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Hong Kong environmental issues

Could Hong Kong’s 80-year-old banyan trees on Bonham Road have been spared the axe?

Experts continue to question move to cut down two ‘stone wall’ trees due to safety risks 

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 May, 2018, 1:09pm
UPDATED : Monday, 04 June, 2018, 3:28pm

The debate continues to rage over two 80-year-old banyan trees in Hong Kong’s Central and Western District, even after they were cut down in a 12-hour operation that began on Sunday and ended at about 4am on Monday.

Only the buttress roots, covered with black plastic bags, remained of the two large “stone wall trees” on Bonham Road. 

Despite objections from arborists and conservationists, government officials said they had been given no choice but to remove the banyans.

A Lands Department report earlier said the trees had been found to have cavities, with one showing signs of decay and another exhibiting a fungal infection, causing a safety hazard.

“The government is developing a ‘smart city’, but why, when there’s a scientific tool on the market that can be used to measure the trees’ condition, did the government not use it?” Chinese University of Hong Kong professor and tree expert Chiu Siu-wai asked on a radio show on Monday. 

Chiu visited the site on Sunday to check on the trees, and said she believed one of them could have been saved. But the other tree occupied half the road and would have been too costly for the government to preserve, she said.

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After inspecting the banyans and evaluating their condition, Chiu and Ken So Kwok-yin, director of the Conservancy Association Centre for Heritage, strongly disagreed with the move to cut down the trees immediately. 

With opinion split among arborists and the government, So said, the authorities should have used tools to measure the angles at which the trees were inclined.

Florence Ko Wan-yee, head of the Development Bureau’s tree management office, said the Lands Department had made the decision based on comprehensive factors including the poor condition of the trees and the structural problems of the stone walls they were growing on, as well as the safety of students and residents in the neighbourhood. 

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“The living conditions of the stone wall trees were extremely unsatisfactory. Because there were potential risks of the trees and stone walls collapsing together, and considering the risks to the cars and people passing under them, we think it was necessary to remove them,” she said. 

On the same radio show, a caller who gave his name as Mr Ng said: “Lives or trees, which one is more important? The cracks in the stone walls mean the support is not enough. If someone dies because of the falling of trees, who is going to be responsible?”

Removal of Bonham Road banyans justified, report finds

Lands Department officials said earlier that they had “had no choice” but to cut down the banyans, or risk the safety of pedestrians.

In 2015, the Highways Department removed four century-old stone wall trees on Bonham Road, three weeks after two pedestrians were injured by a falling tree during a rainstorm.