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Typhoon Mangkhut

Balance needed on trees in a green Hong Kong

The havoc caused by Typhoon Mangkhut as reflected by downed Chinese banyans shows management policies are in need of improvement

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 September, 2018, 6:50pm
UPDATED : Friday, 21 September, 2018, 9:07pm

Severe storms toppling trees and shrubs may seem just a natural consequence, but the sad sight of so many trees downed by Typhoon Mangkhut is more than testimony of Mother Nature’s power. As arborists argue, unsound greenery measures are also to blame. Narrow road designs, frequent roadworks and the wrong choice of species have made our trees more vulnerable under strong winds and heavy rain; hence the devastating outcome.

There were more than 15,000 reports of collapsed trees but, if images of battered and fallen trunks on social media are any guide, the scale of damage appears to be far more severe. Among them is a beloved majestic Chinese banyan at the heart of Penfold Park inside Sha Tin Racecourse. Despite an urgent appeal by a tree expert to save it, the Jockey Club quoted advice that the tree, now just a massive tangle of damaged branches, had no chance of surviving. Also uprooted in the typhoon was another banyan tree managed by the revitalised 1881 Heritage complex in Tsim Sha Tsui. The latter, thankfully, may stand a chance after land officials stepped in.

Tree expert appeals to Sha Tin residents to save Chinese banyan battered by typhoon

Understandably, removing trees endangering public safety and obstructing roads is a priority. Rescue is, regrettably, an afterthought. But countries prone to the strikes of hurricanes and tornadoes have long been promoting guidelines to help strike a balance. Trees that are well-maintained can protect the environment and also lives and properties. The website of the Tree Management Office has put up a short notice urging the public to check the safety of trees. But there does not seem to be clear advice on how to rescue them.

The well-being of trees may appear insignificant compared to the havoc wrought, but trees that are unhealthy and poorly maintained can put lives and property at risk. At stake are more than just the aesthetics of urban landscape and environmental protection.

The inexorable force of nature may be inescapable, but the impact of disasters can always be mitigated by sound policies and measures. Similar to the needs of reviewing building design codes and contingency plans, the city’s tree management policies also have room for improvement. This is particularly important if we want to keep Hong Kong a green city.