ECOLOGICAL abuse of private land must stop, the Advisory Council on the Environment said yesterday, referring to unchecked bulldozing taking place in the Shalotung valley. For nearly 16 years, Shalotung, north of Tai Po, has been at the centre of a row between developers and green groups. The original plan to build a multi-billion dollar golf course and luxury housing complex was axed by the Government, following a public outcry over the planned destruction of the ecologically sensitive valley. But last month the villagers, with the verbal approval of the developer, Shalotung Development Company, began bulldozing six hectares of private land. Government officials are unable to stop the excavations because of a loophole which gives landowners unrestricted powers on private property. 'We are alarmed land can be destroyed without the Government being able to do anything to prevent it,' council chairman Professor Wang Gungwu said. 'We want to express deep regret [over the bulldozing] and we have asked that dialogue between the Government and the relevant parties continue. 'This is a very urgent matter and that is why the council put it, unscheduled, on the agenda for comment.' Professor Wang said the council would like the Government to review the gaps in the planning policy. There is a complicated series of rules which govern development in the New Territories. The Government can only halt unapproved development if it falls within the country parks or on Crown land. A villager can flatten his own land, but still needs approval to build a structure. Unless the villagers start building, the Government's hands are tied. Friends of the Earth, the most outspoken opponent, accused the Government of failing to act to protect Shalotung. 'The developers are not acting in good faith,' Lisa Hopkinson said. 'The Government is still going to process their application. How can we believe they will respect any restrictions if they are behaving like this now.' The villagers claim they wish only to return to subsistence farming in the same manner that their ancestors have eked out a living for generations. They originally sold the land to the developer for a percentage of the company shares and a new house, but they will receive nothing until the development is completed. Green groups say villagers are bulldozing the valley to destroy its ecological value. 'In the old days they used sustainable farming, with rice paddies,' Ms Hopkinson said. 'They did not bulldoze down whole fields and stands of mature trees.'