Investigation: HK $ 500 fine after Hong Kong landowner clears trees in Lantau National Park

The government fined HK $ 500 after trees were illegally felled next to large private land in a Hong Kong national park. The sanction came 16 months after villagers and activists first reported clearing activities to authorities.

Photo: Google Earth Pro compilation.

In January 2020, villagers living near Pui O and conservation activists saw construction vehicles removing trees to flatten a large area next to the entrance to the Chi Ma Wan countryside trail in the national park. from Lantau South.

The area, made up of nine separate private lots, covers 10,000 square meters, roughly the size of two American football fields.

They launched a letter-writing campaign to the Land Department (LD), the Department of Environmental Protection (EPD) and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation (AFCD) to report that a large many trees had been removed from what they believed to be protected land. .

In response, the EPD referred all complaints to AFCD, the agency responsible for enforcing the Hong Kong National Parks Ordinance, while the LD told the complainants that their investigation would be followed up by their office. district.

Photo: Selina Cheng / HKFP.

AFCD said it received most of the complaints in May. Its responses to dozens of complainants indicated that they had been aware of the problem since December 2019. Tree clearing on private land in country parks is not illegal, the department said, although their inspection of the site had shown that the clearing appeared to have violated. on government land belonging to the national park.

“The affected area will be re-established by planting native shrubs,” one response read.

Photo: Selina Cheng / HKFP.

Under the Country Parks Ordinance, cutting down a tree or digging dirt in a country park without prior permission is punishable by a fine of up to HK $ 2,000 and imprisonment for up to three. months in case of conviction, but private land is exempt.

Hong Kong has about 460 hectares of private land located in national parks, according to a 2011 Country and Marine Parks Board document.

“The area had been a jungle for several decades,” a villager living nearby, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal, told HKFP. “Look what they’ve done to land on Lantau. ”

Photo: Selina Cheng / HKFP.

During the HKFP visit last month, a lone green excavator hummed at one end of the plot. Located in a shallow valley below a paved driveway, the land is accessed from the bare slope after the vegetation surrounding its metal fence – which demarcates the boundaries of private land – has been removed.

Muddy puddles remained after days of rain, and a soggy government sign erected nearby warns that anyone who brings vehicles into a country park without permission or removes vegetation from their land can be prosecuted.

Photo: Selina Cheng / HKFP.

In response to a request from HKFP, AFCD said it had found “the extension of works on a small government land adjacent to the private land and Chi Ma Wan road in October 2020”.

HK $ 500 fine

“After investigation, AFCD took legal action by filing a subpoena against the person responsible for the ground disturbance in Lantau South Country Park without permission in April,” their statement read.

The defendant was found guilty and fined HK $ 500 by the court on June 2.

The area in 2018 (left) and July 2020 (right.) Photo: HKGov.

Eddie Tse, of the Save Lantau Alliance, said it was “unbelievable” that such an area had been cleared from a country park.

“It’s completely ridiculous and doesn’t have any deterrent effect,” Tse said. “It may even make people think they could fix it by paying HK $ 500.”

Developers will generally accumulate agricultural land in their inventory while waiting to move forward in tandem with any development plans the government may implement in the future. Meanwhile, they would use the land to run campsites or for agricultural tourism, which is less profitable, Tse said.

Facilitate vehicle access

While the area was part of the lush landscape between Pui O and the village of Shap Long, large-scale clearing began as early as mid-2020: Government satellite images from July of last year show that vegetation throughout the area was completely wiped out by then – including on government land squeezed between severed lots – to form a unified band.

This further frustrated residents, when Interior Ministry officials arrived in the area in February to remove a cement barrier from a passageway for vehicles. Without the barrier, construction vehicles and excavators could easily access the land.

The withdrawal was made in response to the landowner’s request in late 2020, “on the grounds that the barrier was obstructing access to his property,” the department said in a statement to HKFP.

The border with a cement barrier (left) and after its removal (right.) Photo: Supplied.

The private lots are not connected to the paved Chi Ma Wan road. Metal fences that appear to demarcate the property lines are erected several meters from the road, with a government national park surrounding the property.

AFCD, however, said a construction vehicle was brought in via an access outside the country park and did not violate the law.

The owner also requested water supply for the plot, but the request was rejected by the Water Supply Department after failing to submit documents.

The area consists of 9 separate lots located at the entrance to the Chi Ma Wan countryside trail. Photo: Screenshot of the Hong Kong government map.

Similar to most other farmland in the New Territories, the Chi Ma Wan area consists of “old annex farm lots,” granted under a Crown lease from the government in 1905. The laws of Hong Kong prohibits the construction of structures without a government. approval on these older lots, but does not limit how they could be used.

Inherited land

Purchased in 1982 for a total of over HK $ 1.8 million, the nine lots belong to racing instructor Shu Lui-yip, his mother and sister through a company called Kam Har Limited. , inherited from the estate of Shu’s father.

The Shus are not indigenous to neighboring villages, as their father was a pharmaceutical businessman from Taiwan, who acquired land in Lantau in the 1980s, the villager told HKFP.

Another estate company, Priscilla Investments Limited, owned tracts of other land elsewhere in Lantau, according to court documents implicating a dispute over the Shu estate. They included a smaller area on the hills of Lo Uk Tsuen behind Pui O, and several plots in the heart of the picturesque traditional fishing village Tai O, as well as properties elsewhere in Hong Kong.

Shu did not respond to HKFP’s requests for comment. A woman who received the letter from HKFP containing questions for Shu at a residential address said he was out of town.

Photo: Selina Cheng / HKFP.

Tse, of the Save Lantau Alliance, questioned whether the sanctions specified in the laws governing the city’s country parks were too outdated, as they were enacted in the 1970s.

“If our hands are completely confronted with the development inside national parks – which are supposed to have a higher protection status – then the conservation of other less protected areas is simply much more difficult.”

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About Douglas Mackenzie

Douglas Mackenzie

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