A green group has urged the Hong Kong government to rezone a butterfly hotspot in Tai Po and raise its conservation status after the site was vandalised in late August.
Volunteers working with environment NGO Green Power discovered the damage to Yuen Tun Ha, a green belt zone in Tai Po, during their monthly trip to count butterflies in the area. They discovered an area the size of a soccer pitch, originally covered by greenery, had been cleared of plants while a pond in front of an old ancestral hall had been filled in.
“This is a complex environment with still water, flowering plants and trees, which as a whole, supports high biodiversity,” Kimchi Lo Wing-fung, an assistant senior education and conservation officer with Green Power, said during a site visit.
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“We previously recorded more than 100 species of butterflies here, including some species listed as rare by the Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department, along with dragonflies and some amphibians.”
This was not the first time the area had been vandalised. In 2011, villagers poured weed killer and set fire to parts of the land, apparently in preparation for development. Green Power, which also reported the destruction of the area then, said it was likely the damage was done to lower the conservation value of Yuen Tun Ha.
The vandalised area covers both private and government-owned land, and is about 500 metres (550 yards) from the border of Tai Mo Shan Country Park. Two tributaries of the Tai Po River also run past the site and flow into a catchment area supplying the city’s drinking water under the Water Supplies Department (WSD).
During the site visit, new signs marking government land were seen, while a metal fence dividing private and public property had also been newly set up, Lo said. Meanwhile, trees and plant cover on a section of sloping land had also been removed, increasing the risk of landslides washing earth into the nearby streams, he added.
It was not known who cleared the land. Green Power was concerned it was in preparation for development into housing, as the green belt sits near a village zone. Green belts acted as buffer zones between urban areas and countryside, he said.
Both the WSD and the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) said they would increase inspections of the area. The AFCD also said it would investigate illegal deforestation, and anyone caught could be subject to a fine of up to HK$25,000 (US$3,205) and one year in prison.
The Lands Department said that while the clearing of private land was not illegal, it warned that any person charged with unauthorised development of government land could be fined up to HK$50,000 and faced six months in prison. However, it also said it had not found out who was responsible for the damage and confirmed it had put up the warning signs.
Nearly 70 per cent of butterfly species found in Hong Kong can be spotted at Yuen Tun Ha, one of about 70 butterfly hotspots in the city. Lo said Green Power surveyors had once recorded dozens of one rare species, the white dragontail, wintering near the vandalised site.
It was also home to another rare butterfly, the lesser forest blue, which preferred to make its home in the bamboo forests surrounding the area. Its larvae fed on one species of aphids, a type of sap-sucking insect, which were only found on bamboo plants.
“Without the bamboo forests, the butterflies might not be able to reproduce any more,” Lo warned. “This is why we want the government to step up their monitoring here, because if the area continues to be destroyed, it would be a huge blow to the butterfly populations here.”
Green Power senior environment affairs manager Matthew Sin Kar-wah further argued the government should consider rezoning the site into a conservation area to further protect it.
“If we can stop any further damage now, we believe the site will naturally recover without any human intervention.”
This article Fears for Hong Kong butterfly haven after land stripped of greenery first appeared on South China Morning Post