Case Study by: Austin Perez
When most people think of Hong Kong, they likely often picture an image of a gorgeous skyline and the busy streets of a thriving metropolis. With a population of over 7 million people in an area of only about 1,000 km2, Hong Kong is certainly a bustling modern city with a dense population, a flourishing economy, and some of the world’s most impressive infrastructure. However, despite its dense population and pressure to develop its available lands for continued economic growth, Hong Kong has made a tremendous commitment to preserve wild nature in the region and thereby establish one of the most expansive urban wildlife conservation policies in the world.
Hong Kong Cityscape at night
Beyond the skyscrapers of the city center, Hong Kong has a vibrant and beautiful natural environment that is home to a rich diversity of wildlife, and its government has placed a major emphasis on ensuring the preservation of Hong Kong’s “urban wilderness.” In total, Hong Kong has designated about 41% of its land area and about 1.5% of its marine environment as protected areas, which makes Hong Kong an excellent example of how the vision of Nature Needs Half can be applied in the urban environment of a large modern city.
Following the wartime period in the 1940’s, Hong Kong’s environment was largely decimated and the region was almost completely deforested due to a demand for timber during the war. In addition, the rapid population growth, urban encroachment, and unplanned recreation use in the region in the middle of the 20th century further deteriorated Hong Kong’s natural environment. However, the Hong Kong government reacted swiftly to the changing condition of its natural environment, and by the 1970’s it began to take immediate and effective action to promote the conservation of these lands. The Country Parks Ordinance was enacted in 1976, and the Country Parks program was placed under the direction of a Hong Kong governmental agency – The Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department. Immediately following the enactment of the Country Parks Ordinance, the Governor declared that by 1981 at least 150 square miles of the Hong Kong countryside were to be protected and managed under the Country Parks Ordinance. In order to accomplish this goal, a program was initiated to promptly designate and protect a great extent of Hong Kong’s countryside in a very small amount of time. By 1979, Hong Kong had accomplished its goal by designating 21 Country Parks, 13 Special Areas, and 41 Sites of Special Interest accumulating for a total protected area of 159.45 square miles (41,296 hectares). This program developed the basis of the entire conservation framework for the Hong Kong countryside, and accounted for a designation of approximately 40% of its total land area to be protected and managed under the Country Parks Ordinance and by the Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department.
Lantau Country Park © Timothy Kittel
The Country Parks program has expanded slightly over the past 30 years, and Hong Kong now currently has 23 Country Parks, 4 Special Areas, 4 Marine Parks, 1 Marine Reserve, 3 Restricted Areas, and 1 Ramsar Site covering a total area of about 44,514 hectares. These protected areas comprise about 41% of the total land area of Hong Kong and about 1.5% of its marine environment. The purposes and goals of protecting these areas are to promote nature conservation, wildlife protection, education, scientific studies, and where suitable, recreation and eco-tourism. The majority of the Country and Marine Parks are habitat/species management areas or protected landscapes/seascapes. However, one of the other main reasons behind Hong Kong’s commitment to conserving its natural environment is so that its citizens and the local community can enjoy all of the beauty and recreational activities that the region’s wilderness areas have to offer. Over 11 million people visit Hong Kong’s Country and Marine Parks each year, and the Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department promotes the enjoyment of the Country Parks by offering community activities such as hiking clubs and youth activity groups. Non-governmental organizations in the Hong Kong community also play an important role in offering public education and publicity campaigns to promote the active maintenance and growth of the Country Parks program and the continued protection of Hong Kong’s undeveloped wilderness.
These conservation policies also benefit the rich diversity of wildlife that lives in these protected natural environments. Hong Kong is home to a vast array of flora and fauna: there are some 3,100 species of vascular plants, 57 species of mammals, 452 species of birds, 78 species of reptiles, 23 species of amphibians, 2,300 species of insects, 84 species stony corals, and some 96 species of freshwater fish. Species such as Romer’s tree frogs, Chinese porcupines, leopard cats, and endangered Black-faced spoonbills can all be found in Hong Kong’s lush wild areas.
Leopard Cat © AFCD
Hong Kong has demonstrated a continual commitment to actively promoting the conservation of its natural environment in recent years as well. In May of 2011, the Convention on Biological Diversity was formally extended to include Hong Kong, which signifies a formal commitment by the Special Administrative Region to uphold the conservation principles that it has developed through its Country Parks program and to promote the protection of its biodiversity, the sustainable use of natural resources, and to equitably share the benefits derived from these resources. In addition, The New Nature Conservation Policy, which was formulated in 2004 by the Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department, included a plan to partner with non-government organizations to work to protect designated areas of high ecological value that remain unmanaged and thus vulnerable to threats. These areas of high ecological value were promised protection in the 2010-2011 Policy Address, and an emphasis was placed on the importance of protecting these areas to contribute towards creating a successful biodiversity network in Hong Kong.
Yan Chau Tong Marine Park © Ecotravel Hong Kong
Hong Kong is one the most densely populated and economically prosperous cities in the modern world, and yet it has still made an incredibly impressive commitment to protecting its wild nature. By enacting policies that protect over 41% of its land area and continually promote the conservation of its wilderness areas, Hong Kong serves as an excellent example of how the vision of Nature Needs Half can be applied even in the urban environment of a densely populated modern metropolis.
Aberdeen Country Park
Sai Kung East Country Park © Andrew Chan