Trusts could alleviate HK’s conservation woes
The idea of setting up a conservation trust in Hong Kong has been on the back burner for a number of years but the city’s incumbent Chief Executive, Leung Chun-Ying, is providing new hope that a government-backed trust organization will finally get its wings.
Trusts are non-profit organizations that are committed to preserving the cultural landscape and ecological heritage for the public good, indefinitely. Well-known organizations such as the National Trust in the UK have been around for over a century and are seen by the British public as a steward of places significant to its cultural past.
The trust model has, in the last decade, been adopted in several Asian countries to preserve its multifaceted heritage, most operating independently from government ministries.
Institutions do exist in Hong Kong to identify and designate places with historic, cultural and natural value. Yet few, not even country parks, have the level of resources and management expertise for conserving ecologically-sensitive areas that require active management.
The last major bid for establishing a conservation trust was in 2004, when the Hong Kong government devised the New Nature Conservation Policy. At the time, a number of environmental groups had pushed for the idea of a trust to deal with the tricky issue of conserving areas of high ecological value on private land. The effort came to a head when the policy was finally adopted without the trust approach in conserving the 12 priority sites of ecological importance.
Since then, private trust organizations have surfaced in an effort to address the lack of active management and restoration of Hong Kong’s heritage. Heritage Hong Kong Foundation, a trust established in 2010, concentrates its energy on historic and cultural sites. On the natural heritage front, the Hong Kong Countryside Foundation was formed in 2011 with the intent of providing ongoing stewardship over sites with ecological, scenic and historical value.
Despite the lack of interest shown for nature conservation during the campaign for the Chief Executive position compared to some of the more urgent issues like housing and waste management, it remains a key agenda item on CY Leung’s first term in office.
His manifesto, published during the campaign, cites that “appropriate protective measures” will be taken to protect “places of high scenic value”. It may not be too much of a stretch to assume that Trusts would be one such protective measure. After all, CY Leung was the founder of the Countryside Foundation, which should make the idea of conservation trusts easier to swallow in government quarters.
Conservation on private land
Conservation trusts have been particularly successful in protecting the natural environment on private land. Many countries are recognizing that solely relying on public parks and reserves is not enough to protect threatened plants and animals. Connecting the previously separated protected areas with private nature reserves can help to boost their chances of survival.
Some of Hong Kong’s most valuable and vulnerable species also reside on private land, making conservation in these areas extremely important. These areas tend to be outside the existing protected areas network.
So far the government has dealt with conservation on private land with two programs that attempt to involve different stakeholders. First, “Management Agreements” were introduced to encourage environmental NGOs to work with landholders and become conservation managers on site.