A privately owned plot about the size of two football pitches inside Tai Lam Country Park was bulldozed and excavated, apparently for agricultural purposes, conservationists discovered yesterday. Such work within country parks is rare, as they are protected by strict laws and regular patrols by conservation officers. Still, the government has no choice but to tolerate the damage as the conservation department has admitted it has no power to control land clearance on private sites, even within protected areas. The site, estimated to measure about 2 hectares, is on a private lot but a 120-metre-long access road has been cut to it through public property, next to the concrete-paved section of the MacLehose Trail inside the country park. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department was alerted to the work and put up a warning sign three months ago. It also planted some concrete barriers in the ground to block vehicles from entering. However, a digger could still be seen excavating the site at the end of the access road yesterday. Stacks of white boards could also be seen piled at the site. Some of the boards were being used to construct a trench-like channel. 'The scale of the damages within the country park is quite large, though we have little idea what the ruined site looked like before and what species might have been there,' said Alan Leung Sze-lun, a conservation officer with WWF Hong Kong. Dr Leung said surveyors had been spotted working at the site yesterday, and other workers told him the site was being converted to farmland. It was not clear who owns the land. The excavated site was not far from Tin Fu Tsai, an almost deserted 300-year old village outside the boundary of the country park. The area around the village has been a popular site for paint-ball games. A spokeswoman for the AFCD said the department had learned about the site clearance work last November and had set up a physical barrier to prevent people using the illegal access road. 'We also talked to villagers nearby, but we were not able to identify any suspects responsible for the work,' she said. But she also admitted that the department could not enforce the country park laws in this case because it had to respect 'private property rights' to carry out land maintenance. The case had also been referred to the Lands Department. But Dr Leung said some questions remained unaddressed, such as why the unauthorised work on the illegal access had gone undetected, as the area should be patrolled regularly. He also asked how the machinery had been transported to the country park and if any permits were required for the excavation work. 'Did the contractor have to file any application for approval of the works? Who should be responsible? Does it have to be discussed by the country park board? The government should clarify all these questions,' he said.