A 30-year-old man from the mainland has been arrested after attempting to steal a tree in Tai Po while two accomplices escaped.

According to Apple Daily, the man—identified as Wen–was arrested and taken to hospital after trying to escape from officers, while two other men drove off.

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Agarwood trees are native to Southeast Asia. There are concerns that illegal logging could result in them becoming extinct. Photo: Wikimedia.

The man was caught after authorities staged an ambush. They were notified by locals who noticed that agarwood trees, also known as incense trees, were disappearing.

Residents in Tai Wai Tsuen, a village in Tai Po, first raised the alarm on June 30 when they noticed a 50-year-old agarwood tree near a playground on Tai Wo Service Road West was missing. Other residents soon flagged up that three other trees nearby were also cut down.

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The timber from agarwood trees are used to make incense sticks, which are used in Chinese rituals and ceremonies. Photo: Wikimedia.

Agarwood trees are native to Southeast Asia. They are commonly used to make perfume or incense sticks, which are used in Chinese religious ceremonies.

Illegal logging of trees in Hong Kong has been a recurring problem in recent years. In May an agarwood tree that was more than 100-years-old—and was worth an estimated HK$800,000—fell on a house in Tai Po after a group of people tried to cut it down.

According to figures released by Environment Secretary Wong Kam-sing, there were 134 cases involving illegally felled in agarwood trees 2014, compared to 96 in 2013 and 67 in 2012.

Environmental concern groups however estimate the actual number of illegally felled trees is in the thousands, with woodland areas in the New Territories being the hardest hit.

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Environment Secretary Wong Kam-sing. Photo: Wikimedia.

Experts have also raised concerns that the agarwood tree could become extinct in Hong Kong if the rate of illegal logging continues.

In a written statement to lawmakers earlier this year, Wong said that since 2012, 170 people have been arrested for illegally felling agarwood trees, 79 of those people were prosecuted. The police did not maintain data on the nationalities of the persons involved.

“Despite efforts made by various enforcement agencies in combating illegal tree-felling activities, it is difficult to eliminate such activities completely even with increased patrols—given that different types of plants are widely distributed in countryside areas,” said Wong.

“To combat illegal tree-felling activities, the cooperation of citizens—especially the residents living in the vicinity—is important,” Wong says. He urged anyone encountering illegal tree-cutting activities to contact the police and relevant government departments.

Vicky is a British-born Chinese journalist with three years of experience covering UK politics. She previously worked for PoliticsHome and has interned at Sky News and CNN International. She also co-produced and filmed a documentary about the Hong Kong protests for MSNBC, which won the grand student prize at the 2015 Human Rights Press Awards. She has a BA in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading and moved to Hong Kong in 2014 to complete a journalism masters at the University of Hong Kong.