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Tree-climbing event gives Hong Kong arborists rare opportunity to train up high

More than 2,000 arborists and members of the public turned up, highlighting dilemma for local tree work practitioners

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 November, 2017, 11:50am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 November, 2017, 3:08pm

In a rare opportunity for Hong Kong arborists and the public, a country park on Sunday allowed them to climb trees, prompting fresh calls to allow the practitioners to train at government-run areas.

More than 2,000 people hovered over tree tents and zip lines in Shing Mun Country Park at a two-day public tree event co-organised by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department and the International Society for Arboriculture, whose Hong Kong chapter oversees the profession in the city.

The event highlighted a dilemma in the local arboriculture industry as tree work practitioners have long been unable to practise or conduct professional examinations at government sites due to legal restrictions. Arborists are charged with managing more than 1.6 million trees in the city’s urban areas.

Chiky Wong Chuek-yuet, president of the society comprising 950 certified arborists, called on officials to review pleasure grounds regulations that prohibit climbing trees in government parks.

This is an undesirable situation persisting for years, and no solution seems to be in the offing
Jim Chi-yung, University of Hong Kong

“Currently, we have to rent private venues for practising tree work and conducting exams,” he said. “We always have difficulties finding appropriate sites and getting permission from land owners.”

Wong, an arborist with 10 years of experience, said a tree suitable for practising pruning and climbing should be spread-out in form and sturdy in structure, like a banyan.

“It would help the industry a lot if the government allowed us to practise tree climbing in some selected areas of government parks, where there is enough space and no visitors,” he added.

University of Hong Kong geography professor Jim Chi-yung asked: “Can you imagine training medical doctors or nurses but not allowing the trainees to access public hospital patients?”

“This is an undesirable situation persisting for years, and no solution seems to be in the offing,” Jim said. “On the one hand, the government expects a higher standard of tree care. On the other hand, it has done little to help the industry develop along a proper path.”

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The tree expert urged officials to change the rules to allow the use of public trees for educational and professional training.

“The quality of arboriculture work can vary tremendously from those who provide world-class service to standards that are dubious and abysmal,” Jim said. “Many workers with little or no training are conducting tree work in Hong Kong.”

Wong said that although the society provides professional benchmark exams for arborists and tree climbers, it was not necessary for a tree worker to obtain such qualifications, especially for private projects. The body advocates mandating such qualifications for tree workers.

A Development Bureau spokeswoman said all government projects required tree workers to “complete appropriate training” by recognised institutions or the society.