Conservationists want to protect a little-known bird haven off Sha Tau Kok by renting the private wetland and farming it.
The Hong Kong Sustainable Agricultural Association has raised HK$40,000 but needs another HK$40,000 by the end of the month to rent the nearly 50 hectares of wetland at Nam Chung for a year.
Situated on the southern tip of Starling Inlet, Nam Chung is an important breeding ground for wildlife.
Wong Lun-cheong, a conservation officer at Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden, said about 110 bird species had been recorded in the area. It is one of the key feeding grounds of egrets and herons nesting on A Chau, an island zoned as a site of special scientific interest.
'It used to be rice fields but villagers have turned their land into fishponds since the 1970s. There are mangroves. The majority of the land is in private hands,' he said.
Its ecological value had become known in recent years, and villagers were probably aware of its importance for wildlife, he added.
A 1.5-hectare fishpond of particular interest is a breeding ground of little grebes, a species of waterfowl, and home to a rare seagrass, Halophila beccarii, and a globally threatened coastal dragonfly, Orthetrum poecilops.
The farming group wants to remain low-profile for fear landowners might be upset after learning of their lands' ecological value.
'We have a very good relationship with the villagers. They know we want to do some farming there. But they may think we are blocking them from getting rich if they know the ecological value of this place,' said a spokesman for the group, who identified himself as Benny.
Mr Wong feels the villagers should be kept in the picture.
'I think the indigenous villagers love their land and are reasonable people,' he said.
'They are against large-scale development and they don't like building small houses. They are not going to hurt the land.'
Mr Wong hopes the Planning Department will zone the agricultural land for conservation to allow better protection.
The Planning Department has no plan to turn the land into a conservation area, since the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department has not told it the area has any special features or is home to species worthy of conservation.