The Environmental Protection Department's (EPD) decision to reject the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation's (KCRC) $7 billion plan for a spur line through Long Valley is good news for one of the SAR's last remaining wetlands. It is, of course, only the first battle. The KCRC will appeal, and yesterday's victory might yet be overturned because of the long delay it will bring in the construction of a much-needed alternative border crossing to relieve congestion at Lowu. For once, the EPD, which has sometimes been criticised for failing to stand up to other government departments' demands to bulldoze sensitive areas, has been brave enough to have a multibillion-dollar project ground to a halt to prevent irreparable damage to the environment. Credit is, of course, due to conservationists, who have been tirelessly crusading to conserve Long Valley. Without the concerted efforts of the Conservancy Association, Bird Watching Society and other green groups, the KCRC would have had its way. It is never easy to balance the demands of a burgeoning population with the claims of the natural world. More often than not, when the interests of one clash with the other, priority goes to human and economic considerations. As a result, bird and marine life is being squeezed out of its natural habitat right across the globe. In the case of migratory animals, a small victory in one corner of the Earth can be a life saver for species which are losing thousands of hectares of territory elsewhere. It is about time the scales were weighed a fraction more in favour of the other creatures of this planet. And it is up to the developed economies to show the way. The options are fewer in the Third World, where the priority must be feeding a hungry population. Even in poorer countries, however, there is increasing recognition that incessant destruction of natural habitats is harmful to human development. Yesterday's EPD decision will prove costly to the KCRC. It will mean the choking queues at Lowu remain for a lot longer. And it will not please people who will live closer to the realigned route than they would have done if the Long Valley spur line had been approved. There are, however, alternative routes. One means paying compensation to affected villagers, while the other involves the demolition of a waste-water treatment station and a slaughterhouse. It can be argued that these are not insurmountable obstacles. If the ruling is upheld, 10 years from now the amount paid for the realignment work will be trifling in comparison with costs then. But Long Valley will still be there, its value and rarity increasing with each passing year. So one battle is won, thanks to the EPD's decision. More lie ahead. The KCRC has been unremitting in fighting its corner, which it is entitled to do. But its arguments about providing other habitats elsewhere are not persuasive. In conservation, where the survival of a species is concerned, there is only one acceptable approach: leave them well alone. For the moment at least, that philosophy prevails here. Long may it last.