Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden (KFBG) has criticised the government for allowing employees to prune trees at a protected breeding site for egrets and herons.

“Conservation staff at KFBG are shocked and outraged,” it said in a strongly-worded statement on Wednesday.

“We hope that a full investigation will be undertaken and responsible persons held to account for what was clearly criminal and negligent behaviour. We expect to see those responsible disciplined and prosecuted.”

government tree team
Photo: Kenny Or, via Facebook.

‘Critical state’

The remarks came after the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) sent a team to trim trees at Tai Po Egrety – the city’s second largest egrety – on Tuesday. Witnesses said the pruners did not stop despite seeing baby birds fall onto the ground.

All wild birds are protected under the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance. It is an offence to disturb wild birds or destroy their nests and eggs.

Kadoorie Farm said its rescue team received 15 birds – five were already dead when they arrived, while another was euthanised owing to serious injuries. The remaining nine birds now under Kadoorie’s care are egrets and herons.

kadoorie egret heron
Two baby birds under Kadoorie’s care. Photo: Kadoorie Farm, via Facebook.

“They are delicate and care can be tricky. The additional stresses they have suffered – fall from height, dehydration, heat stress and possible temporary food deprivation – may mean [they will] remain in a critical state for some time and not all may be strong enough to survive,” Kadoorie Farm said.

“[T]he rescue team will do its best to rehabilitate the young birds and return as many as possible back to the wild.”

‘Blatant destruction’

Kadoorie Farm described the incident as “blatant destruction” of the egretry, which is known to the government as a protected breeding site for wild birds. The Tai Po Egretry was also listed by the government in 1995 as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

“It is very important that similar events will not happen again,” Kadoorie Farm said. It urged the government to review its rules in order to prevent LCSD staff and contractors from carrying out similar “criminal acts” in the future.

A baby bird fell to the ground. Photo: Tai Po resident/HKBWS.

District councillor Wong Pik-kiu of pro-Beijing DAB party told Commercial Radio that some residents complained of bird droppings in the area.

The LCSD told HKFP that the operation took place following complaints that some tree branches were overgrowing. It said pruning work was deemed necessary because the typhoon season is imminent and the overgrown branches may pose danger to passers-by.

“A spokesperson for the [LCSD] expresses sadness and apologies for the tree pruning incident,” it said. “The LCSD is taking serious steps to investigate and follow up on the case.”

It said its tree team employees have been reminded of the procedures relating to wildlife protection when carrying out their work.

See also: ‘No common sense’: Uproar after gov’t pruners insist on trimming trees, killing and injuring baby birds

tree trimming pruning team tai po baby bird Leisure and Cultural Services Department
A young egret fell to the ground. A witness said it could not fly. Photo: Cloud.

On Tuesday, the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society condemned the LCSD and demanded a thorough investigation. Its conservation officer Woo Ming-chuan told HKFP earlier that Tuesday’s incident was “the most serious” such case she had seen in recent years.

“When you see nests and birds… it is common sense to judge that it is best to postpone the work,” she said.

At least two petitions were launched condemning the LCSD and demanding an explanation. One of them questioned why the LCSD insisted on trimming the trees during the breeding season, and why its pruners did not use their common and professional sense on Tuesday.

The Tai Po Egretry is home to 151 nests of several egret species and night herons, according to the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society.

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.