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LCQ14: Bird safety during tree pruning

Following is a question by the Hon Tanya Chan and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Eric Ma, in the Legislative Council today (June 21):
 
Question:
 
It has been reported that on the 6th of this month, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) sent staff members from its tree team to carry out tree pruning work at a woodland located at the junction of Kwong Fuk Road and Wan Tau Kok Lane in Tai Po.  Such work destroyed a number of nests on the trees concerned and the eggs therein, and also caused the injury or death of a number of chicks.  On the following day, LCSD indicated that it would investigate and follow up on the incident.  On the other hand, section 5 of the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance (Cap. 170) provides that: "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".  According to Schedule 2 to Cap. 170, protected wild animals include all wild birds.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the respective numbers of eggs and chicks affected by the aforesaid tree pruning work, with a breakdown by species; whether it knows the current conditions of those chicks;

(2) of the number of LCSD staff members who carried out the aforesaid tree pruning work and their ranks;

(3) of the progress of the investigation conducted by LCSD into the aforesaid incident, and whether LCSD will make public the investigation outcome;

(4) of the time when and the channel through which the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) learned about the aforesaid incident, the details of the follow-up actions taken by AFCD (including the time and the government departments involved), and the actions that AFCD will take;

(5) whether LCSD has issued guidelines to its staff members on how to handle the situation where nests are found on the trees to be pruned; if so, of the contents of such guidelines, and whether the staff members who carried out the aforesaid tree pruning work had acted in accordance with the guidelines; if it has not issued such guidelines, the reasons for that;

(6) whether LCSD applied, in the past five years pursuant to Cap. 170, to AFCD for the permits required for handling the nests and eggs of wild birds on the trees to be pruned; if so, of the dates on which such permits were issued and the details of such permits; and

(7) whether AFCD has launched a criminal investigation under Cap. 170 into the aforesaid incident; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
 
Reply:

President,

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) is one of the tree management departments under the Government's "integrated approach".  In response to the incident on June 6, in which a tree pruning operation carried out by LCSD's tree team staff in Tai Po resulted in the injury and death of birds, the Department is taking serious steps to investigate and follow up on the case while maintaining communication with the Tree Management Office (TMO) under the Development Bureau (DEVB).  LCSD has also urged its tree team staff to be more alert to matters that require special attention during pruning, including wildlife protection.  Moreover, LCSD is closely liaising with the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) to seek its professional advice on the case and future remedial measures, as well as to arrange for in-depth discussions and follow-up actions as soon as possible.

Having consulted the Environment Bureau, LCSD and AFCD, our reply to the seven parts of the question is as follows:

(1) According to LCSD, as of June 13, a total of 27 ardeid chicks had been affected by the concerned tree pruning works.  Eleven of them are currently under treatment and observation in the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden, while the remaining 16 were dead.  The species affected include Little Egret, Great Egret, Black-crowned Night Heron and Chinese Pond Heron.

(2) The site was inspected by an Amenities Assistant from LCSD before the aforesaid tree pruning operation.  It was found that some branches of the trees were too long and too dense, with a few dieback twigs.  With the typhoon season approaching, the overgrown branches may pose danger to the passers-by.  Tree pruning work was therefore considered necessary to ensure public safety.  A total of four frontline staff were engaged in the operation, including one Senior Artisan, two Artisans and one Workman I.
 
(3) LCSD is taking serious steps to investigate and follow up on the aforesaid incident.  It will give an account of the incident when the findings are available.

(4) At around 3 pm on June 6, AFCD received reports from members of the public and the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society, on ardeids being affected by tree pruning works at Kwong Fuk Road, Tai Po.  AFCD contacted LCSD immediately and requested that the pruning work be stopped.  AFCD also took prompt actions to inspect the site and handle the affected ardeids at the scene.  As of June 13, AFCD had been monitoring the ardeids at the subject site on daily basis, and sent injured birds to the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden for treatment.

AFCD contacted LCSD on June 7 to arrange meetings, and met LCSD's representatives on June 9 to understand the nature and procedures involved in LCSD's tree maintenance work, as well as to provide advice on matters related to wildlife conservation.  AFCD will continue to arrange meetings with the concerned personnel and gather relevant information for conducting investigation work.  Follow-up actions would be determined based on the information gathered.  AFCD will enhance communication with other government departments to prevent recurrence of similar incidents.

(5) LCSD points out that the Department takes care of, maintains and manages the trees under its responsibility in accordance with established mechanisms and guidelines.  The existing guidelines include TMO's General Guidelines on Tree Pruning, which provide information on tree pruning and issues requiring particular attention during execution of works.  LCSD has not issued any additional guidelines specifically for handling animals on trees.  In response to the incident, LCSD will actively communicate with relevant departments including TMO and AFCD to enhance tree team staff's awareness and skills in this regard by further strengthening tree care training to cover the key elements of wildlife protection.

(6) According to records, LCSD did not apply to AFCD for the permits required for handling the nests and eggs of wild birds to carry out tree pruning operations in the past five years.

(7) AFCD attaches great importance to the conservation of wildlife.  Regarding the concerned tree pruning incident, AFCD has contacted the relevant department to arrange meetings with the concerned personnel and gather relevant information for conducting investigation.  Follow-up actions would be determined based on the information gathered.
 

Ends/Wednesday, June 21, 2017
Issued at HKT 15:00

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