A green group has discovered dozens of species of butterflies on the outskirts of a New Territories country park where Hong Kong government officials want to build public housing.

In a move criticised by environmentalists, the government commissioned the Housing Society – a provider of affordable homes – to conduct a feasibility study to develop housing at the periphery of the Tai Lam and Ma On Shan country parks in May.

Tai Lam Country Park. File Photo: GovHK.

The areas under assessment total approximately 40 hectares, and the study is expected to take about two years.

But on Thursday, NGO Green Power announced that it found at least 71 species of butterflies in the peripheral areas of Tai Lam Country Park during a two month-long study. Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department has classified five of the species as “rare” and two – the potanthus pava and the celastrina lavendularis – as “very rare.”

Spokesperson Matthew Sin said at a press conference that three other species – the notocrypta paralysos, the lethe chandica and the euthalia niepelti – were only recently discovered in Hong Kong. Consequently, they have not been given a conservation status by the department yet.

Lethe chandica (L) and euthalia niepelti (R). Photo: Green Power via Apple Daily.

Sin said he feared that the Housing Society would ignore or underestimate biodiversity concerns while assessing whether the Tai Lam park is a suitable site for affordable homes. “We’re very worried that the Housing Society… will have a set mission and stance before conducting its ecological or sustainable development studies,” he told reporters.

He added that biodiversity on the outskirts of the Tai Lam Country Park may not be as great as within the protected area, but it serves as a buffer.

“Why don’t the authorities study the development of brownfield [existing built-up] sites, instead of proposing to [develop] country parks?” he asked.

Green Power.

Former secretary for development Eric Ma told the Legislative Council last month that ecological concerns would be part of the Housing Society’s assessment on the development potential of the Tai Lam and Ma On Shan country parks.

“The aim is to provide more information to… discuss whether a small proportion of land on the periphery of country parks with relatively low ecological and public enjoyment value can be allocated for purposes such as public housing and non-profit-making elderly homes,” he said.

Elson Tong

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.