Let's now consider the important question of progress in conservation. We ask, has the challenge presented by managing 41,000 ha of rural landscape been fully appreciated and appropriately responded to? In other words, have the management strategies adopted by the AFCD over the past three decades produced good results? How could these good results be measured? It is very tempting to invite you to attempt an activity here. If this were a lecture, I would pause and ask the class for ideas: How could we assess (or grade) the success of AFCD country park management methods over the past 30 years? What would you say? Well, here is a sample of what I would be very impressed to hear you say. A good, well-executed and scientific country park management strategy would demonstrate many (or all) of many following features and achievements.
Features and achievements of the AFCT in country park management
- The size of the country parks has increased since the enactment of the Country Park Ordinance (law) in March 1976 when 38,850 ha existed, to just over 41,000 (actually 41,583 ha) ha in 2005 (Jim and Wong 2006).
- The diversity of habitats has improved.
- Sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs) have been promoted. There are at least 41 SSSIs today. Some of these are SSSIs set aside for particular species, e.g. egrets (Egretta spp.).
- Go back and revisit the AFCD newsletter, Hong Kong Biodiversity
- Look for some articles on this topic. They come with excellent photographs.
- Some very small but outstandingly eco-cultural-historical sites have appeared. The best (in my view) example here is that of Lai Chi Wo which is less than 2 ha in size, but still a precious and famous fung shui wood.
- Land is precious and scarce in HKSAR, and the AFCD have done well to retain so much of these country parks despite the demand for more land by more people and more industrial development.
- The biodiversity gap between inside and outside country parks. Many win-win cases fit into this ecologically important group:
- Ninety-eight per cent of the montane (upper mountain habitat) forests which are now known to contain rare plant species still awaiting study are inside country parks.
- Ninety-four per cent of plantation or mixed forest lies within country parks.
- Almost thirty per cent (to date) of the fung shui woodland is in country parks.
- Fifty-six per cent of the shrubland lies within country parks. Some of this shrubland occurs on remote uplands on which societies of the culturally important and botanically interesting Chinese New Year shrub grow and decorate these hills with beautiful red and white bell shaped flowers during Chinese New Year (Maxwell 1997).
- The recent joint biodiversity surveys of the HKSAR by South China Botanical Garden , AFCD (Hong Kong Herbarium ) and HKU have discovered over 100 plant species new to Hong Kong. Most of these were in the country parks of Tai Mo Shan, Pat Sin Leng, Ma On Shan and Lantau.
- Non-domesticated mammals are very rare near urban areas or housing estates but they can be seen occasionally in country parks. I have seen the leopard cat and Country Park Officers (park wardens) have regular reports of Chinese porcupines, ferret badgers, small Indian civets, leopard cats, wild boars and muntjacs (Muntiacus spp; small deer-like mammals better known perhaps as barking deer). These sightings are most encouraging because mammals like leopard cats are well up the food chain, and they are therefore good indicators of ecological function and ecosystem health.
- At Tai Po Kau Nature Reserve (only 460 ha in size) there are recorded sightings of 166 different bird species: outstanding for a relatively small nature reserve when the total for all of the HKSAR is 450!
There are more measures of success and to further develop this list, I invite you to seek for some more if you have the time by visiting the AFCD websites with this question clearly in
focus in your mind.
We could now go on to ask about the future plans of AFCD. What is the vision that AFCD has for the future? Right now it's appropriate to give our country park a rest and move away from the countryside to the sea. Let's now consider marine parks.