a grade one historical building and rated high to be preserved. An old Catholic chapel built in the late 19th century is listed as grade three, a building of some merit.
The original families retained their land rights until developers showed an interest and started buying their land in the mid-2000s.
Entering the village is like travelling back in time. Old Chinese red-tiled roofs are on show and stone and brick walls freshly painted. Expat families took years to conserve and restore the village houses, both inside and out. Old wine urns, farm tools, furniture and bird cages were saved.
Gardens were built around the houses to complement the natural terrain. Modern amenities such as running water, the internet and stoves were installed, but without damaging the old-style look of the village.
A labour of love for the families, they turned crumbling houses into a "living heritage" that blends history and the present. Seven expat families now live in the village.
"We have never seen such a well-conserved old Hong Kong village," said Wong. "It's ironic how we Chinese may not see the value in old things, but foreigners did and actually took action to restore and preserve our heritage."