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Typhoon Mangkhut

Consultancy given task of saving historic Hong Kong banyan tree toppled by Typhoon Mangkhut

Workers seen watering giant tree’s roots, which were wrapped in cloth, near 1881 Heritage hotel and boutique mall site in Tsim Sha Tsui

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 September, 2018, 6:10pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 September, 2018, 11:14pm

A consultancy firm will attempt to rescue a century-old giant Chinese banyan tree uprooted when Typhoon Mangkhut ripped through Hong Kong, the Post has learned.

On Wednesday workers were seen watering the tree’s roots, which were wrapped in cloth, near the 1881 Heritage hotel and boutique mall site in Tsim Sha Tsui, where the banyan had stood at the former marine police headquarters for more than 100 years.

The Post reported on Tuesday that time was running out for the historic tree – widely regarded as part of the city’s collective memory – after being toppled by the monster storm on Sunday.

Its roots were initially exposed to the sun, which sparked calls from veteran tree expert Jim Chi-yung to immediately try to save the banyan by keeping the roots moist as the roots plate was still intact.

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The tree was cordoned off on Wednesday. Two 1881 Heritage employees said experts had inspected the tree in the morning and it was now being protected by keeping the roots moist with dampened hessian, a woven fabric often used for sacks.

“The tree might be put upright later,” one employee said.

A person familiar with the matter said experts from 1881 Heritage’s tree contractor, an international consulting company, were sent to check the banyan on Monday.

“The contractor will give a detailed inspection report about the tree with solutions,” the source said. “The contractor will try its best to save the tree.”

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A Hongkonger named Ng, who visited the site with his sisters from Guangzhou, said he was sad to see the tree had fallen. “Every time I came here with my friends, I’d introduce the old tree because it is so distinct,” he said.

Conservancy Association chief executive Ken So Kwok-yin, who inspected the site with the Post, believed the tree could be saved as it looked intact except for a few small broken branches.

However, Lam Tak-chak, who trains arborists for the Vocational Training Council, said it would be very challenging to save the tree.

“The reality is that there is little space on site to accommodate a giant machine big enough to lift the tree, which can be as heavy as 10 tonnes,” he said. “It will be equally difficult if they have to remove the tree.”

Much effort and money was devoted to the preserving the banyan when the former marine police headquarters was revitalised into a boutique hotel and retail complex in 2004. The project eventually cost CK Asset more than HK$1 billion (US$127.5 million).

According to the site’s tendering conditions, any removal of preserved trees requires permission from the Lands Department.

The Post was seeking confirmation from the department on whether that rule applied in this case. It also contacted CK Asset for comment on how it would handle the tree.

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The banyan was originally on a hill near the headquarters and was replanted in a cylindrical preservation structure. Its health had deteriorated after the move due to the loss of its roots and its inappropriate living environment which included insufficient nutrition, So said earlier.

A spokesman for the Development Bureau said it had received 14,799 reports on tree failure as of Tuesday.