‘Nature Outlook – Consultation Document on the Review of
Nature Conservation Policy’
Comments and Recommendations
by Friends of the Earth (Hong Kong)
17 October 2003
(a) Friends of the Earth (HK) (FoEHK) welcomes the release of consultation document of
Nature Conservation Policy. Hong Kong has been paying a high price for the lack of
comprehensive conservation policy in the past and it is time for the society to reach
consensus and demonstrate commitment to protect Hong Kong’s natural heritage.
(b) This document focuses mainly on the conservation of ecologically important sites under
private ownership. A comprehensive policy review should include the conservation of
government land, Country Parks, and Marine Parks. Besides conserving existing valuable
sites, restoration of degraded habitats should also be addressed in the document. The
government should address these outstanding issues in formulating the new Policy.
(c) Conservation policy is inextricably linked to land use policy in Hong Kong. However, the
document does not mention how the proposals will affect the rural landuse in the New
Territories. The recent conversion of Agriculture landuse to Other Specified Use (Rural
Use) in Tai Tong represents a lack of coordination in achieving conservation within the
Proposed Scoring system
(d) FoEHK agrees that a robust scoring system is crucial to the identification of priority sites
for protection. However, the success of the system depends not only on its robustness, but
also on who, where, when and how to use the scoring system.
(e) The government should consult all stakeholders during the assessment process, including
gathering information and advice from ecological experts on the importance of individual
sites, and the location of sites to be assessed. The government should spell out clearly that
destruction of habitats will not affect the final assessment results.
(f) The status of the sites within the priority list should be clarified. A new guideline or
amendments to the existing Town Planning Ordinance and Environmental Impact
Assessment Ordinance can alert future developers of these ‘no-go’ areas at the early
planning stage of projects.
Management Agreements between NGOs and Landowners
(g) FoEHK believes that this approach will work only if there are effective monitoring
mechanisms and sufficient incentives for the NGOs and landowners. In approving
management agreements, the government should consider the track record of
non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in organizing environmental programmes, so
that the agreements will not be abused to justify unsustainable business activities which
may damage the ecological values of the sites.
(h) FoEHK supports in principle the ‘management agreement’ approach and urges the
government to facilitate a number of pilot projects with the participation of all
stakeholders. The injection of funds into the existing Environment and Conservation Fund
can be an interim arrangement in supporting pilot projects. A Nature Conservation Fund
should be established in the long run to protect our natural heritage.
Private-public Partnership (PPP)
(i) This approach originates from the ‘Fung Lok Wai’ case to protect fishponds in the Deep
Bay Area. FoEHK has reservations about large-scale application of this approach to other
habitats. Many ecologically important sites in Hong Kong are small according to
international standards and small scale development in one portion of the site can cause
disturbance to local fauna and flora and degradation of the habitat as a whole.
(j) To date there have been no successful PPP cases as the Fung Lok Wai ‘trust’ model is yet
to be implemented. The government must establish effective monitoring mechanisms to
ensure that developers will undertake management and enhancement of the sites in the
(k) While we agree that land resumption is not a sustainable option for conservation, the
government should provide sufficient incentives to facilitate ‘management agreements’ in
conserving ecologically important sites.
(l) FoEHK recommends the establishment of a statutory Conservation Authority to
coordinate and monitor all conservation efforts in Hong Kong, including the long-term
management of sites under management agreements and PPPs as well as ecological
mitigation measures undertaken by EIA project proponents.
(m) A Nature Conservation Fund should be established in the long run to pool resources from
the government, business sector and the general public. The Fund will provide financial
incentives on training, research and long-term management of important sites. The
business sector should be encouraged to take the lead in regular donations to the Fund.
The Fund can undertake a wider range of functions after the accumulation of a sizeable
reserve, such as land acquisition, promotion of eco-tourism, and investment in nature
1. Friends of the Earth (HK) (FoEHK) welcomes the long-awaited consultation document
of Nature Conservation Policy. Debates on ‘Development Vs Conservation’ have been
ongoing in the past 20 years and it is time for the community to reach consensus and
demonstrate commitment to protect Hong Kong’s natural heritage.
2. Hong Kong has been suffering from the lack of holistic conservation policy in the past.
There were notable court cases such as Sha Lo Tung, Nam Sang Wai and Long Valley.
There were also numerous small scale, scattered developments which eroded our
countryside bit-by-bit. Unfortunately protracted debates and expensive litigation fees
have not been able to achieve long-term protection and management of ecologically
3. FoEHK published two position papers on Conservation Policy in November 1992
(entitled “Conservation in Hong Kong – Preserving our Future”) and in April 1993
(entitled “A New Policy for Conservation and the Countryside in Hong Kong”), during
which FoEHK sought a judicial review against the development of Sha Lo Tung. The
Sha Lo Tung case was a milestone victory of Hong Kong’s environmental movement.
Yet, the lack of a holistic conservation policy had forced green groups to stand out again
in 2000 to conserve Long Valley.
4. This consultation document focuses mainly on the protection of ecologically important
sites under private ownership. This is perhaps the most controversial issue of
conservation policy in Hong Kong and certainly deserves much attention. However, a
proper conservation policy should cover a much wider scope of work on species
protection, habitat preservation and restoration. These important aspects of conservation
policy are very briefly discussed and no critical review is provided in the document.
5. A complete review of the existing policy should also include a critical evaluation of
existing conservation measures for the whole of Hong Kong, including conservation in
government land, existing Country Parks and Marine Parks. The review should not focus
only on the conservation of existing ecologically important sites, restoration of degraded
or loss habitats are equally important and should also be addressed.
6. Conservation policy is inextricably linked with landuse policy in Hong Kong. This
consultation document does not mention how rural land should be protected in the long
run. While this document reiterates that agricultural land has no development rights, the
recent conversion of Agriculture landuse to Other Specified Uses (Rural Use) in Tai Tong
sends an alarming signal to the public that ‘Upzoning’ can be considered for degraded
land in New Territories. This highlights the lack of coordination between government
departments and bureaux in achieving conservation in the countryside.
Specific comments on government proposals:
Scoring Scheme for Assessing Ecological Value of Sites
7. The objectives of the scoring system are to provide a more objective and systematic
mechanism for assessing the relative ecological importance of sites, as well as to identify
priority sites for conservation. The scoring system is based on the assessment of both
habitat conditions (60% by weight) and biodiversity of a site. (40% by weight).
8. FoEHK agrees that a robust and objective scoring system is the basis of any successful
conservation policy. The success of the system, however, depends not only on its
robustness, but also who, where, when, and how to use the scoring system.
Who to use?
9. The scores of individual sites will likely to be highly debated among the scientific
community and also the landowners. During the assessment process, the Government
should seek advice from a wide range of ecological experts before assigning the final
score to a site. This is crucial to the credibility of the scoring system and can help
government withstand challenges from other parties.
Where to use?
10. Another key issue of the assessment is the location of sites. The government should
consult green groups, ecological experts, and the general public to determine which sites
should be included for assessment. Too narrow a scope will risk the exclusion of
valuable sites for protection. If the scope is too wide to include many non-valuable sites,
a resulting low score may give the wrong message to the landowners and the public that
those sites are eligible for development.
When to use?
11. As ecological values change due to natural succession and human disturbance, the time
of assessment is crucial, in particular for sites under potential development threats.
Measures must be in place to prevent deliberate destruction of habitats as a means to
interfere with the assessment process. These irresponsible acts happened at Sha Lo Tung,
and a number of controversial sites before.
12. The Government should make it clear to all landowners that if there is sufficient
evidence to suggest that deliberate destruction of habitats occurs after the release of the
consultation document, the final score will be based on the habitat conditions before the
consultation, the information of which will be gathered through government existing
database or consulting relevant experts.
How to use?
13. A score is only a number in itself and proper use of the scoring system is critical to the
successful conservation of valuable sites. In this document, no details are provided
regarding the use of the scores other than the general purpose of ‘identifying priority
sites for protection’. Whether and how the scores will be announced is also not
mentioned. As the scores will affect the possibility for change of landuse as well as the
eligibility for conservation through management agreements, the landowners should
have the right to know the aggregate score of their sites.
14. A priority list of sites for protection will be drawn up after the assessment. How the
status of these sites will affect the decisions of Town Planning Board (on planning
applications) as well as those of the Director of Environmental Protection (on approving
EIA reports) should be stated very clearly so that future developers can identify these
‘no-go’ areas at the early planning stage. This can be in the form of a guideline issued by
the Town Planning Board or the amendment of the EIA Ordinance as well as the
Technical Memorandum on Environmental Impact Assessment Process (TM-EIA).
The criteria and weighting of the scoring system
15. The proposed criteria are widely accepted ones and many of them are similar to the
criteria in the TM-EIA. For the ‘degree of disturbance’, more specific description on the
scoring criteria is necessary as level of disturbance can refer to many different human
activities, some of which may be permanent, others may be transient and reversible.
16. Besides ecological functions, conservation has many other important functions such as
educational, recreational, landscape and visual. The proposed scoring system
incorporates only ecological criteria, which are not comprehensive enough and not easily
understandable by the public. FoEHK suggests that more criteria on recreational and
landscape values should be incorporated into the scoring system.
‘Management Agreement’ with Landowners
17. NGOs are encouraged to enter into management agreements with the landowners
through government subsidies or their own funding. Terms of agreement will be
negotiated between NGOs and landowners and NGOs shall monitor and ensure the
proper implementation of the agreement. This expedient method could, ideally avoid the
sensitive issues of ownership, development rights and land resumption while achieving
conservation in a cost-effective manner. FoEHK believes that this mechanism will work
only if a strict monitoring mechanism and sufficient funding from the government are
18. Management agreements should be approved with great caution. The track record of
organizing environmental programmes of an NGO should be one of the most important
criteria. There are thousands of NGOs in Hong Kong and the mechanism could be
abused by people seeking development or unsustainable business activities in the sites
under the guise of an ‘NGO’.
19. The Government must provide sufficient resources and monitoring for these agreements.
It will be difficult and unfair for NGOs alone, with poor resources and lack of
enforcement power, to ensure the success of these agreements. Clear standards should be
set up to ensure that activities under the ‘management agreements’ will not damage the
20. The management agreements should focus more on the ecological enhancement
measures and less on the revenue-generating activities. Most, if not all of the valuable
sites are currently accessed free of charge and many recreational facilities may need to
be built to enhance ‘market attractiveness’ for revenue generation. These
revenue-generating activities may degrade the sites if not managed properly.
21. FoEHK proposes that a Nature Conservation Fund should be set up to provide financial
support for the long-term conservation of Hong Kong’s natural heritage. (See the
‘Recommendation’ section of this paper). In the short to medium term, one possible way
to fund the management agreements can be through the injection of funds into the
existing Environment and Conservation Fund (ECF) with AFCD closely monitoring the
agreement. A separate vetting committee and different project assessment criteria should
be established under ECF to fund these projects.
22. FoEHK agrees that if properly implemented, ‘management agreements’ could be a
‘Third Way’ to the existing dilemma of ‘Develop or Abandon’ of ecologically valuable
private land in the New Territories. Well-planned ecological enhancement measures,
together with eco-tourism can provide added value to existing rural areas, and possibly
revive many of the abandoned rural communities.
23. FoEHK urges the Government to facilitate a number of pilot projects using the
‘management agreement’ approach. Resource support including financial support,
training and advice to the parties of management agreements should be provided. The
Government, NGOs, ecological experts, landowners and villagers should all participate
from the conception to implementation of the pilot projects. The ‘management
agreement’ is a new concept in Hong Kong and by facilitating pilot projects, the
Government and the public will be able to assess whether this approach is workable in
Private-public partnership (PPP)
24. Under this approach, developers will be allowed to develop a ‘less sensitive section’ of
their site provided that they undertake long-term obligations to manage and conserve the
remaining large part of the site. This approach has been adopted by the Town Planning
Board in the Deep Bay area, where many privately owned fishponds are zoned as Other
Use (Comprehensive Development with Wetland Enhancement Area) or other similar
25. FoEHK has reservations about the large-scale application of this partnership approach.
While the PPP approach may be applicable to fishponds in the Deep Bay Area, its
applicability to other habitats should be assessed very carefully. Many ecologically
important sites in Hong Kong are small according to international standards and
small-scale development in one portion of the site can cause disturbance to local fauna
and flora and degradation of the habitat as a whole.
26. To date, there have been no real cases of successful PPP in the Deep Bay Area as most
development proposals are freezed due to sluggish property market conditions. In the
consultation document, the Government encourages the setting up of ‘trusts’ to finance
long-term management of sites. However, there are insufficient mechanisms, either
legislation or administrative measures, to ensure that the developer undertakes long-term
obligations to conserve the site. The penalty for failing to undertake the obligations, as
well as benchmarks for measuring success are also yet to be defined.
27. The Government must establish monitoring mechanisms to ensure the ‘long term’
‘management’ of the site by the developer. Normally developers have no responsibility
for their development projects after sale except building management and maintenance
issues, but only for a period of time. The meaning of ‘long term’ and ‘management’
needs to be clearly defined and agreed, with clear performance criteria for assessing
effectiveness of management.
28. FoEHK considers that non in-situ land exchange should only be pursued on a very
exceptional basis and must be justified on the grounds of nature conservation.
Land resumption and ‘development rights’
29. ‘Development rights’ is one of the most controversial issue of conservation of private
land. FoEHK supports the Government’s reiteration that most ecologically valuable sites
are under agricultural leases and the landowners have no development rights at all
30. We do not think land resumption is a sustainable option for conservation. The recurrent
management and enhancement are more important than ownership of a site. The
resumption costs for all ecologically valuable sites are huge, but the recurrent ecological
management costs are much cheaper by comparison. The expenditure of $20 billion to
resume land is obviously financially and politically unacceptable. However, the
government should provide sufficient funding to support recurrent management costs of
ecologically important sites in the long run through management agreements.
31. Conservation of our natural heritage will not be achievable unless there are consensus
and commitment from the whole society. FoEHK recommends that a dedicated
Conservation Authority and a Nature Conservation Fund should be set up to pool the
expertise and resources from all sectors of the society to achieve long term conservation.
Establishment of a dedicated Conservation Authority
32. Currently conservation work in Hong Kong is mainly undertaken by AFCD, a few other
government departments as well as local green groups. In recent years, AFCD has been
very committed to the collection of ecological data, conservation of habitats, rare species
as well as public education. However, many valuable habitats are destroyed due to
government infrastructure and private development projects. Many ecological mitigation
measures specified in EIA reports or Environmental Permits are quite fragmented and
compensatory in nature (mainly due to the priority of ‘on-site’ mitigation).
33. In Hong Kong, there is insufficient expertise among project proponents, consultants and
contractors as to how mitigation or enhancement measures can be managed over the
long-term. The absence of a high-level statutory body to coordinate infrastructure
development and monitor all conservation/mitigation measures is an important reason for
the lack of holistic approach to nature conservation.
34. FoEHK suggests that a Conservation Authority should be set up to coordinate, advise
and monitor all conservation efforts by the government and NGOs as well as ecological
mitigation measures undertaken by both public and private projects. The remit of the
Authority should include the monitoring of long-term management of ecologically
valuable sites under the Private-Public Partnership or private Wetland Trust. The
Authority should have a wide representation with members from the government, green
groups, ecological experts, landowners as well as other sectors of the community.
Nature Conservation Fund
35. Nature Conservation is about the protection of our natural heritage for future generations.
It relates to every sector of the community, not just the government, landowners and the
36. FoEHK proposes the establishment of a Nature Conservation Fund which can pool
together donations from the business sector, the Government and the general public. The
Fund will be entrusted to the Government who will appoint an advisory committee on
funding matters. This new Fund will provide financial incentives for management
agreements, support research on conservation and finance long-term management and
enhancement of priority sites for protection.
37. While large corporations in Hong Kong donate huge sums of money to charitable
purposes such as education, anti-poverty, medicine, and welfare, donations to long-term
conservation of the natural environment are rare. The scale of donation, if any, is also
38. To sustain the long-term funding requirements of Nature Conservation, large
corporations such as utility companies, property developers, and financial institutions
should be encouraged to demonstrate their corporate social responsibilities by taking the
lead in regular donations to the Fund.
39. After some years of operation and the accumulation of a sizeable reserve, the Fund can
undertake a wider range of functions such as land acquisition, promotion of eco-tourism,
conservation training and education, mitigation and restoration as well as investment in
nature conservation projects.
40. Nature Conservation in Hong Kong has been a complex and sensitive issue. While most
sites are small and under varying degrees of human disturbance according to
international standards, they support a high degree of biodiversity, and many species of
international conservation importance. Most sites are under fragmented private
ownership and development pressure is huge. The perceived development rights of rural
land remain the most controversial element of all debates, many of which had to be
resolved through lengthy and expensive litigation.
41. No single overseas model on nature conservation can be readily adopted for the unique
Hong Kong situation. FoEHK agrees that a partnership approach can be effective
provided that sufficient resources are available and monitoring mechanisms established.
We urge the government to facilitate a number of pilot projects to assess whether this
approach is applicable to Hong Kong.
42. Nature conservation can only be achieved in the long term under the support of the
whole community. A Conservation Authority and a Nature Conservation Fund are
recommended to pool expertise, experience and financial resources from all sectors of