The government is facing an uphill battle to encourage hikers to be more environmentally aware and reduce the amount of litter left in country parks, figures show. In September 2015, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department launched its Take Your Litter Home public education programme in a bid to reduce the number of rubbish bins on trails. About 256 litter bins – almost half of the total number – were removed by the end of 2016. How social media and lack of research have increased risks for Hong Kong hikers Despite the initiative, the amount of litter collected from the city’s country parks has not drastically fallen; instead it has remained generally consistent since 2013/14, when 3,700 metric tonnes of rubbish were collected. Meanwhile pictures of litter-strewn picnic sites regularly show up on social media. A spokesman for the department said the cleanliness and hygiene of country park trails “had not been compromised” by the waste bin reduction. “As it takes time for the public to internalise the green concept and get accustomed to the practice of taking away their waste, we will continue with our efforts in raising public awareness,” he said. Hong Kong Hiking Meetup founder Shum Si-ki said his hikers recently worked with the department on six trails to promote waste reduction. He said, however, that while the amount of plastic bottles had declined significantly, there was still a problem with discarded tissue paper on the ground. “There might be a misconception that they are biodegradable,” he said. “But I would like to emphasise that people should take them home too.” The government also advised hikers to avoid smoking in the parks, as discarded cigarettes can start fires. It also suggested hikers should not feed wild animals as they might be dangerous when approached. As for basic hiking etiquette, across the world, it is generally accepted that if two groups of hikers meet on a steep trail, then the group travelling uphill has right of way. Hikers are generally advised not to create too much noise with radios or mobile phones. MORE YOUNG HIKERS The average age of hikers on Hong Kong’s trails has decreased in the last decade, Shum said. Growing numbers of hikers in their early 20s are venturing into country parks, whereas in the past most hikers were aged in their 30s to 50s. “We are finding that a lot of the younger generation are hiking with us in the last three or four years,” Shum said. “I think the Tourism Board has done a good job of promoting the outdoors. Hiking is less expensive than other activities; you do not need a membership. And in Hong Kong, it is convenient. You can just call up a couple of friends, walk for a couple of hours, then return home.” APP ASSISTANCE ● TrailWatch offers helpful advice and GPS tracking for Hong Kong hikers. Established by local family charity the Wyng Foundation in 2014, it provides maps, distances, timings and points of interest for most of the major trails in Hong Kong. It also allows users to rate their trails, upload pictures of their journeys and make friends online with other hikers, similar to Facebook. ● Hiking Trail HK offers a similar free service via the Google Play store. ● Green Hong Kong Green, produced by power company Hong Kong Electric and a non-governmental organisation, contains information and maps for eight trails which feature interesting eco-heritage spots.