Swathes of vegetation have been cleared in a Sai Kung country park enclave, turning a once ecologically rich wetland inhabited by barking deer and porcupines into debris-strewn patches of barren earth. Aerial photographs of Wong Chuk Yeung, nestled in Ma On Shan Country Park, reveal much of the green belt area to have been destroyed, a large part of it on private land but near areas zoned for conservation. On-site checks this month by Green Power and the Eco-Education and Resources Centre found hundreds of trees felled and burned. The banks of a stream also seemed devoid of greenery. “It looks as if a war has just taken place,” the centre’s conservation manager Stanley Chan Kam-wai said, pointing to the excavator tracks, stones and piles of burnt logs scattered haphazardly along the muddied stream. Wong Chuk Yeung is a key government water catchment and the green groups believe any degradation upstream can affect the surrounding wetland ecosystem and conservation areas. According to an outline zoning plan for the area, development in Wong Chuk Yeung must be controlled strictly to maintain its water quality. Images dating back to as recently as 2011 show the area still covered in greenery. “The vegetation cleared is equivalent to about two soccer pitches and we estimate that to be, if not more than 1,000 trees, at least a few hundred,” Chan said. “The wetland will start to … dry up and will pretty much disappear after the winter.” Green Power chief executive Dr Man Chi-sum said the case was another example of zoning plans failing to protect enclaves that encompassed private land. He said it would be better to fold the enclave into the country park. The area is home to more than 222 species of plants and rare wildlife. It is one of the city’s few large areas of freshwater wetland and feng shui woods. The last resident of Wong Chuk Yeung’s Hakka village sold his property about two years ago, leaving the village abandoned. More than 70 per cent of the private land is owned by developers, but four-fifths of that is part of the green belt. Plans by a developer to build luxury houses in mid-2010 were not realised. Land search records show the major landowners are Diamonds Sun, Tonway Investment and J&W Development, all incorporated between 2008 and 2010 and led by a director named Chan Kwong-shing. The firms could not be reached for comment. Chan is also listed as a director of Kantex Development, which bought up 23 private lots in the enclave of Lo Shue Tin, in the same country park, in 2010 for HK$104 million. Green groups raised an alarm last year after lush vegetation in Lo Shue Tin was cleared in similar fashion. As agricultural use of land in green belt areas was “always permitted” under the said outline zoning plan, Man said it was no coincidence the area had been fenced off by a group calling itself the “Wong Chuk Yeung Organic Farm”. The Planning Department confirmed agricultural use was allowed. It would send officers to check for any unauthorised development such as filling, excavation or repair works, which must be approved by town planners. The Water Supplies Department said it was investigating if the water catchment area had been damaged illegally. The Lands Department said the site in question was mainly private land with only a few tiny plots of government land sandwiched between. "Removal of vegetation and excavation works do not constitute to a breach of the lease conditions of the private lots concerned which are held under the Block Government Lease, and no construction activities or works was carried out on the site," a department spokeswoman said. The Tai Po District Land Office was monitoring the situation and would take lease enforcement action if unauthorised development on the private lots was found, she said.