Sarah Liao vows to investigate as expert says cutting of trees was meant to destroy them The city's top tree expert has asked the environment minister to state whether she thinks the chopping of 50 trees at Wu Kai Sha youth camp was meant to prune them or destroy them. His call came after Secretary for the Environment, Transport and Works Sarah Liao Sau-tung promised during a Legco meeting yesterday to look into the tree cutting. Ms Liao made the pledge as she was questioned by angry lawmakers, including tree advocate Choy So-yuk, in response to media reports that more than 50 trees at least half a century old had been chopped at the Chinese YMCA Wu Kai Sha Youth Village in Ma On Shan. 'I haven't seen them myself and don't know the extent [of the damage]. We will send our staff to the site to find out the situation,' Dr Liao said. The leaves and crowns were cut off most of the trees, leaving only the naked trunks. Most were nine metres tall, but are now half that height. Tree expert Jim Chi-yung, of the University of Hong Kong, said most of the trees, which included acacias, would die within a year or two, or even a few months. 'It is certainly not trimming, but intended to kill the trees,' Professor Jim said. 'The trunks' wounds will more than likely get infected and the trees will decay and die.' Chinese YMCA general secretary Lawrence Yick Kar-lim and staff who supervised the work argued that it was just a routine annual trimming and, therefore, didn't need approval under the law. 'We were just ignorant about tree trimming and had a heavy cutting this time. We didn't know it was wrong. Now we have to look forward to future improvements,' Mr Yick said. But Professor Jim doubted his claim, saying: 'It is certainly not ignorant, but tree killing. It is basic knowledge that trees will die with this kind of chopping.' Professor Jim asked Dr Liao to take a stand and declare whether she thought the trees were deliberately destroyed, and if so, order the Lands Department to prosecute the group and fine them heavily. Professor Jim and an environmentalist suspected the Christian group hacked the trees to make way for new buildings to accommodate the Hong Kong Sports Institute. The institute will move to the camp early next month while its venue is redeveloped for the 2008 Olympic equestrian events. 'Property developers often trim trees like this to make them die so they can build on the land,' said Green activist Jean Hung King-ming. Ms Hung said it was another instance of business sacrificing nature for profit. She said she hoped Hong Kong would develop a tree ordinance to protect trees. But Mr Yick rejected claims they chopped the trees for money. He said the camp accepted the institute to 'do something for Hong Kong', and that it would pocket at least HK$16 million a year for renting out more than half of its venues. He said no more trees would be trimmed to such an extent. A group of angry Wu Kai Sha residents recently sent a petition to the camp's management demanding it stop further hackings. Meanwhile, Dr Liao rejected calls for property management companies and owners' associations to be educated on tree care after 200 large trees, some half a century old, were severely trimmed in Leung King Estate, Tuen Mun. She said residents could monitor tree cuttings.