This is my follow up letter, after having met the park management and did a tour of the facility with them:
Thank you James LUK, Country Parks Officer/ Sai Kung, Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department Tel.: 2150 6864 for your follow up and meeting with your team at the Lions Nature Education Centre on the 22nd October 2020.
I am writing to follow up on that meeting, as I still have concerns concerning the wildlife care, and the environment/bio-diversity of the “Nature Education Centre”. I ask in particular:
1. Action I. That you publish an open plan for the public to understand your management of the wildlife, bio-diversity and environment of the centre. You talked a lot about “future plans”, but I have seen a steady - even sharp - decline over the last two years. At least I would hope that you can address the following issues outlined in this recommendation as a minimum.
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 have seen lots of great tours and education, even as the park’s wildlife is decimated; This seems contrary to the primary aim of the park…..so how can you target improvements in this area? I have the following recommendations:
2. You talked about some actual/future planning to protect habitat and replant hedgerows, but as we walked we observed the careless weeding by volunteers who were pulling down vines, hedgerows, small shrubs and grassy banks, that provide the natural habitat for many of the species listed below. There needs to be some real supervision and accountability for this work.
ACTION II: A recognition of the important role that the native and natural wildlife plays in the park, as part of it being an “education centre”.
We talked about the challenges of a baseline or other “benchmark” survey for wildlife. A bio-blitz using i-Naturalist is a realistic option, and already used by schools, and Lung Fu Shan. I am sure help can come from the experts at WWF, and I can also help organise this. Perhaps on a bi-annual basis, at least to give us a working snapshot of the diversity and health of the park.
Despite some species still present, from personal observation this year, I have seen no Orange tailed sprites; no Gunthers Frogs (except in the drains outside); no Mantis species; no grass lizards; no snakes; no stick insects; no jumping spiders; no Sagra-beetles; less than 7 different species of dragonfly; and only one changeable lizard, whereas I used to find 2-3 per visit. All of these animals I have seen and photographed frequently in the years preceding 2020. Action III: That you establish a benchmark of species present through a bio-diversity programme, and have targets set to improve these figures.
3. There has been a big surge in the eye-sore of plastic fencing around the farm area, and this seems standard practice now. I presume this is to protect plants from the boars. The metal fencing is mainly intact around the property, with only a few gates that need repair and securing to block access. You were dismissive of these repairs as requiring too much money/resource, but this is simply not the case. The amount of money spent on plastic fencing, and the damage done by boars in the rest of the farm could be offset against this, and it is surely the park’s responsibility to keep the fencing in good repair. I do see this disregard for the initial purpose and good running of the park in a lot of other areas.
Action IV: That you repair the gates and stop boar access, and do away with the plastic fencing that is so offensive and unnatural.
4. One of the key issues facing the loss of wildlife are the ponds and their management. a) The Lotus Pond. Now the pond with no lotus. As I wrote previously, the Lotus pond and the whole and bank area have been decimated after last years “cleaning”. Many species need lilies and other pond plants as protection. Action V: That you replant the Lotus pond as a matter of urgency, with lotus and lilies.
Action VI: That you replant the borders properly, including the hibiscus hedges that were torn out.
b) When reviewing the ponds and their management you said that many had to be repaired, and the pumps and drainage systems needed refurbishment and repair. However, I have seen some ponds remain empty for 2 years, and others repeatedly cleaned. This has led to a decimation of the arthropods that live(d) there, leaving them barren and lifeless. Your answer that some of these were “ornamental ponds” and not necessarily of value to the park for wildlife habitats was a bit of a shock, and I would like to clarify their future with you. Action VII: Establish which ponds are viewed as valuable wildlife habitats and which not, and protect those that are.
c) All ponds: POND MANAGEMENT 101: Can you confirm that you have the expertise and qualifications necessary to manage the ponds and their wildlife? The negligent destruction at the lotus pond and dragonfly ponds appears to show that you do not have the necessary information or manager for this. Lack of borders, islands and suitable plants needs review, including how the ponds are cleaned; ie that at least the mud and silt are kept during cleaning and replaced. ACTION VII: Review with Kadoorie or WWF/Mai Po other experts in this field, and make good on the parks stated mission for at least one pond “Providing naiads and imagoes of dragonflies with habitats for growth, reproduction, foraging and rest”. INVASIVE SPECIES: The invasive species clearly needs better control and management. All ponds - with water - had a large amount of Tilapia fish and also the red-neck sliders; both of which are highly destructive to the native wildlife. I am unsure how these species have prospered, whilst the native wildlife has been destroyed. ACTOIN VIII: I have seen some action here last week with fish nets in the dragonfly pond. This is a great start; can we confirm that these species will be kept in check and monitored?
5. OTHER WILDLIFE HABITATS
On our visit to the Insectarium - or the net house: The centres quote:- “Enabling people to know about the abundant species of insects around them”. There was not one butterfly present, despite there being many in the park.
Your comment that “we do not need butterflies to carry out the education” was a bit of a shock as I believe that most children and adults remember the feeling of multiple butterflies in an enclosure being one of their fondest memories. You appear to think a dry stick and plastic signboard next to the food plants would supplant that?
ACTION IX: Keep the net-house as an active butterfly showcase. Everyone remembers walking amongst multiple fluttering butterflies as a wonderful experience of nature, and this should be part of the education.
I would add that the Bird-Wing butterfly that was present in some numbers in this net-house, along with its food plant, is a protected species in Hong Kong, and that you should not be breaking the law in its deliberate habitat destruction and causing it to disappear from this area.
You mentioned a plan to relocate the butterfly area into an outdoor “butterfly garden”, and that you have a plan to do so. Why? You have a brilliant “specialist” area already with the net-house. Perhaps unknown to you, the park also already has an “outdoor butterfly garden” with a sign for butterfly ID. However, there is no maintenance here of the plants or weeds, with the whole area overrun and far fewer butterflies than in previous years; so your answer and plan is rather disingenuous. Also, a key plant for the attraction of butterflies - and many other insects - are the “Bidens”/daisies. You stated that the banks of these have been removed, as they are an “invasive/foreign” species, but by that measure you would have to chop down most of the plants, shrubs and trees in the park too! These daisies were cut as you said they would be replaced by native plants, but there is no planting or substitute in place, only barren banks, and no insects.
ACTION X: Revisit the existing butterfly garden and sort out the plants; and leave the daisies and the banks of wild flowers alone.
6. 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.
ACTION XI: car park attendants and staff to ensure that waiting coaches, cars and buses switch off engines.
7. Habitat loss:
The many hedgerows completely replaced by concrete structures, with no greenery left at all, was explained to me as a safety measure to “stop young children running into the road”. I am not sure how a fence with big holes manages this better than a solid, well planted and maintained hedge, that you can find in other areas of the park. The many hedge dwelling species have been eradicated. The gourd, loofah, and passion fruit growing area, previously a green and luscious area is now barren, with a loss of habitat, which was explained to me as the “plants being too old”. I would argue that these have not been maintained, as it is unlikely that they would all die together. I do notice since my last letter small vines have been planted to regrow along one side of one area (with the inevitable small plastic fence). However, even whilst in our visit vines and creepers on other fences were being pulled off, and other areas strimmed right back, so I am unsure how without better direction and supervision things will change.
ACTION XII: Ensure that the hedgerows and vines and other important wildlife habitat areas are left to regenerate - and replanted, and helped where needed. Clear instructions are needed for the contractors - and volunteers - to leave the new growth in place.
Thank you for your attention. I am not a biologist or scientist, but I am a 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 help follow up 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 written reply.
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