Villager condemns 'Jurassic Park' plan
Government policy of making villages part of conservation areas is leaving humans out of the picture, warns rural representative
Indigenous villagers living beside Plover Cove Country Park in the northeastern New Territories have strongly opposed proposals to incorporate their private land into the park, saying it is neither fair nor sensible.
Leading the opposition is Tsang Yuk-on, the representative of Mui Tsz Lam village.
"There must be a reason why the British colonial officials left us alone when drawing up the country park boundary," he said.
Tsang was responding to proposals by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department to incorporate fully or partly five of 11 enclaves into the park. These enclaves, surrounded by or jutting into the park, include Lai Chi Wo, Mui Tsz Lam and Kap Tong, which are traditional Hakka villages now sparsely inhabited or abandoned.
Tsang said conservation policy was in a mess and placed too much emphasis on protecting animal species at the expense of humans. "What is the point if you are able to make a Jurassic Park but no human being exists and survives?" he asked.
Urging officials to drop their proposals, Tsang said the government should at least come up with land-swap or relocation options for villagers.
Tsang Wan-yin, 70, who regularly returns to his home village of Lai Chi Wo, said: "It is extremely unfair to us, taking away our land. If they want it, they should compensate us."
He threatened that if their land was zoned as a country park, he would like to see their village closed off to visitors too.
Designing Hong Kong chief executive Paul Zimmerman said it was worth exploring a land-swap option to avoid the dilemma of either having uncontrolled development of small houses in village zones or villagers left seeking compensation for being denied building rights within parks.
He said some country park fringe areas where road access already existed might be considered for such swaps.
"This [country park designation] will trigger applications for development approvals and compensation requests to be handled by the Country and Marine Park Board and the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department wants to avoid this. Maybe we should ask the government for a land exchange," he said.
Board member Dr Ng Cho-nam said it was not desirable to remove human activity and settlements from the country parks.
While Tsang's "Jurassic Park" fear might not be accurate, a mindset change was needed among both villagers and outsiders. "Look at the national parks in Britain. Most of them are private land and many owners regard it as an honour to be part of them," he said.
Dr Billy Hau Chi-hang, another board member, predicted an uphill battle if the government pressed ahead with incorporating more enclaves into country parks.
"All enclaves enclosed by country parks are supposed to be incorporated but the world does not run like this," he said.
Hau said the villagers harboured false hope over the value of their land as large-scale development was unlikely to be allowed, whether the villages were inside or outside the parks.
Tsang Wong-chun, who returns to Lai Chi Wo each year from Britain to tend his ancestors' graves, had another view. He supported a proposal by a group of conservationists to restore farming in the village for scientific research. "I understand many landlords have agreed to this proposal as we all want to see our land put to better use," he said.