Exploring Tung O Ancient Trail
The Government is committed to striking a proper balance between development and conservation needs so that members of the public can live in a better and more comfortable living environment. Endowed with splendid mountains and natural shoreline, Lantau is rich in natural and cultural assets. Among others, the Tung O Ancient Trail in the northwest, once an important passage for villagers to commute between Tung Chung and Tai O, has many historical imprints along its route. Early this month, I specifically invited a colleague from the Sustainable Lantau Office (SLO) of the Civil Engineering and Development Department and an expert in heritage conservation to the Tung O Ancient Trail to introduce us to its history, as well as the cultural conservation efforts and village revitalisation works planned to be conducted by the SLO.
Tracing historical footsteps
Lantau possesses the relics of the earliest human activities in Hong Kong. Quite a few ancient trails on the island have witnessed the development of Hong Kong. Over 10 kilometres long, the Tung O Ancient Trail starts from Tung Chung, passes through places like San Tau, Sha Lo Wan, San Shek Wan and Sham Wat, and ends in Tai O. There are many sites with historical, cultural and archaeological value along the way, including declared monuments like the Tung Chung Fort and Yeung Hau Temple in Tai O, several villages with a long history, old stone houses with tiled roofs, and quaint stone fence walls. Among them, Sham Shek Tsuen has witnessed Hong Kong’s post-war agricultural development.
Imprints of agricultural development at Sham Shek Tsuen
According to Ms NG Wan Yee, Wendy, who is an expert in heritage conservation, a lot of refugees inhabited Sham Shek Tsuen after fleeing to Hong Kong in the post-war period. At that time, the District Office South that administered islands affairs, together with the Kadoorie Agricultural Aid Association (KAAA, now the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden) provided villagers with agricultural and animal husbandry support such as construction of large scale irrigation ditches, dams and underground channels to collect natural water to irrigate farmlands. Nowadays, we can see a tablet in Sham Shek Tsuen that records the story of how Sir David Ronald HOLMES, the District Commissioner for the New Territories, and Mr James William HAYES, the District Officer for the Southern District, supported the Sham Shek Tsuen water irrigation system in the 1950s.
Moreover, Ms Wendy NG says that some of the farm sheds, pigpens and ponds in the village are inscribed with the English alphabets “KAAA”, an abbreviation for the Kadoorie Agricultural Aid Association, indicating that these are the facilities built with KAAA’s funding. At that time, apart from the construction of facilities for animal husbandry, the KAAA also provided farmers with agricultural loans and gave them seeds, cattle, piglings, day-old chicks, etc. In fact, similar facilities funded by the KAAA are also found in other villages, such as Ma Wan Chung and Tai O, along the Tung O Ancient Trail. However, according to records, Sham Shek Tsuen boasts the highest number and greatest concentration of the KAAA relics on the Tung O Ancient Trail.
Setting up a cultural and historical database
To conserve and promote Lantau’s precious historic and cultural heritage and traditional rural character, Architect of the SLO, Mr CHEUNG Wan-tao, Toby, says that the office is engaging consultants by phases to carry out detailed studies to capture and evaluate the cultural and historical significances of rural villages in Lantau with a view to setting up a database and identifying priority sites for revitalisation. The first-phase cultural and historical studies focusing on rural villages at Northwest Lantau, along the Tung O Ancient Trail, have commenced since November 2019.
Collecting views from stakeholders and the public
The SLO is also inviting cultural and historical conservation experts and academics to help formulate relevant conservation strategies. Given that public involvement and co-operation of stakeholders is vital to cultural conservation, the office will organise a series of public engagement activities to collect views from various sectors. Through people-oriented and community-driven approaches, it hopes to develop a strategic plan to take forward cultural conservation and village revitalisation, improve villagers’ living quality and promote sustainable development of the community.
We understand how precious these natural and cultural resources are, and therefore when we put forward the Lantau development proposal, we emphasised the need to enhance Lantau’s natural environment and heritage, and strike a balance between development and conservation needs under the general principle of sustainable development. I will also share with you the ecological conservation work conducted by the SLO through My Blog later.
29 March, 2020