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Thursday, November 26, 2015, 08:41

Robin’s Nest country park plan 'under consideration'

By Kahon Chan in Hong Kong

Endorsed five years ago as part of the frontier closed area planning study, and promised three years ago as part of a cross-border conservation initiative, a plan to expand Hong Kong’s country park coverage to Robin’s Nest remains “under consideration” with no definite timeline.

Robin’s Nest is, a stretch of hilly terrain lying south of Shenzhen’s Wutongshan National Forest Park. Thanks to restriction on public access, it has been a safe haven for rare flora and fauna. The city’s government planners identified the area as a potential country park as early as 1993.

Ecological importance of Robin’s Nest has not been disputed ever since. The Planning Department in 2010 accepted a land use study’s recommendation to set up a country park on 480 hectares of hilly terrain.

In June 2012, the city government promised its Pearl River Delta counterparts in the Regional Cooperation Plan on Building a Quality Living Area to launch “feasibility study and consultation work on designating Hong Kong’s Robin’s Nest as a country park” to set a precedent for cross-boundary forest protection.

The Executive Council approved two relevants zoning plans in 2014, but future of the park has since been in limbo. Last month, the Green Power renewed push for Robin’s Nest country park as the newly discovered butterflies hotspot is facing increasing threat from local visitors and human activities near the border.

“Under consideration”

The Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department told China Daily that the plan to designate Hong Kong’s 25th country park “is still under consideration” and there is no timeline to take the statutory steps.

Timing of opening up the closed area was cited by the AFCD as a concern, though the police had confirmed earlier this month that the remaining restricted area will be freed up on Jan 4, 2016.

The baseline ecological study, commenced in early 2012, is still underway. The department will “consider” commencing the feasibility study and consultation work subject to availability of resources.

The Country and Marine Parks Board has received no update for two years. Board member Hau Chi-hang, a HKU biology expert, said the Robin’s Nest park has been a clear promise made by the authority and explanation must be given if the plan might be dropped. He will follow up the plan in next meeting.

Villagers have not been approached by any officials for the country park plan for years too. Lin Ma Hang village, adjacent to Robin’s Nest, had actively opposed conservation efforts in the area. Its indigenous inhabitant representative, Yip Wah-ching, said he thought the plan has been shelved.

One of the last mentions of Robin’s Nest at the country park board was recorded in April 2013, when district planning officer Jacinta Woo Kit-ching assured that the government has control on most land in Robin’s Nest. The green belt zoning thus provides adequate protection for the natural habitat.

But Yip told China Daily that they still hold forestry licenses that entitle them plant and fell trees in the area.

Obstacle

The village sitting south of the region’s border has been inhabited before the British regime claimed the territory. Their licenses were renewed in 1950s to restore forestation ravaged during wartime, he explained, and the licenses remain valid even new licenses have not been granted for decades.

Villagers are not looking for firewood nowadays - a new nearby border checkpoint will enter service in late 2018 and they hope to set up leisure farms near their homes in order to untap the tourism potentials.

Yip stressed they are keen to preserve the rural ambience in Lin Ma Hang and are not stubbornly against a country park proposal, but the authorities must talk to them and take their interests into account. Exploitation in country parks are strictly prohibited by law and discretions are rare.

The last park was designated in 2008 on Lantau Island. The draft plan was gazetted less than a year after a planning study made the recommendation, but the audit commission pointed out in a 2013 report that the Lantau park had also been a part of the 1993 recommendation.

1993 review

The AFCD responded that they are still revisiting the 1993 strategy as of mid November, and will formulate an action plan. But the department also noted resources priority is given to incorporate private land into country parks where appropriate, an area also underscored by the audit report two years ago.

Most of Hong Kong’s 24 current country parks that makes up 40 percent of the territory were designated in 1970s. Conservation advocates are pushing for designation for Po Toi Island after reports of likely columbarium development, but Robin’s Nest remains the only active proposal on the table.

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