The egg comes first, engineers find as building work is halted to protect egret colony

Earthworks halted after birdwatchers warn egret breeding season at risk

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 March, 2014, 4:37am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 March, 2014, 9:26am

Work to prevent landslides that is being carried out near one of the city's richest egret-nesting colonies has been halted amid warnings that the breeding season was about to begin and the birds could be disturbed.

The works, which involve soil stabilisation and drainage improvements on slopes beside the colony at Tai Po Market, will not recommence until the breeding season is over, the Civil Engineering and Development Department confirmed yesterday.

The project was due to be suspended next month until the end of August so as not to disturb the birds as they mated and hatched their young. The decision to halt work now came after birdwatchers and conservationists warned the department that the breeding season was regarded as beginning in March.

Bird Watching Society senior conservation officer Jocelyn Ho Pui-lam said: "Our main concern is that disturbance in the colony during the breeding season may scare off the adult birds and they may not return to feed their hatchlings." She added that, despite a temporary halt, the work could still prompt the colony to move out of the area in the future.

A department spokesman said: "Our contractor is tidying up the construction as well as making good the area before temporary closure of the site."

He said his department had already agreed to a temporary halt after consulting the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department before the work began in November.

"There may have been some misunderstanding," he added. "We had planned for the works to stop in April and recommence in September after the breeding season."

At least three main types of egret nest in the Tai Po Market colony, a Site of Special Scientific Interest. They are: the black-crowned night heron, little egret and great egret. The first colony of birds arrived more than 20 years ago.

The Bird Watching Society recorded 77 nests in the Tai Po Market colony last year, a 38 per cent drop from the previous year.

The colony, just off Kwong Fuk Road, is the city's fourth biggest nesting ground, accounting for 10 per cent of the 758 nests last year.

The birds in the colony actually moved some 20 metres east from their original territory last year following roadside works by the Water Supplies Department.

Mai Po village, home to the biggest of the city's 19 colonies, has one-fifth of the total number of 758 nests recorded last year.