Response to Tai Po Market egretry incident

Ms. Michelle LI, Director of Leisure and Cultural Services

Mr. LAU Kong Wah, Secretary for Home Affairs

7 June 2017

Dear Ms. Li and Mr. Lau,

LCSD tree cutting works at Tai Po Market egretry

The Hong Kong Bird Watching Society (HKBWS) would like to draw your attention to the captioned incident. At around noon on 6 June 2017, we received a public complaint on the tree cutting works conducted by the New Territories East Tree Team of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department at the Tai Po Market egretry. The complainant noted that the workers on site were informed of the impact of their actions and asked to stop, but refused to stop. Nests, eggs, live chicks and dead bodies of birds were found amidst a pile of branches that were cut down, and it is clear that the breeding birds at the egretry are greatly affected by the tree cutting works.

As observed on-site today, several more young birds fell off the trees as they become too weak due to lack of parental care and foraging ability.

The Tai Po Market egretry is a nesting colony of egrets and herons with a history of more than 20 years. According to our egretry count survey conducted in 2016, it is the second largest egretry in Hong Kong with a total of 151 nests recorded. Breeding species include Little Egret, Black-crowned Night Heron, Great Egret, Chinese Pond Heron and Eastern Cattle Egret, which the former two species form the majority. In general, the birds start breeding in March and continues till August. The conservation importance of the egretry is well recognized by the Government as it was designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest back in 1994. Even though the location of the egretry has gradually shifted outside the SSSI zoning, this does not reduce the ecological value and conservation importance of this egretry.

As an organization dedicated to bird conservation, we are gravely concerned about the significant adverse impacts on the breeding birds caused by the tree cutting works conducted by your Department, why the tree cutting was conducted during the breeding season, and why LSCD staff continued with the work when it was evident that were birds, chicks and nests on the trees and that were being harmed by their actions.

All wild birds are protected under Wild Animals Protection Ordinance (Cap. 170). Section 4 and 5 of the ordinance state “No person shall, except in accordance with a special permit, hunt or wilfully disturb any protected wild animal. No person shall, except in accordance with a special permit, take, remove, injure, destroy or wilfully disturb a nest or egg of any protected wild animal”.

We would like to know if the team concerned had obtained any such permit for these works, and if so what justifications were offered? We consider that the tree works of your Department represents a serious breach of the captioned ordinance with an unprecedented degree of seriousness in Hong Kong and we are urging the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department to investigate the case immediately and proceed with prosecution to the fullest extent of the law.

From the initial response made by your Department to the media saying “we regret that the tree pruning works may have affected the birds there” , we consider that your Department is not fully aware the seriousness of this incident. There is no question that breeding birds, nests and chicks have been directly affected by the works and such response is unacceptable. We urge your Department to provide full explanation of this incident and detailed response/information to the following questions/enquiry.

  1. Please clarify the area(s) that is managed by your Department at the Tai Po Market egretry.
  2. What were the detailed justifications of the tree cutting works? Why was is conducted during the breeding season?
  3. According to the “General Guidelines on Tree Pruning”, tree pruning is defined as “the removal of unwanted branches from a tree…either for reducing risk and inconvenience to the public, maintaining or improving tree health and structure, or improving appearance of trees” . Do your Department consider the current works is a type of tree pruning? Please explain.
  4. Other than the tree cutting works, were any other alternatives were considered by your Department (such as increase the cleaning frequency of the road paths, postpone the tree works after the breeding season)? If so, why were the alternatives were not adopted? If not, please explain.
  5. Why would the staff of your Department continue to proceed with the work even when there are birds, chicks and nests on the trees?
  6. Were your staff aware of the protection of birds, eggs and nests under Cap. 170?
  7. Are there any (internal) guidelines provided for your staff to conduct the tree cutting works? If so, are the guidelines strictly followed? If not, please explain.
  8. What measures would your Department take to proactively prevent similar situations from occurring in the future?
  9. In August 2016 HKBWS published “Guidelines for Planning and Carrying out Construction Works at Egretries”. We distributed the guidelines to Environment Bureau and Development Bureau in our letter sent by email on 26 August 2016 and a list of Government departments were copied, including the to you Ms Li as Director of Leisure and Cultural Services. Since these guidelines were indeed distributed to your Department why were they ignored or the relevant staff not made aware of them.
  10. We are shocked and disappointed that such an incident could occur when there is a long-established ordinance and clear guidelines to prevent such occurrences, and even more so following the supposed mainstreaming of biodiversity into the work of all branches of government since the introduction of the Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan in 2016.
  11. Please confirm that you will conduct a thorough review of the procedures around the authorization and implementation of tree felling/cutting/pruning in ecologically sensitive locations and that your department would adopt these guidelines in all your future works/projects in order to prevent similar incidences of ecological vandalism from happening again.

Thank you for your kind attention. We urge your Department to look into this matter seriously and we look forward to your prompt reply.

Yours sincerely,
Apache LAU
The Hong Kong Bird Watching Society

Director of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation
Secretary for the Environment
Secretary for Development

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