HOW much are our country parks worth to the people of Hong Kong? It's difficult to put a price on the magnificent scenery of Lantau, the beautiful beaches of Sai Kung or the family walks in fresh air through ancient woodland in Aberdeen. What about their value as a home to wild animals and birds or as a source of Chinese medicinal plants? In a densely populated city with few open spaces, Hong Kong's country parks are the literal breath of fresh air to millions of visitors each year. It is because country parks are so valuable and irreplaceable, that Friends of the Earth (FoE) views any unsuitable developments encroaching upon the parks with considerable alarm. FoE successfully took the Government to the High Court over the illegal approval of a proposed golf course in Pat Sin Leng Country Park and complained to the Ombudsman about the development of a rubbish dump in Clear Water Bay Country Park. The Ombudsman's report acknowledged there was maladministration in approving these two developments, but was told by the Administration that there were no more major developments in country parks. In fact there are plans for three major developments, a major highway, a high voltage power line and a gas pipeline through Tai Lam Country Park (between Tsuen Wan and Tuen Mun). The Government argues that the public interest is served by sometimes siting such developments in country parks otherwise the alternatives would incur an unreasonably high cost. However, it is only because the country parks are so undervalued in financial terms by the Administration that it concludes that it is in the interests of the public purse to pursue the country park option. The land within country parks costs nothing or next-to-nothing for these utilities and other developers (including other government departments). For example, an annual fee of HK$10 per square metre is charged for siting power lines in the parks and there is no charge for underground pipelines. Further, there is no financial compensation nor intention of financial compensation for the loss of that parkland. FoE believes that financial compensation is inappropriate (how many of you can put a monetary figure on what country parks are worth?) and compensation in the form of land must be given for any unavoidable loss of country park land, which will otherwise be whittled away by one 'essential' development after the other. There need to be the proper institutions in place to protect our valuable open spaces and conservation areas. The Agriculture and Fisheries Department, the authority charged with protecting the country parks, is not strong enough in the face of pressure from developers and not properly financed to give that protection. FoE considers that the approval for the development of country park land in the case of these utilities to be illegal under the Country Parks Ordinance and this constitutes maladministration by the authorities. We have therefore submitted a further complaint to the Ombudsman. If you value your country parks as much as we do, please write to the Governor to tell him Hong Kong's country parks are not for sale.