The Leisure and Cultural Services Department has admitted that its team “failed to exercise common sense and awareness of wild animal protection” after egrets were killed during tree pruning in Tai Po this June.

The department’s tree team insisted on pruning trees at the protected Tai Po Egretry – the second-largest in Hong Kong – despite objections from passers-by who told the workers that herons and egrets were nesting there. Only eight out of 29 birds survived.

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Rescued egrets under Kadoorie’s care. Photo: Kadoorie Farm/Stand News.

An investigation report, released on Friday morning, said that the team did not stop the work even when they noticed that the nest of the birds would be affected.

It also found that the department did not have information on wildlife protection – including the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance – nor did the training cover the topic. However, front-line staff were expected to exercise judgment to minimise the impact on wild animals despite the lack of specific guidelines.

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

“Furthermore, the pruning work was not conducted properly, resulting in over-pruning, and the over-pruning by topping was considered unacceptable. If proper tree pruning had been carried out, the effect on the birds would certainly have been minimised,” the report said.

There was also no urgency over the tree operation being carried out that day, the report found.

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A young egret fell to the ground. A witness said it could not fly. Photo: Cloud.

It concluded that the incident was a result of “a knowledge gap on protection of wild animals, improper practices in tree pruning and insufficient supervision and manpower of the tree team’s sub-team.”

The government has announced a series of short and long-term measures to prevent similar incidents.

A spokesperson for the department “again extended apologies to the public for the regrettable mishap, noting that the department would endeavour to strengthen its tree care training, enhance the internal guidelines, and raise the awareness and techniques of all staff on wildlife protection in their daily work.”

However, Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan criticised the report as not being “useless” and not comprehensive as it claimed. She also said it was a “phony” investigation, and that there was no fact-finding and no details on who had been responsible for the incident. “After reading the whole report, you still have no clue as to who made a mistake,” she said.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.