Unauthorised development work at Sai Wan, surrounded by the Sai Kung Country Park, is the most egregious recent example of encroachment into scenic, environmentally sensitive locations. The perennial combination of private greed and thumb-sucking official inactivity has resulted in many hopelessly degraded beauty spots in Hong Kong. Sha Lo Tung, the remote mountain valley in the hills behind Tai Po, has suffered, too, but more from neglect than greed. Surrounded by the Pat Sin Leng Country Park, this was an abandoned settlement. Hakka settlers dominated in these remote, mountainous locations and village houses here are constructed in their distinctive architectural style. For decades after the last villagers left for the city in the 1960s, Sha Lo Tung resembled a ghost town; plates stayed on tables, clothes gathered dust in cupboards and family pictures hung on walls. It was as though the villagers expected to return at any time. The elders who remained gradually died off and, eventually, only spiders were left to mark the passage of the years. Abandoned paddy fields were reclaimed by nature and, in time, were colonised by wild sedges and other native grasses. These plants, in turn, provided a habitat for insect life; Sha Lo Tung is now internationally known for its wide variety of dragonfly species. When a golf-course development was mooted in the early 90s, green groups mobilised and intermittent environmental protests went on for years. Sha Lo Tung's non-resident owners, meanwhile, remained ignorant of, or ignored, any profitable heritage potential, and war-gamers moved in, turning abandoned houses inside out. None of this would have gone on for long if village stakeholders had wanted it stopped. Park your car in a quiet New Territories corner and, before long, someone will want a parking fee - or else! But ransack an entire village, and no one sees a thing. Two of Sha Lo Tung's villages, Cheung Uk and Lei Uk, have belatedly been gazetted as grade-two historical structures, but their future use remains uncertain. And can one really blame villagers for acting like hooligans? Existing land-use regulations make it extremely difficult for village stakeholders to best utilise what is - in many instances - their only significant capital asset. Expect more Sai Wan-like occurrences until this long-standing anomaly has been resolved. You don't need a paintball gun to get in to Sha Lo Tung; the main hiking trail along Pat Sin Leng passes close to the valley on its way to Hok Tau Reservoir. The villages are clearly signposted.