Panel shake-up pledges fresh perspectives on Hong Kong urban forestry

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PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 January, 2017, 8:02am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 January, 2017, 8:02am

A new interdisciplinary panel made up of mostly overseas experts has been established to advise city officials on “strategies and policies related to urban forestry”.

The 18-member Urban Forestry Advisory Panel will replace and take over the work of the Expert Panel on Tree Management, which was established five years ago to consult the government on policy and operational aspects of tree management.

The new panel includes urban forestry managers, arborists, urban and restoration ecologists, forest pathologists, a soil scientist, landscape architects, horticulturalists and a geotechnical engineer. Ten of the members are from overseas.

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“This composition will offer fresh perspectives and in-depth professional experiences and insights on urban forestry from policy to implementation,” secretary for development Paul Chan Mo-po said.

“Advice will be drawn from their collective network to bring international and regional knowledge for local applications.”

As with the previous expert panel, it will report to the bureau’s Greening, Landscape and Tree Management Section.

However, the new incarnation of the panel will see it adopt a more “holistic approach” to strategies relating to urban forestry, encompassing urban arboriculture, urban ecology and urban landscapes rather than just management of individual trees, registered old and valuable trees (OVT).

Previous members of the panel have in the past openly criticised the government’s tree management policy, especially its penchant for hastily cutting down trees, including OVTs.

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Outspoken figures, including University of Hong Kong tree expert Jim Chi-yung and Conservancy Association chief executive Ken So Kwok-yin no longer sit on the panel.

Jim, who sat on the panel for two terms from 2011 until the end of the second term last year, said he was not invited to join the new panel, nor did he ask to be on it.

Apart from a different name and more members, he believed there was no difference in what the panel covered, describing it as “old wine, new bottle”.

“It is ironic that they are now naming the panel [an urban forestry advisory panel] as the government has completely ignored all recommendations in the past to create more urban forests in the city,” said Jim, who researched the topic for decade. He cited failed examples such as Norman Foster’s nearly- realised proposal for an urban forest in the West Kowloon arts district.

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Cost overruns and delays to the MTR high-speed rail eventually caused the British architect’s plan to be scrapped and replaced with a series of open lawns.

He lamented: “Their first task should be to revive Foster’s urban forest.”

Jim said the focus on urban forestry should not mean playing down management of individual trees in the city, which should basically be in line with managing an urban forest.