For example, earlier this year, the planter of a Chinese Banyan in Muk Lun Street Playground in Wong Tai Sin was widened to enlarge its growing area. It has also been registered as an Old and Valuable Tree. Similar work was carried out for the trees along Park Lane Shopper’s Boulevard.
What is more, current urban planning guidelines restrict any underground utility at the place of planting. This secures enough space for tree roots to grow. “We are well-aware of the limitations,” Chau says.
As for the proposed tree ordinance, Chau says he supports the idea but he is concerned about the limitations in Hong Kong. For instance, he says Hong Kong’s arboriculture is still developing – if the laws are set with many requirements and restrictions, individuals and organisations might not be able to cope with them.
Chau uses the analogy of an exam. “If there is an exam in which the pass mark is set as 90, but in a year there is only one person out of 100 who can graduate. Then what is the point of it?”
So while Chau agrees that implementing a tree ordinance could be a long-term goal, he believes tree management should be improved through a step-by-step approach for now.
At the moment, the government is only responsible for the trees on government-owned land. For trees on privately owned land, there is little the government can do.
There are rules in the title deeds stating that owners cannot cut down the trees at will but these are not included in older deeds. Besides, the government cannot enter privately owned land to assess the trees growing there as it would be regarded as an invasion of private property.
Teresa So Fung-chun is a certified arborist who treats sick trees for private organisations on request and carries out assessments on trees on government-owned land.
She recalls coming across a tree at a junction near Somerset Road in Kowloon Tong. The tree suffered from topping, in which all of the canopy and leaves were removed. It basically means death for a tree since leaves are important for food production. She believes the topping was carried out by a private horticulture company, and it was not an isolated case.