What ails Hong Kong’s old stone wall trees is a lack of communication
Major hurdles for the good management of stone wall trees in Hong Kong include a lack of communication between the public and government departments, as well as some misconceptions on either side.
First, many among the general public are unaware that, before deciding to cut down a tree, an arborist has to carry out detailed inspection to prepare a report. There are three cases to be considered: (1) a healthy tree not in a “high risk to life” area; (2) a healthy tree in a high-risk area, and; (3) an unhealthy tree in a high-risk area.
It is obvious that to preserve trees under either cases (2) or (3) will usually incur very high cost, and the public must be fully informed of the amount and cost of the required remedial works.
Moreover, who is to foot the bill? So far, the general public has rarely been informed of the details and rationale of such tree reports. Therefore, it is not surprising that the cutting down of a tree of majestic heritage will cause an uproar.
In the past years, our Tree Management Office seems to have laboured under the misconception that “trees and people can always live harmoniously together”. In reality, this implies any tree can be preserved without seriously affecting various public facilities. This is usually not the case, especially in populous areas (“Carrie Lam’s defence of tree policy fails to satisfy critics”, May 24).
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Moreover, a stone wall structure is usually not properly designed up to current standards. To redesign such walls would require the specialised expertise of a civil engineer, specialising also in structural and geotechnical engineering.
Finally, when a tree is required to be cut down or very major remedial works are required to preserve it, the importance of communication and openness on what has been happening cannot be overemphasised, as people hate to be kept in the dark.
Moreover, an unhealthy tree might appear healthy when viewed from some distance at ground level.
Dr Wong Hong-yau, Happy Valley