The Hong Kong government undermined biodiversity by failing to properly plan and enforce green zones, an environmental group has said in a report.

The Hong Kong Bird Watching Society said unauthorised land development was on the rise, but the prosecution rate remained at around 1 per cent. Thursday’s report also noted that the Town Planning Board approved developments in agriculture and green belt zones – despite both categories carrying a presumption against development.

Woo Ming-chuan Bird Watching Society
Woo Ming-chuan, Senior Conservation Officer of HKBWS. Photo: Citizen News.

“Mechanisms for enforcement against unauthorised developments within private land and the reinstatement of destroyed habitats are… largely ineffective, and thus continue to undermine the good intentions of the designation of protected areas and zonings,” the report read.

The report, titled “Hong Kong Headline Indicators for Biodiversity and Conservation 2015-2017,” also noted 11 cases where owners of “hobby farms” – farms that let visitors witness and participate in vegetable growing – converted them to other uses without authorisation, adopting a “destroy first, apply later” approach.

Society Chairman Apache Lau acknowledged that there had been progress since 2015, especially in the government’s implementation of a Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan.

Kam Tin Buffalo Fields Bird Watching Society
Kam Tin buffalo fields in 2000. Photo: HKBWS.

However, the government’s good intentions were “compromised by [its] persistent failure to enforce effectively against the trashing of ecologically-important sites, and its disgraceful undermining of the zoning that protects our biodiversity,” Lau said.

Land supply debate

The Bird Watching Society also urged the public not to select the country park option in the ongoing land supply consultation, so as to avoid damaging animal habitats.

The report said that, during his tenure, former chief executive Leung Chun-ying promised only sites of “relatively low conservation value” would be developed, but that was not the case. Instead, several well-wooded sites were targeted.

Kam Tin Buffalo Fields Bird Watching Society
Kam Tin buffalo fields in 2017. Photo: HKBWS.

“The government’s track record of rezoning green belts [gives] the public no cause for trust and confidence that its stated intention to develop the country parks would be limited to areas with ‘relatively low’ ecological and public enjoyment value,” said Senior Conservation Officer Woo Ming-chuan.

The report said that, since 2015, there has been a declining trend of waterbird sightings in the Deep Bay area, and Chinese White Dolphins have disappeared from North Lantau waters.

A spokesperson from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said that the government will gradually increase conservation measures according to the Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, and will strengthen law enforcement to deter illegal activities.

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.