An old flame tree in Tai O, Lantau, is being felled this week after tests revealed that more than half of its trunk had decayed. Villagers had asked the government to cut it down, fearing that it would collapse. Contractors for the Lands Department began cutting it down yesterday. The work will finish tomorrow. The tree has stood in front of a temple in Kat Hing Back Street for more than 50 years. Wong Wai-king, a Tai O resident who advocates preserving the fishing village's culture and environment, said she was sad to see the tree go. 'The tree has grown up with many of us together. We like sitting in its shade,' she said. The department said the tree had to be cut down because it was unsafe. Lee Chi-fung, chairman of Tai O Rural Committee, will ask the government to plant a new tree at the same site. A scan last week using a sonic tomograph revealed the extent of the tree's decay. The tomograph measures the speed that sound travels through the wood. Decayed wood will slow its path. Jim Chi-yung, a tree scientist at the University of Hong Kong, was shown the test results. He said the tree's base and crotch were 80 per cent decayed and other parts half-rotten. 'Without structural support, the tree would be dangerous and could collapse in strong winds. It should be removed, unfortunately,' he said. A fungus had infected the tree via two holes, one of them in the base, and had eaten away the wood, he said, and human activity could be responsible for the infection. Villagers had trimmed branches to prevent them obstructing a stage for festival performances, and the ground near the tree had been dug up. They should avoid doing that once a new tree had been planted on the spot, to keep it healthy, Professor Jim said. The professor said flame trees were not as resistant to salt as some other species and might not be suitable for a coastal environment such as Tai O's. Coastal species such as the wild bean, sea hibiscus or cinnamon tree would be better suited to the site, he said. 'They have dense crowns, can endure strong winds and resist salty environments,' Professor Jim said. He also suggested four trees be planted at the corners of the temple square to compensate for the loss of biomass arising from the cutting down of a mature tree.