A brook murmurs through an enclave in the southwest of Ma On Shan Country Park. Passing long-abandoned rice fields, marshland and once-dense forests, it sustains the lives of pangolins, porcupines and deer.
The stream once flowed crystal clear from Lo Shue Tin into the heart of the country park. But bulldozers have come to clear away the lush vegetation as a developer attempts to take advantage of the fact the area has been designated for agricultural use.
Rain now sweeps exposed yellow mud into the stream, threatening its vitality and, environmentalists say, the wildlife and vegetation that depends on it.
Green groups are using the example of Lo Shue Tin, part of the Kwun Yam Shan enclave near Sha Tin, to oppose development in country park enclaves: 77 sites partly or wholly surrounded by protected countryside.
The Town Planning Board will tomorrow discuss plans that would allow village houses to be built in parts of three enclaves: Hoi Ha in Sai Kung West, Pak Lap in Sai Kung East and So Lo Pun in Plover Cove.
Environmentalists warn that these picturesque retreats could go the way of Lo Shue Tin.
"An enclave is an area within the country park," said Dr Michael Lau Wai-neng, senior programme head at the conservation group WWF Hong Kong. "If it's damaged, the whole ecosystem of the park will be affected. If it's developed, the damage will never be recovered."
WWF says 2.3 hectares of forest, abandoned agricultural land and marshland in Lo Shue Tin have been damaged. A field study by the group found at least 237 species of vegetation and a variety of animals living in the enclave, including the endangered Chinese pangolin and short-legged toad. Six of Hong Kong's eight species of amphibians were found there. It is not clear whether any species have been lost since the work began.
Lau said the Lo Shue Tin area was made up of 43 privately owned lots, of which 29 had been bought up by a company called Kantex Development since 2010 for a total of HK$104 million. The work to clear the land began early last year and WWF became aware of it in November after hikers spotted it and alerted the group.
WWF contacted the government, which discovered that the entrance to the site being developed was on government land and blocked access to it.
What Kantex plans to do with the site remains unknown. The company could not be reached for comment last night.
But Lau said the only way to truly protect the enclaves from development would be to incorporate them into country parks.
"Twelve of the 77 enclaves have been damaged on a large scale," he said. "This proves the current system doesn't work. If the government keeps ignoring the problem, more will be destroyed."
The government is in the process of drawing up zoning plans for 54 of the enclaves, but plans to merge just six into the surrounding parks. By introducing zoning plans, it hopes to avoid the kind of unregulated and unauthorised building work seen on pristine Tai Long Sai Wan beach in Sai Kung in 2010. The 23 other enclaves, including Kwun Yam Shan, were already covered by zoning plans.