The songs probably won't make the local music charts, but if they remind listeners of Hong Kong's most scenic spots, their producers will be happy. Songs of Nature, a musical tribute to 10 favourite sites, is among a spate of efforts to promote eco-tourism in the city. Performed by DJ-turned-folk singer Albert Au Shui-keung, the album will be launched at Wetland Park on Saturday as a joint project with the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department. Songs spotlights the most popular of 88 scenic sites listed in an online poll held this year - a follow-up to a vote conducted two years ago when the rocky outcrop of Tung Ping Chau came top. This time, it's dropped to second place behind Tai Long Sai Wan in Sai Kung, says co-ordinator Woo Ting-kwong of the Country Park Ranger Service. Despite its image as a concrete jungle, Hong Kong includes sites of outstanding natural beauty, Woo says. The department has sought to promote this in recent years but the message has been slow in getting through. 'Most people just aren't aware of them,' says Woo. 'That's why we hope music can bring something different to what we're doing, and nobody can do it better than Albert.' Realising the potential of Hong Kong's nature sites, government officials and lawmakers have stepped up drives to market them to visitors in the past five years. But green activists fear that poorly planned visits are damaging vulnerable sites. The Wetland Park, which opened last year, was widely touted as the city's first eco-tourism facility. Following a well-received trial last year, the Tourism Board also has begun offering countryside visits, introducing such places as Tai Long Sai Wan and Kadoorie Farm to foreign tourists. Itineraries are adjusted seasonally to make the most of the sites, and tours of the wetlands in Long Valley and Mai Po are planned for the autumn. Lambert Chan Lap-yip, the board's general manager for destination marketing, says the natural environment is among Hong Kong's 'core tourism strengths' and will help broaden its appeal. More local residents are turning to Hong Kong's rural attractions, says Charles Lee Yee-keung, an eco-tour organiser and founder of travel website HKTraveler.com. Visitors to country parks rose from 11.2 million in 2003 to 12.1 million the following year and stayed at about 12.2 million in 2005 and 2006. 'The  Sars epidemic prevented people from travelling overseas and led them to re-discover domestic nature spots,' says Lee. 'They also go to the countryside because they've become more health conscious.' Exploring the countryside is also much easier now thanks to the wealth of guidebooks on hiking trails and local wildlife - Friends of the Country Parks, which has issued more than 100 titles under its Eye on Nature series, is among the major contributors. 'Hong Kong people like to find out information about a place and explore it on their own,' says Woo. 'We hope that nature appreciation will also be accompanied by greater consciousness of protecting the environment.' Local travel agencies have jumped on the eco-tour bandwagon, but often to the detriment of nature spots. Frequently led by ill-informed guides touting loudspeakers, busloads of visitors descend on isolated sites with little regard for their impact on the environment. Ng Cho-nam, an associate professor of geography at the University of Hong Kong, recalls joining a weekend visit to Tung Ping Chau organised by a major local agency. 'There were about 1,000 people [on the beach] ... it was scary,' he says. 'It was just like regular sightseeing.' Eco-tourism shouldn't be confused with green tourism - a more accurate way to describe the kind of visits being promoted by officials, green activists say. The International Ecotourism Society defines eco-tourism as 'responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of local people'. Visits focus on learning about the ecology of the area and local culture, and should be conducted in small groups. However, the term is widely abused, and instead used loosely to describe any nature-related travel, says Peter Li Siu-man, campaign manager of green group, the Conservancy Association. 'Nature spots in Hong Kong are being exploited like mass tourism products,' he says. 'These places don't exist for the purpose of making money. When officials sees the mass appeal of these places, they build all these infrastructure and facilities for tourists when they should be putting environmental conservation and the well-being of the community first.' Jan Chan Ka-chun, eco-tour operator and publisher of Hong Kong Discovery magazine, says this kind of travel is a niche business. 'It's high-cost because it's small group-oriented.' Running a genuine eco-tour is a challenge, Chan says. His company tries to fulfil most criteria, including using vehicles fuelled by LPG. Even so, the tours lie 'somewhere between eco-tourism and nature appreciation because it's hard for everything to be totally green', he says. The government has yet to set a clear eco-tourism policy, but vulnerable nature sites are being subjected to excessive human activity as such travel is commercialised, green groups say. As examples, Li cites how visitors are allowed to use 100-year-old derris vines as swings, and terns in some spots have stopped laying eggs because they've been disturbed. 'It exposes the government's backward mentality,' Li says. Still, Chan of Hong Kong Discovery says tours run by agencies can be compatible with the environment. 'Hygiene is a more serious problem when you need to accommodate a lot of visitors,' he says. Although green groups welcome the idea of introducing Hong Kong's diverse wildlife and remarkable natural landscapes to the public, they say the natural attractions are best presented in a holistic way. 'Hong Kong is too small for eco-tourism to be developed at individual nature spots,' Li says. 'It might be good to look at them as a whole.' Ng says eco-tourism shouldn't be about pulling in the crowds. It's important to maintain a sustainable community together with the nature spots, he says. People who want to explore the countryside must either complete their trek in a day or camp out if they want to stay longer. 'It should be more flexible,' Ng says. He suggests more use could be made of villages that have been allowed to disintegrate as ageing residents die and younger ones move away. An integrated approach to planning and zoning might allow small businesses such as bed and breakfasts to be set up in villages for travellers who want to stay overnight. Ng recalls how a colleague from Britain told him Hong Kong has the best of both worlds. 'Where else can you find landscapes that rival those of the Caribbean and shopping malls as fabulous as some in New York within easy distance of each other?' he says. 'Eco-tourism won't bring in a lot of revenue, but it helps make a good impression - that the city has a lot to offer and visitors won't get bored even after many visits,' Ng says. 'Hong Kong has relied too much on shopping and food in the past. Diversity is important; it's what the rest of world is aiming for ... Many Japanese now come here to hike, not to shop.'