Michael Lau said the government needed to ‘actively explain to the public how the assessment is going’. Photo: Nora Tam

Call for Hong Kong government to reveal more about wildlife in country park enclaves

Conservationist urges transparency after High Court ordered officials to reconsider incorporating six enclaves into protected areas

The government needs to tell Hongkongers more about the animals and plants in its country park enclaves when deciding whether to protect them, a long-time conservationist has said, after the High Court slapped down a government decision on the areas, and ordered it to reconsider.

The court on Thursday told the government to reassess its decision not to include six enclaves into country park land, ruling it unlawful and based on a bad analysis.

“It is a very important ruling,” Dr Michael Lau Wai-neng, WWF Hong Kong’s wetlands conservation director, said. “There are many enclaves not included in their surrounding country parks and we never know how the authority reached the decisions.”

The enclaves are chunks of land which are inside country parks, but are treated as normal land and so don’t get similar protections as the land around them. The six in question are in Hoi Ha, Pak Lap, To Kwa Peng, Pak Tam Au, So Lo Pun and Tin Fun Tsai.

Hoi Ha, in Sai Kung, is one of the enclaves in question. Photo: Dickson Lee

They were among 54 country park enclaves not covered by the outline zoning plans, which specify the uses of different areas of land, and are set by the Town Planning Board.

That means development on private land within them is unrestricted, save for any conditions in the land lease.

Lau said the Country and Marine Parks Authority, which decided in December 2013 not to recommend incorporating the six into country parks, had not explained important details like what types of animals lived in them, whether there were any rare species, what the landscape was like and how diverse the ecosystems were.

When reconsidering the decision, Lau said, the authority should tell the public the ecological value of these sites, although the court did not require it to do so.

“If the department is being responsible, it should actively explain to the public how the assessment is going,” he said.

The successful judicial review which led to Thursday’s ruling was launched by environmentalist Chan Ka-lam, of campaign group Save Our Country Parks.

In a written judgment, Mr Justice Thomas Au Hing-cheung ruled in Chan’s favour, saying he was not satisfied that the authority had “made sufficient inquiries as to the conservation and preservation values of each of the six enclaves before deciding not to recommend them to be designated as country parks”.

Under the Country Parks Ordinance, the authority has a duty to make recommendations to the chief executive for the designation of areas as country parks and to protect their vegetation and wildlife.

As all new developments in country parks require the authority’s consent, their designation could be seen as offering better protection to the enclaves.

Public concern over unauthorised excavation in the enclave of Sai Wan, inside Sai Kung Country Park, in 2010 sparked the 2013 assessment, and prompted the government to revise its criteria for making such decisions.

But the authority emphasised that these enclaves were subject to draft outline zoning plans, which would offer effective protection and conservation.

But Lau disagreed, citing enclaves such as Sha Lo Tung in Tai Po’s Pat Sin Leng Country Park and Lo Shue Tin in Ma On Shan Country Park, where private owners had been discovered doing unauthorised excavation and clearing plants.