Over 80 per cent of Hongkongers support the conservation of Nam Sang Wai, a contested wetland area in Yuen Long, according to a survey commissioned by green groups.

Dubbed the city’s “back garden,” the popular destination for bikers, hikers and wedding photographers has long been caught up in battles between conservationists, the town planning board, and developers. It is home to a wide variety of birds and animals, and is one of the most ecologically important sites in Hong Kong. It is designated a wetland conservation area, meaning all development proposals must be made to the Town Planning Board for consideration.

A spate of mysterious fires ripped through the Nam Sang Wai wetlands in March and April, affecting some 14 hectares of land and a ferry service. They renewed public interest and prompted calls for the government to protect the area.

nam sang wai
Photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

Green groups commissioned the Public Opinion Programme of the University of Hong Kong to conduct a survey on Nam Sang Wai last month. Researchers received responses from 1,003 residents. Of these, 83 per cent responded that they agreed that Nam Sang Wai should be preserved in its natural state.

61 per cent of respondents agreed that the government should invoke its legal power to take back the land from developers, or conduct a non-in-situ land exchange. Currently, the government owns 20 percent of Nam Sang Wai, while the other 80 per cent is privately owned.

Roy Ng, a campaign manager for the Conservancy Association, said public opinion was clear that the government should take actions to preserve Nam Sang Wai.

Nam Sang Wai fire

Lawmaker Eddie Chu said the survey showed that public opinion did not agree with developers’ past proposals to develop Nam Sang Wai and preserve neighbouring Lut Chau. Instead, it showed that Hongkongers thought both areas should be preserved.

Chu said that, although the survey did not find overwhelming support for the government to take action, the government should conduct studies on long-term developments and actively propose short-term preservation plans with land owners. “The government has a responsibility… to protect this place,” he said.

Nam Sang Wai
Photo: Conservancy Association.

Lawmaker Roy Kwong said the government should make more efforts to arrest those who set fires in Nam Sang Wai.

“We are very worried that there may be another fire affecting a large area that would kill Nam Sang Wai one day,” he said.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.