WWF urges protection of Shalotung

THE World Wide Fund for Nature has called on the Government to protect the Shalotung valley against development, including a proposed golf course and housing project.

The WWF has submitted a proposal to the Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands that Shalotung, along with Three Fathoms Cove at Sai Kung, be declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Conservation officer Mr Billy Hau Chi-hang said yesterday development would threaten rare species of animals and plants - including newly-discovered varieties.

''While it's difficult to assess the impact on flora and fauna, at least some of the wetland habitat will be reclaimed and developed under the golf course. We're losing more and more wetland all the time in the New Territories,'' he said.

The area contains 20 species of wild orchids, three of which are endangered in Southeast Asia, and Mr Hau said orchid experts thought it unlikely the orchids would survive if the area became heavily-populated.

The SSSI proposals are being considered by the Agriculture and Fisheries Department in an initial assessment to determine whether they are justified and meet the necessary requirements. It would then be considered by the Planning, Environment and Lands Branch.

An environmental impact assessment being conducted by the designers of the golf course, Axis Environmental Consultants - due this month but not expected to be completed for eight weeks - will form part of the Government's considerations.

Axis executive director Mr Brian Ashcroft said any designation of an SSSI in Shalotung would have a ''fundamental effect'' on the development of the 41-hectare, nine-hole golf course with 70 detached houses, 100 apartments and 160 homes for village re-housing.

The WWF's senior conservation officer, Ms Amy Lau Shuk-man, said WWF was optimistic the Shalotung area would be designated as an SSSI because of the detailed ecological information submitted.

A survey of the valley's wildlife by local scientists late last year revealed at least four plant species and eight varieties of dragonfly were new to Hongkong as well as 170 varieties of protected animals, including two indigenous amphibians.

Ms Lau also said there was a need for clearer stipulation in law of the types of land use permitted in SSSIs because, theoretically if not in practice, development could be allowed.

The SSSI can be designated in two ways - as an internal administration area with land use determined by the Agriculture and Fisheries Department or as a legally protected area under the Town Planning Ordinance, which states the land use allowed in individual areas.

The WWF says the mangrove marshes and the freshwater streams on the western coast of Three Fathoms Cove are regularly visited by biology students and researchers.