Spiny frogs, ancient trees and a dairy farm: can an ‘eco-heritage park’ preserve Hong Kong nature and history?

Resident group waits with bated breath for Town Planning Board’s decision on their Chi Fu Valley proposal two years in the making

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 April, 2018, 9:04am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 April, 2018, 9:29am

A group of residents from a private housing estate in Hong Kong’s Pok Fu Lam are pinning their hopes on town planners this Friday to approve a proposal to turn an adjacent valley into the city’s first “eco-heritage park”.

Their application to the Town Planning Board, submitted two years ago, calls for 3.4 hectares (8.4 acres) of public land in Chi Fu Valley – east of Chi Fu Fa Yuen estate – to be rezoned from “residential use” to “other specified use” to preserve remnants of an old dairy farm and its surrounding flora and fauna.

Steve Sau Chi-ching, convenor of the Chi Fu Fa Yuen Residents’ Association Greenbelt Rezoning Concern Group, said evidence collected over the years from academics, professionals and the public pointed to the valley’s high ecological and heritage value.

“We strongly believe that the only way to preserve this area is to change its land use, and open it up as an outdoor museum and for nature observation,” Sau said. “I am quite optimistic [that the plan would gain approval].”

The Planning Department previously objected to the plan on grounds of land-use compatibility and the feasibility of implementation.

Authorities originally proposed building public housing in the valley, as part of the redevelopment plans for nearby Wah Fu Estate, but the decision was shelved by the Housing Department last year after several heritage structures were found in the area.

Abandoned Hong Kong ranch home to 60 bird species and endangered toad ‘should be preserved as ecological heritage park’

An assessment by the Antiquities Advisory Board – a statutory body that evaluates old buildings – last year confirmed 11 historic buildings or monuments in the valley with potential grade two and three statuses. The grades are part of a three-tier system indicating how much effort should be spent preserving a structure, with grade one as the highest level. 

One of the formations found in the valley is that of the old Dairy Farm Company ranch, which dates back to 1894. Dense vegetation has engulfed the site since it closed down in 1983.

The company was set up by Scottish doctor Patrick Manson in 1886 to provide Hongkongers with clean and affordable cow’s milk.

Pok Fu Lam Village, once a rural idyll, unbowed amid uncertain future

Sau said he hoped the “outdoor museum” could showcase a part of the history of public health development in Hong Kong, similar to the Museum of Medical Sciences in Mid-Levels.

The ruins from the old ranch include intact stone walls, silos, dairies, water tanks, manure pits, paddocks and pigsties, which are still visible through the greenery.

Fifty heritage trees are also thought to be present in the vicinity, including several centuries-old stone wall trees, incense trees and Indian rubber trees, that meet the standards of the government’s Register of Old and Valuable Trees. 

More than 60 bird species have also been observed in the area, as well as rare amphibians such as the short-legged toad and lesser spiny frog, which are listed as endangered and vulnerable respectively on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The list is a global inventory of the conservation statuses of biological species. 

“With all the information collected, it sufficiently proves that the application site integrates the rich elements of heritage, ecology, humanity and geo-heritage as a whole,” the group’s document read.

The applicants said they believed the site was “a tangible reminder” of the city’s “struggle” to establish dairy farming in “conditions far from ideal”.

“Preserving Chi Fu Valley not only conserves a natural treasure for Hong Kong people, but also provides them with an educational and recreational point of attraction,” the group said.

An updated master layout submitted to the board in January envisioned an eco-heritage park featuring a landscaped grass field, restored buildings, and an information hub all connected by hard pavements made of natural materials.

The Town Planning Board will discuss the merits of the application on Friday.