More than 25% of Hong Kong bird species live at farmlands slated for Northern Metropolis, survey finds, prompting calls for habitat protection

More than 25% of Hong Kong bird species live at farmlands slated for Northern Metropolis, survey finds, prompting calls for habitat protection

Conservationists have found that more than a quarter of Hong Kong’s bird species live at farmlands where the massive Northern Metropolis will be built, even though the sites account for less than 1 per cent of the city’s total area, prompting calls for greater habitat protection.

Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden on Wednesday said the year-long survey covering nine sites in the northern New Territories recorded 154 bird species, representing 27 per cent of all known types in the city. The figure also included 66 threatened species.

The conservation centre said priority for habitat conservation was often given to countryside areas and fishponds rather than farmlands, which were an integral part of the city’s biodiversity.

The conservation centre says farmlands are often polluted by waste water and garbage. Photo: Sam Tsang

“The ecological value of agricultural land has long been overlooked,” said Yang Jianhuan, conservation manager at the centre.

“We have country parks to preserve our mountains and the Mai Po Inner Deep Bay Ramsar Site for wetlands, but we have never tried to protect our farmland habitat.”

Researchers scoured the sites across the planned Northern Metropolis, a megaproject that aims to establish an international innovation and technology hub and produce 900,000 flats for 2.5 million people, as well as creating up to 650,000 jobs, in the New Territories across roughly 30,000 hectares (74,132 acres).

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The plan, first unveiled by former chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor in 2021, also includes establishing three new wetland conservation parks spanning 1,220 hectares. The government will take back private wetlands and fishponds in areas such as Tsim Bei Tsui, Nam Sang Wai and Sam Po Shue to create the new parks.

The team surveyed the nine sites between December 2021 and November 2022, covering 167 hectares in locations such as the Sandy Ridge wetland mosaic, Tai Po Tin, Heung Yuen Wai and Chow Tin. The total area represents 0.15 per cent of the city’s land.

But the study found that preserving wetlands and fishponds alone was not enough. It said the remaining farmlands within the Northern Metropolis also provided “critical habitats for a significant number of globally and locally threatened species”, including the critically endangered yellow-breasted bunting, as well as the greater spotted eagle and black-capped kingfisher, which were categorised as vulnerable.

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The research team identified 11 amphibian species and as many reptilian ones, such as the Chinese bullfrog, considered endangered by authorities in mainland China, and the buff striped keelback, categorised as threatened.

Based on verbal accounts collected from residents, the team also suggested that the Eurasian river otter, considered near-threatened globally, could possibly reside in the Sandy Ridge wetlands.

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“The survey results indicate that the biodiversity in the farmland habitats of the Northern Metropolis area is rich and unique, not easily replaceable by the existing conservation system,” said Philip Lo Yik-fui, senior conservation officer at the centre.

The team said the farmlands were polluted at present by waste water and garbage from nearby poultry farms, villages, wrecking yards and e-waste dumps. “Some streams were rife with the odour of chemicals,” Lo said.

The centre urged the government to formulate a strategy for farmland conservation and build a network of walkways, hiking trails and wildlife corridors to improve ecologically sensitive areas and “link important natural, agricultural and cultural features for conservation, education and recreation purposes”.

The Post has contacted the Development Bureau for comment.

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