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Old and Valuable Trees

Walking on a crowded street on a sweltering summer day is never pleasant. While we may cool down in air-conditioned shops or buildings, it is much more pleasurable to enjoy a natural breeze in green areas with shady trees all around us.

Over the years, we have been striving to promote greening and plant vegetation across the territory, with a particular focus on the preservation and maintenance of valuable trees.

Trees are closely related to our lives. In a crowded city, trees are as refreshing as dewdrops in a drought and they are the basis of quality living. They not only improve air quality, but also minimise the heat island effect and beautify the surrounding landscape. Moreover, trees are also precious natural resources, and some old trees have grown together with the community and have become part of our cultural heritage.

To preserve these valuable trees, we have compiled the Register of Old and Valuable Trees since 2004 to provide priority protection for the trees on the Register. These trees are broadly divided into the following categories: (1) trees of large size; (2) trees of precious or rare species; (3) old trees aged 100 or above; (4) trees of cultural, historical or memorable significance; and (5) trees of outstanding form. These Old and Valuable Trees (OVTs) are located on unleased Government land within built-up areas or at tourist attraction spots in village areas, and the areas surrounding these trees have been designated as tree protection zones. Unless there are strong justifications (e.g. the serious condition of a diseased tree prompts its removal) and prior approval has been obtained, no work is allowed within these zones. As at August this year, there are a total of 493 trees on the Register.

Many trees on the Register, however, are already mature or even aged. As the growth and recovery abilities of these trees are weakened, they become more vulnerable to bad weather such as heavy rainstorms as well as pests and diseases, all of which may further accelerate their decay and even death. Therefore, we will update the Register regularly by adding new OVTs that meet the above criteria or removing from the Register those trees that have to be felled.

When adding new OVTs to the Register, we invite nominations from the Expert Panel on Tree Management comprising both local and overseas experts, as well as professional groups and green groups. Since August 2012, as many as 20 OVTs have been added to the Register. Each of these trees has its own characteristics, and notable examples include the stone wall trees on Pok Fu Lam Road, Hospital Road and High Street and at Chater Hall in Central and Western District. Other newly added trees include an incense tree in Kowloon Tsai Park - the name “Hong Kong” relates to this species. Although in the rural areas the lance-leaved sterculia is a common species of small native tree that provides food for wildlife, the one in Morse Park is very special due to its rarity in the urban areas. Some other trees are particularly rare species, such as the Queensland bottle tree - an Australian species - in Hong Kong Park that is renowned for its unique form. These newly added trees not only increase the diversity of trees on the Register, but also offer new bright spots in the city.

For better preservation of our OVTs, the Expert Panel on Tree Management was established in 2011 to provide expertise in both the policy and operational aspects concerning tree management, and to adopt more proactive and preventive strategies to improve the health of old trees. The Expert Panel is currently composed of a chairman, a secretary, 11 non-official members and three official members. The non-official members include a plant pathologist, experienced tree experts, a professor of forestry, a utility arborist and others, while experts also come from a number of places outside Hong Kong such as Guangzhou, Macau, Australia, Malaysia and the United States.

We also implement measures to improve the growing environment of old trees, which include widening planters and improving soil quality, as well as fertilising, watering and trimming the old trees according to their characteristics and needs. For example, we have widened the planters for two Chinese banyans in Muk Lun Street Playground in Wong Tai Sin and on Dragon Road in Causeway Bay, and carried out works to guide their aerial roots to the ground to improve their growing environment.

All relevant tree management departments responsible for the care of trees will inspect the OVTs on the Register at least twice a year and take appropriate management measures according to the trees' conditions. The Tree Management Office will also follow up on the problems of OVTs referred by relevant departments, which include giving assistance in tree inspection and disease control.

As I have mentioned in My Blog previously, we will continue our efforts to promote tree preservation and greening and encourage the community to actively participate in our work and treasure our valuable trees. For details of the Register of Old and Valuable Trees, please visit http://www.greening.gov.hk/ovt/default.aspx.

11 August, 2013