Dozens of trees in a Ma On Shan residential estate were chopped back to preserve the sea view from low-floor windows, among other reasons. But this was contrary to tree preservation terms in the land lease that required the management company of Villa Rhapsody in Symphony Bay to obtain permission from the Lands Department before going ahead with severe tree pruning. The loss of greenery also upset residents who see trees as part of the view from their windows. The heavily pruned trees have become a blot on the landscape, they say. A resident surnamed Cheung, who lives on the second floor, said: 'There were many birds before. I used to see them flying home to the trees in the evening. But now I don't hear birds twittering any more.' Cheung said gardeners had pruned the trees on the podium garden since October. The trees were cut to almost half their original height. Simon Sham Sik-shing, general manger of management company Kai Shing Management Services, said the trees, which had not been trimmed in the past 10 years, were pruned to present a clear sea view for those living on low floors. The trees were also cut short over fears they would fall in a typhoon. Cheung said: 'Perhaps, for some flats on low floors, the trees might block part of the sea view. But I consider the trees part of the view out of my window. The trees are part of the landscape, which is shared by residents of the whole estate. I think the management should consult us before trimming the trees so substantially. They should not cut the trees just for the sake of some residents. 'What made me feel most uncomfortable was that [the management company] said they cut the trees for safety reasons. They said they were worried the trees might fall in a typhoon if they were allowed to grow. But a healthy tree would not fall suddenly. And if they were so concerned about safety, they should have planted trees of other species which are shorter when fully grown.' One disgruntled resident sent letters to 431 flat owners asking them whether they thought the management should consult owners before trimming trees. About 30 replies were returned, all in the affirmative. They agreed that a concern group should be set up in the wake of the incident. A spokeswoman for the Lands Department confirmed that the company did not get permission to cut the trees. The tree preservation clause in the 1996 land lease states that trees growing on the land or nearby shall not be 'interfered with without the prior written consent' from the department. Pruning to enhance trees' appearance and health did not require prior approval, she said, adding that the department's officers would study the condition of the trees this week before deciding whether the terms of the lease had been breached. Audrey Eu Yuet-mee, Civic Party lawmaker and a senior counsel, said heavy pruning could be considered interference with the trees, and therefore a breach of the land lease. Eu said the tree preservation clause in land leases generally did not provide a fixed penalty. Although there is a common clause that states the government could terminate the lease in the event of a breach, that would be disproportionate penalty for damaging trees, she said. 'A combination of a lack of a fixed penalty and the absence of a land enforcement arm to regularly inspect trees on private land and issue summons means tree preservation is not really effective,' Eu said. Unless there is an urgent need to cut the trees, the management company should obtain expert evidence showing the trees pose a danger and seek Lands Department approval before pruning, Eu said. The government last year cited the preservation clause in land leases as a reason for not setting up a tree protection law on private land. A report issued by the task force headed by Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen said leases drafted since the 1970s contained such a clause.