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[Hong Kong] Response to Tai Po Market egretry incident 大埔墟鷺鳥林事件之回應

This topic has been un-sticky by Record Com at 28/10/2017 14:57.

Response to Tai Po Market egretry incident 大埔墟鷺鳥林事件之回應

Ms. Michelle LI, Director of Leisure and Cultural Services
Mr. LAU Kong Wah, Secretary for Home Affairs

7 June 2017



Dear Ms. Li and Mr. Lau,

LCSD tree cutting works at Tai Po Market egretry



The Hong Kong Bird Watching Society (HKBWS) would like to draw your attention to the captioned incident. At around noon on 6 June 2017, we received a public complaint on the tree cutting works conducted by the New Territories East Tree Team of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department at the Tai Po Market egretry. The complainant noted that the workers on site were informed of the impact of their actions and asked to stop, but refused to stop. Nests, eggs, live chicks and dead bodies of birds were found amidst a pile of branches that were cut down, and it is clear that the breeding birds at the egretry are greatly affected by the tree cutting works.

As observed on-site today, several more young birds fell off the trees as they become too weak due to lack of parental care and foraging ability.

The Tai Po Market egretry is a nesting colony of egrets and herons with a history of more than 20 years. According to our egretry count survey conducted in 2016, it is the second largest egretry in Hong Kong with a total of 151 nests recorded. Breeding species include Little Egret, Black-crowned Night Heron, Great Egret, Chinese Pond Heron and Eastern Cattle Egret, which the former two species form the majority. In general, the birds start breeding in March and continues till August. The conservation importance of the egretry is well recognized by the Government as it was designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest back in 1994. Even though the location of the egretry has gradually shifted outside the SSSI zoning, this does not reduce the ecological value and conservation importance of this egretry.

As an organization dedicated to bird conservation, we are gravely concerned about the significant adverse impacts on the breeding birds caused by the tree cutting works conducted by your Department, why the tree cutting was conducted during the breeding season, and why LSCD staff continued with the work when it was evident that were birds, chicks and nests on the trees and that were being harmed by their actions.

All wild birds are protected under Wild Animals Protection Ordinance (Cap. 170). Section 4 and 5 of the ordinance state “No person shall, except in accordance with a special permit, hunt or wilfully disturb any protected wild animal. No person shall, except in accordance with a special permit, take, remove, injure, destroy or wilfully disturb a nest or egg of any protected wild animal”.

We would like to know if the team concerned had obtained any such permit for these works, and if so what justifications were offered? We consider that the tree works of your Department represents a serious breach of the captioned ordinance with an unprecedented degree of seriousness in Hong Kong and we are urging the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department to investigate the case immediately and proceed with prosecution to the fullest extent of the law.

From the initial response made by your Department to the media saying “we regret that the tree pruning works may have affected the birds there” , we consider that your Department is not fully aware the seriousness of this incident. There is no question that breeding birds, nests and chicks have been directly affected by the works and such response is unacceptable. We urge your Department to provide full explanation of this incident and detailed response/information to the following questions/enquiry.

1.        Please clarify the area(s) that is managed by your Department at the Tai Po Market egretry.
2.        What were the detailed justifications of the tree cutting works? Why was is conducted during the breeding season?
3.        According to the “General Guidelines on Tree Pruning”, tree pruning is defined as “the removal of unwanted branches from a tree…either for reducing risk and inconvenience to the public, maintaining or improving tree health and structure, or improving appearance of trees” . Do your Department consider the current works is a type of tree pruning? Please explain.
4.        Other than the tree cutting works, were any other alternatives were considered by your Department (such as increase the cleaning frequency of the road paths, postpone the tree works after the breeding season)? If so, why were the alternatives were not adopted? If not, please explain.
5.        Why would the staff of your Department continue to proceed with the work even when there are birds, chicks and nests on the trees?
6.        Were your staff aware of the protection of birds, eggs and nests under Cap. 170?
7.        Are there any (internal) guidelines provided for your staff to conduct the tree cutting works? If so, are the guidelines strictly followed? If not, please explain.
8.        What measures would your Department take to proactively prevent similar situations from occurring in the future?
9.        In August 2016 HKBWS published “Guidelines for Planning and Carrying out Construction Works at Egretries” (link: http://www.hkbws.org.hk/web/eng/documents/conservation_submissions/Reports/HKBWS_Egretry_Guidelines_2016.pdf). We distributed the guidelines to Environment Bureau and Development Bureau in our letter sent by email on 26 August 2016 and a list of Government departments were copied, including the to you Ms Li as Director of Leisure and Cultural Services. Since these guidelines were indeed distributed to your Department why were they ignored or the relevant staff not made aware of them.
10.        We are shocked and disappointed that such an incident could occur when there is a long-established ordinance and clear guidelines to prevent such occurrences, and even more so following the supposed mainstreaming of biodiversity into the work of all branches of government since the introduction of the Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan in 2016.
11.        Please confirm that you will conduct a thorough review of the procedures around the authorization and implementation of tree felling/cutting/pruning in ecologically sensitive locations and that your department would adopt these guidelines in all your future works/projects in order to prevent similar incidences of ecological vandalism from happening again.

Thank you for your kind attention. We urge your Department to look into this matter seriously and we look forward to your prompt reply.


Yours sincerely,
Apache LAU
Chairman
The Hong Kong Bird Watching Society

cc.
Director of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation
Secretary for the Environment
Secretary for Development


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康樂及文化事務署署長
李美嫦女士, JP

民政事務局局長
劉江華先生, JP

有關康樂及文化事務署於大埔墟鷺鳥林修剪樹冠工程



香港觀鳥會(下稱「本會」)於二零一七年六月六日中午接獲市民投訴,有關康樂及文化事務署新界東樹木組於大埔墟鷺鳥林進行修樹冠工程。該市民亦有提醒工作人員修樹工程對雀鳥已造成影響,並要求停止,但有關職員並沒有理會。當日經修剪的樹枝堆裏,鷺鳥巢、鳥蛋及雛鳥屍體散落地上,僥倖生還的雛鳥彷徨無助,很明顯修樹工程已經嚴重影響鷺鳥林的繁殖雀鳥,而更直接導致部分雀鳥死亡,還未包括未知數量的破碎鳥蛋、鳥巢仍在但親鳥因懼怕而棄巢失救的雛鳥及鳥蛋,樹冠亦修得疏疏落落。本會同事今天再到現場觀察,仍見數隻幼鳥從巢中掉下,明顯是因缺乏覓食能力及親鳥照顧所致。

資料顯示大埔墟的鷺鳥林成為鷺鳥的繁殖地已超過20年,根據2016年鷺鳥林調查屬全港第二大的鷺鳥林,共有151個巢,分別有小白鷺、夜鷺、大白鷺及牛背鷺在營巢,以小白鷺及夜鷺數量最多,而其繁殖期一般由三月起至八月。此鷺鳥林於1994被政府劃定為「具特殊科學價值地點」(下稱SSSI),可見其保育價值已獲政府確認。即使現時部分鷺鳥林的位置已超出SSSI的範圍,這並不影響其在生態及保育上的重要價值。

作為一個以保育鳥類及促進人鳥和諧為宗旨的團體,本會極度關注 貴署此項修樹工程對鷺鳥林的破壞。究竟 貴署為何容許於鷺鳥繁殖期內進行修樹工程,以及 貴署修樹的同事於樹上明顯發現有鷺鳥成鳥、雛鳥及鳥巢的情況下,為何仍然執意繼續進行修樹工程?

香港所有野生鳥類都受《野生動物保護條例》(第170章)保護。第4條及第5條明確訂明「任何人除按照特別許可證行事外,不得狩獵或故意干擾任何受保護野生動物」及「任何人除按照特別許可證行事外,不得取去、移走、損害、銷毀或故意干擾任何受保護野生動物的巢或蛋」。故本會希望得知 貴署當日於鷺鳥林進行的工程是否已取得許可證,以及進行有關工程的原因。

本會極度關注 貴署有關工程嚴重違反香港法例170章,本會亦會敦促漁農自然護理署立即展開調查,全力對違法行為提出起訴。

貴署對外的即時的回應為「對於有關修樹工作可能影響在該處棲息的雀鳥本署深感抱歉」,我們認為有關回應顯示 貴署未能完全了解事件的嚴重性。毫無疑問,修樹工程已經直接對繁殖鷺鳥、鳥巢及幼鳥造成嚴重的影響,因此本會不能接受 貴署的回應。本會希望 貴署能夠徹查整件事件,及詳細回應以下問題:

1. 請清楚交代 貴署方在大埔墟鷺鳥林一帶的管轄範圍;
2. 請清楚交代修剪樹冠的理據,以及解釋工程為何需要於鷺鳥繁殖季節時進行;
3. 根據「修剪樹木的一般指引」(http://www.greening.gov.hk/filemanager/content/pdf/tree_care/guideline_c.pdf),修剪樹木是指「清除樹上多餘的枝幹……以減少這些枝幹造成危險和對公眾造成不便、維持或改善樹木的健康和結構,或改善樹木的外觀」。請問 貴署是此工程是否指引所定義的「修剪樹木」?請解釋。
4. 除了修樹,貴署有否考慮其他措施,例如增加清理街道的次數,或延遲修樹工程至鷺鳥繁殖季節之後等等;如有,為何不採取,如沒有,請解釋;
5. 為何執行修樹的工作人員即使目睹樹上仍有雀鳥、幼鳥及鳥巢,仍繼續修樹工程;
6. 貴署有否給予轄下員工,提供足夠有關香港法例的培訓,包括香港法例170章<<野生動物保護條例>>;
7. 貴署現時有否明文的內部修樹指引,規管 貴署職員在執行職務時應有的程序。如有, 貴署職員有否嚴格執行?如沒有,請解釋;
8. 署方會積極採取甚麼措施以確保類似事件絶不會再次發生;
9. 此外, 本會去年8月發佈了一份《在鷺鳥林規劃及實施工程指引》(http://www.hkbws.org.hk/web/eng/documents/conservation_submissions/Reports/HKBWS_Egretry_Guidelines_2016.pdf),於2016年8月26日電郵至環境局及發展局,以及一系列的政府部門,當中包括 閣下(即康樂及文化事務署署長),為何有關指引會被忽視或未被有關人員重視;
10. 請 貴署確保日後於生態敏感地點進行修樹或相類似工程前,對授權進行的工程和工程過程進行徹底評估,並且在以後的所有工程及項目中嚴各執行這些指引,防止類似破壞生態事件再次發生。

本會對本次事件感到極度震驚及遺憾,即使有長遠明確及為防止同類事情發生的指引,不幸事件仍然發生。更重要的是,自從2016年實施生物多樣性策略及行動計劃以來,維持生物多樣性的工作應已納入政府各部門工作當中。本會希望 貴署嚴正向公眾交代整件事件,佇候示覆。

香港觀鳥會主席
劉偉民謹啟
二零一七年六月七日

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香港觀鳥會 HKBWS

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So has there been any follow up on these?

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Given this is a year on, how have thing developed for this case?

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Plse see a government press release (emphases mine):

LCSD completes investigation of Tai Po tree pruning incident
*********************************************************************
The Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) today (December 1) made public the findings of a thorough investigation into the tree pruning incident in Tai Po on June 6 this year, which had caused adverse impact on some nests of ardeids (egrets and herons) with chicks on the trees.
     
     The department has also assessed the adequacy of the current modus operandi and will implement improvement and remedial measures to avoid recurrence of similar incidents.
     
     The investigation concluded that the incident was attributable to multiple factors such as a knowledge gap on protection of wild animals, improper practices in tree pruning and insufficient supervision and manpower of the tree team's sub-team (Sub-team).
     
     There was a knowledge gap on wildlife protection at the departmental level and the operational level. At the departmental level, the LCSD at the time did not maintain any information repository on the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance (Cap 170), the nearby Tai Po Egretry Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), the location or characteristics of egretries in Hong Kong, or the codes of practice or guidelines on wildlife protection in tree management work. Neither did the department's training at the time cover the protection of wild animals. At the operational level, front-line supervisors and staff were expected to exercise common sense and judgement to schedule tree work in such ways to avoid or minimise impact on wild animals (such as birds and bird nests) notwithstanding the absence of specific guidelines. The investigation also revealed that the Sub-team supervisor concerned had underestimated the complication and impact of the tree work in regard to the wild animals in this incident. There was also room for improvement in the communication to ensure that the Sub-team leader's instruction was clearly conveyed, elaborated and understood before assigning the Sub-team to conduct tree work in his absence. The Sub-team failed to exercise common sense and awareness on wild animal protection nor stop the work when they noticed that the nests of the birds would be affected.
     
     Furthermore, the pruning work was not conducted properly, resulting in over-pruning, and the over-pruning by topping was considered unacceptable. If proper tree pruning had been carried out, the effect on the birds would certainly have been minimised. Appropriate action has been taken by the department in accordance with the established departmental guidelines against the staff concerned for the substandard performance and non-compliance with guidelines.
     
     On the supervision and manpower of tree teams, the investigation concluded that there was no urgency to arrange tree work on that day and the decision to schedule and arrange the tree operation in the absence of a supervisor was not prudent or appropriate given the complexity and sensitivity of the case. The feasibility of arranging for a supervisor of a higher rank to cover the duties of the immediate supervisor of a Sub-team in case of major, complex and sensitive tree operations during the absence of the latter should be explored.
     
     To avoid the recurrence of similar incidents in the wake of the above investigation results, the LCSD has implemented or will implement 12 improvement and remedial measures in the short, medium and long terms.
     
     The short-term measures which have already been implemented in July this year are (1) to obtain the boundary of an SSSI from the Planning Department and remind all District and Regional Tree Teams under the LCSD to be alert when conducting tree work at these locations; (2) to establish and maintain a regular communication channel with the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) and identify locations of egretries where trees are under the management of the LCSD; (3) to remind all Regional Tree Teams and horticultural contractors to avoid disturbance to wild animals and the environment when conducting tree work; (4) to recirculate the Guidelines on Tree Pruning to all staff and contractors concerned and remind them on proper tree pruning techniques; and (5) to enhance the supervision of Sub-teams.
     
     In the medium term, the department will (1) review its internal policies, guidelines and procedures on tree management work; (2) work with the AFCD and establish the work flow to handle tree maintenance work, if so imminently required, which may affect the breeding or roosting sites of wild animals, e.g. egretries; (3) enhance refresher training for front-line staff on tree pruning techniques; (4) include topics of protection of wild animals in future training; and (5) enhance the tree inspection form and the LCSD's tree management database to include information on special site conditions and tree conditions for reference in conducting tree management work.
     
     As for improvement measures in the long run, the LCSD will liaise with relevant government bureaux and departments to explore the need to revise the relevant circulars and guidelines to cover the protection of wild animals in tree work, and will review the organisation, resource requirements and deployment of tree teams to identify room for improvement.
     
     A spokesman for the LCSD again extended apologies to the public for the regrettable mishap, noting that the department would endeavour to strengthen its tree care training, enhance the internal guidelines, and raise the awareness and techniques of all staff on wildlife protection in their daily work.


Ends/Friday, December 1, 2017
Issued at HKT 11:44[ Quotation Ends Here ]


事隔一年,事件早已不了了之,各”stakeholders“既然不予追究,向公衆道個歉便是。以上的答案,對搞管理的人來説,是反面教材,因爲要把操作(所謂modus operandi) 推給Sub-team前綫,難道鷺鳥林近一年才突然出現,高管人員可以一無所知?對搞生態的人來説,是莫大諷刺,整個香港最主要的鷺鳥林,竟然在此就出現一個"knowledge gap" (即是說,搞金融的人,對於複式利率,毫不認知)?對於搞法律的人,更是一大巴掌,Cap.170 Section(4)(5)等,明顯有人——縱使間是在執行公務當中——觸犯刑事,最高可罰款十萬和監禁一年,行爲結果明顯,是否有途人曾勸諭不能影響已經觸犯法例的事實,但原來是沒有辦法檢控。但是,對於搞公關的人,這是一個優良學習案例,如何把焦點拉遠,提升ISO,再校大光圈,甩埋IS,朦朧之中,讓時間沖淡畫面,讓打隻燕鷗變成打哂成個南中國海。
事情確實令人失望,不單是水平問題——基礎知識上和人事管理上,更在協調機制和誠心誠意兩個方面。鳥者只有寄望以後不再發生,誰管得著呢?
遠觀而不攝玩。

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Thanks K_Chan for copying LCSD's press release. The link to the press release and their investigation report is: http://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/201712/01/P2017120100315.htm

sdavid: Sorry for the late reply. The Society made a quick response to the LCSD investigation report on 1 December, 2017 together with The Conservancy Association and was posted on our Facebook in Chinese only. It was later published in our Bulletin No.246. I have pasted it at the bottom of this reply post for your reference.

In mid-December 2017, we made an enquiry to AFCD to check if any prosecution actions would be taken. The reply was "After the incident, our Department has collected relevant information and interviewed the concerned LCSD staff/public. Legal advice from the Department of Justice (DoJ) on this case has also been sought and no prosecution was recommended." We were disappointed by the decision made by the DoJ, and this made it difficult for us to follow up on the incident from the legal side.

In February 2018, we know that LCSD finished drafting an internal guideline on protection of wildlife. They said they have communications with AFCD to seek their advice on the internal guideline and tree works near egretries. We also wrote to LCSD to remind them some key information they should include in the internal guideline and suggested that amendments to other existing tree pruning guidelines is requested as well. LCSD said they will keep in touch with AFCD for this issue.

However, we received no further news from LCSD since then, not sure what is the current progress of the internal guideline, but we will try to keep following up on the incident. We do really hope that this sort of incident will not happen again.
------------------------------

HKBWS and The Conservancy Association joint response to the investigation report of the Tai Po Market egretry tree trimming incident

(1 December 2017) The tree trimming incident at Tai Po Market egretry back in June this year has killed and injured 30 birds and destroyed many more nests. After six months, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) finally released the findings on the incident.

We are disappointed that the Tree Team of LCSD, being a government department specialise in tree management, failed to follow existing guidelines and performed poorly on tree pruning. At the same time, supervisors and front-line staff took no notice of breeding birds on the trees. This investigation report clearly reflects the seriousness of this incident. We urge the LCSD and related bureaux/departments look into the matter seriously and take immediate actions to improve.

1.
Regarding the substandard performance of staff, the report described more on the wrong-doings of the frontline staff, but the inappropriate decisions made and responsibility bore by supervisors or other decision-making staff were not clearly explained. The reported stated that actions were taken in accordance with the established departmental guidelines, yet without mentioning the specific disciplinary action taken. We are concerned LCSD would handle the case in a slipshod manner and thus do not have any deterrent effect. The deaths and injury of birds caused by the incident leads to the suspicion that the “Wild Animals Protection Ordinance” (Cap. 170) was breached. The Government should explain whether any prosecution actions would be taken.

2.
The report cleared pointed out that the causes of the incident included lack of knowledge on wildlife protection and improper tree pruning practices. We consider that some of the short, medium and long term should not remain at the review stage but should implement the changes required. HKBWS published the “Guidelines for planning and carrying out construction works at egretries” in August last year, and we strongly urge related Government departments should adopt it as an internal guideline, to avoid the impacts of tree pruning or other works on breeding birds and nests.

3.
We would like to reiterate that wildlife protection elements should be included into the assessment procedure before carrying out tree works, such as active search for wildlife or nests on trees. To avoid similar incidents to occur again, a notification mechanism should be established, such that works should be suspended if frontline workers discover any wildlife or nests on trees, and advice and assistance from AFCD should then be seek. Training to strengthen civil servants’ awareness on wildlife protection should also be provided.   

4.
It is known that the tree trimming incident at Tai Po Market egretry was resulted from a complaint about bird droppings, however, the report did not investigate in this. In fact, there are various bird-friendly ways to deal with the “inconvenience” caused by birds to the public, such as provision of education panels and notice boards which reminds the public not to disturb the birds, and construction of covered walkways. Communication between government departments, district councils, environmental NGOs and local community should be strengthen, so as to achieve a win-win situation where birds and people can live in harmony in the community.
香港觀鳥會 HKBWS

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