Urban tree management falls short of international standards
The absence of a centralised tree management system has prompted concerns over the varying standards for inspection of local trees.
Have you ever noticed there are different tags on the bark of local trees? You may wonder what the letters and numbers on those white tags represent. In fact, they are the Environment Department Reference numbers for old and valuable trees.
Valuable trees not only refer to those that are particularly larger or older, but also those that are of rare species, outstanding form as well as cultural and historical significance.
But industry experts and academics see trouble for the management and monitoring of local trees, as various government departments are in charge of inspecting them and there is no definite procedure for determining whether a tree needs pruning or removed.
"Tree topping, the practice of removing the whole top of trees, is not recommended by the international community but it is common in Hong Kong," said Miss Winny Yeung Wing-yin, a geography undergraduate from Hong Kong Baptist University who has investigated many local tree problems.
According to a press release issued last year, Secretary for Development Mr Paul Chan Mo-po was quoted as saying that apart from the Tree Management Office (TMO), there were nine other government departments responsible for local tree management.
Among the government bodies tasked with monitoring local trees are the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, Architectural Services Department, Civil Engineering and Development Department and the Department of Drainage Services.
"System of tree management in Hong Kong is still very young," said Mr. Matthew Pryor, head of division of Landscape Architecture and director for the Bachelor's Landscape Studies program at the University of Hong Kong.
As the government subcontracts the job of monitoring local trees to different contractors, some experts doubt whether they are capable of carrying out high-quality inspections.
Inappropriate branch removal practices may worsen the health condition of trees. Tree topping may lead to severe damage to a plant, resulting in a huge hole on the bark. Fungus may then grow in the hole, leading to decay of the organisms.
The changing of tree structures may also increase the chances of tree collapses.
According to the TMO, nearly 30,000 trees were chopped down by departments between April 2012 and December 2012.
Some academics have attributed the poor management of trees to the lack of adequate horticulture and arboricultural training porgrammes in Hong Kong.
"Courses taught in Western countries countries are usually in the form of a 3-year or 5-year degree programme. However, such courses last for only a few days in Hong Kong,' said Mr. Pryor.
I hope the government will organize the industry better by making it a quality game,' said Mr Pryor.
Reported by Rainbow Li
Edited by Ruby Leung
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