I have taken a lot of my wildlife photos not far from home in the Lions Nature Education Centre, which I have always encouraged people to visit.
However, I have watched as things have gone from bad to worse, and yesterday I felt I had to take action and so I have written to the AFCD. I cannot find details of specific park management. I am trying to raise the profile of this cause to try and get some positive action for the wildlife and plants that I simply cannot find anymore.
The letter is below and the letter with photos is attached.
Lions letter I
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I am writing with some concern about the natural environment management and bio-diversity of Lions Nature Education Centre.
I understand your remit is below:
The Centre promotes nature education, field studies and eco-tours for schools, organisations and the public
And also from the Lions website: “… aim to educate people about the concepts of environmental protection”.
I am writing as a concerned member of the public, but also as a keen amateur naturalist, and I run a daily blog at www.wildcreatureshongkong.org. I currently work as a wildlife photographer. I moved to SaiKung, Sha Kok Mei 4 years ago and I have been a regular visitor to the Centre, and many of my blogs and photographs have been taken there.
I am writing to you as I have seen some serious decline in the wildlife that I have seen at your centre over the last few years, and I have some serious misgivings about the environmental management of your centre. Do you have a qualified environmental or biodiversity manager? And how do you rate your performance? Perhaps you can help answer these queries below, and reassure me that these issues can be addressed.
One of the issues is that a lot of my data is anecdotal. Do you have data on local fauna and its variance year to year? Do you track this? I really would expect this to be in place as a nature education centre. This can be addressed with a little effort, for example with a bio-blitz, using a citizen science platform like i-Naturalist, something that Shaun Martin at WWF can help set up. I would also be available to help with such a programme.
One of the key issues are the ponds and their management. The Lotus Pond. Now the pond with no lotus. The pond and the whole and bank area have been decimated after last years “cleaning”, with not one lotus left, no previously abundant frogs, and far, far, fewer dragonflies and other invertebrates. I watched this pond being “cleaned” a couple of years ago and queried the (outside contracted) cleaning staff about what they were doing as had no management or supervision from the centre as they worked. I was very concerned as they were: i) Ripping out all the Lotus stems and roots, as well as the lilies; they had no direction or knowledge of plants, they told me that they were told to “clean and remove everything”. ii) They cut back the borders and habitat to unsustainable levels, giving no cover to local wildlife. They removed beautiful hibiscus borders, exposing lifeless concrete. iii) They were doing this in Spring when pond management 101 says you should do this in late autumn. Frogs, newts, toads, and some fish lay eggs during late winter/early spring, and some hatch during mid to late spring – too much disturbance could kill them. Insect larvae is also being laid and hatching during this time, and as insects are toward the bottom of the pond food chain, you’ll need these if you wish to support other wildlife. iv)They removed the silt and mud from the bottom of the pond along with all the teeming aquatic life, with no care to preserve it. They left no wildlife “ramps” or islands which are so important for pond wildlife management.
These photos taken the weekend of the 10th October 2020 shows a pond devoid of Lotus, lilies, just rammed with Algae. Earlier in the year I would find Gunther’s frogs in abundance, but there are now more frogs in the drainage ditches outside the park than in this pond. And a few dragonflies…but far, far fewer.
This area in this picture used to have head height borders of hibiscus bushes and other plants, where I often saw many birds and other animals. Now there is bare concrete and weeds. I could see no wildlife in the pond other than invasive fishes, and the inevitable large red-eared sliders that pollute our native ponds.
The Dragonfly Pond: Now the pond with few dragonflies. The centres quote: “Providing naiads and imagoes of dragonflies with habitats for growth, reproduction, foraging and rest”. Again, I have seen this pond “cleaned” twice over the past few years, with the silt and mud removed from the bottom and it left dry for an extended period. No ramps or islands, or the long grasses needed for dragonfly larvae. This area used to be buzzing with all different dragonflies. Now there are but a couple buzzing around, whilst the pond is full of invasive fish species and red-eared sliders which have killed what remained of the local frogs, larvae, and other invertebrates. I have watched as these turtles pursue and eat anything that moves.
When I visited over the weekend of 10-11th October I could only find 4 dragonflies over this whole pond area; whereas in previous years I would have seen 20 or more.
The 3 ponds above the deaf cafe have also been drained and “cleaned” multiple times. I used to find lots of frogs and demoiselle here in particular the orange tailed sprites. However, this year I have found no demoiselle at all..and on the 10th October the top pond still remains with no water; clearly not good for pond life.
The ponds next to the lotus pond have also been drained, and these have remained “under repair” for well over a year now. As you can see, they are all drained, and any pond life has long since died or disappeared. other
The upper of the two small ponds in the centre courtyard has not had any water for a long time and is now filled with grass and weeds. The lower pond has some lovely lilies, but the water levels remain very low.
The large pond by the farm land area is full of invasive fish, and has no other vegetation. The banks that have been full of vegetation have all been cleared for some time now, giving wildlife no natural environment at all.
The two ponds down by the grass area and dog exercise area have been empty for over a year now, devoid of vegetation or life. This area used to have long grass, excellent for the grass lizards which I have not seen for 2 years, and also I have been told by a specialist that jumping spiders, once abundant, have now all but disappeared.
As mentioned, any pond that is lucky enough to have water, also has a multitude of invasive fish species and the red-eared sliders that have grown to quite huge sizes and breed unchecked whilst they demolish all the local wildlife with their insatiable appetites.
Insectarium - or the net house: The centres quote:- “Enabling people to know about the abundant species of insects around them”.
On my last visit I found the previously lush vegetation all cut back. On previous visits 2 years ago I had seen many different butterfly species in abundance in this enclosed area, including the wonderful bird-wing butterfly. On recent visits the centre had been shut and over the weekend visits on the 10th and 11th October I found one tatty butterfly. There were far more blue crow and tiger butterflies outside in the park, rather than in this sad, neglected “specialist” area (despite a nice fresh coat of paint on the giant concrete bug statue outside).
Arboretum: Centre quote: Species collected include local camellias and azaleas, plants discovered in Hong Kong for the first time, trees from fung shui woods and subspecies of conifers. I believe that this area has been “closed” for over 3 years now, due to a rot/root problem. I have seen diggers and earthmovers come and go, and different fences being erected - and also ignored. This remains a popular area for dog walkers…and there is generally someone within the forbidden area; unfortunately, no workers or anyone doing any treatment. Surely, if there is foot traffic here, this should be better policed? And this is another key issue for management of the centre, is that no-one seems to be policing the parks “rules”.
I have seen better fencing evolve over the years, but still its pretty lacklustre in many places. I always see people walking around in this area. See photo bottom right, taken on 10th October 2020.
Dog management. Its great that the park is open to dogs….but, no where is this lack of park policing clearer than in the management and policing of the dogs that roam the park. It is wonderful that the dogs are allowed off leash and to roam free - but many people come to the park with little sense of responsibility. They arrive in the car park, the dogs rush out, often beyond view and another dog pooh sits on the grass. I see this every time I visit, and perhaps I notice this more than most visitors as I am often off the concrete path, on the grass looking for wildlife. On average I will find at least 6 dog poohs near where I am walking in an hour long visit. It is even worse on the path around the park.
Picture taken on the 10th October. Dog owner already walking up the hill. It would be an easy programme to educate owners and even issue fines over a 30 day period so that people would take more responsibility.
In addition, despite the notices forbidding dogs on chairs (and the law) there are always dogs on chairs and licking the tables at the popular deaf-cafe. I see this every time I go there; for example, picture on left on the 10th and on the right, the 11th October.
We are just seeing the return of the buses..which is good to attract more visitors. However, these often leave their engine running. The car park attendant could see to it that the law is enforced, as I cannot be there to personally ask all of them to switch off their engines.
Rhodoleia championii, the Hong Kong rose, is a species of plant in the family Hamamelidaceae. It is a small evergreen tree with dangling scarlet flowers that are pollinated primarily by birds. Now this wonderful tree is dead and overrun with creepers, along the side of this path.
Some hedgerows have been completely replaced by concrete structures, with no greenery left at all. The many hedge dwelling species have been eradicated. I used to find 2-3 changeable lizards on my visits, but now I only see them rarely. Even the fenced areas that used to have vines and creepers providing an excellent habitat have all been cut off and destroyed, leaving the bare green concrete fence where once there was beautiful green vines and hedgerows.
The gourd, loofah, and passion fruit growing area, previously a green and luscious area is now barren, with a loss of habitat.
The area below the deaf cafe had a wonderful stretch of passion fruits and other vegetation. I have found many mantis, grasshoppers and katydids here previously, but now they are absent, and the plants appear to be dying, brown, badly cut and a poor sight and habitat.
Weed and grass killers seems to be used for keeping things in check, whilst untrained and unsupervised contractors trim and strim large areas of habitat. This is in contrast to the careful management and planning and maintenance of the farm area, as in this photo.
Signs of local plants are so badly damaged that they are unreadable. But other areas like the Chinese herb garden have taken a lot of new investment with a completely newly refurbished structure, with new plants and dedicated staff .
The rock academy has also benefited recently, with newly painted signs and a general clean up, and more free information and packs to take away.
Meanwhile, on my recent visits I have found bins overturned, and placed away from their concrete placement areas. The gates and fences that were previously closed against the wild pigs are now rusted and non-functional, so I have often see wild pig damage in the farm.
Thank you for your attention. I am not a biologist or scientist, but passionate advocate of the beautiful wild creatures that we can find in Hong Kong. I have enjoyed visiting the centre so many times over the last few years, and I would be pleased to meet with you and view these issues together and work with you if you felt I could be of any help.
I hope that you can replant and encourage more wildlife in the ponds, trees and park areas in the years ahead. I look forward to your reply.
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