Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing has said that the recent fires at the Nam Sang Wai wetlands have not had a substantially adverse effect upon the area’s ecology.
Fires this month have affected more than 12 hectares of land, whilst the Fire Service Department said one of them was suspicious.
Wong said at the Legislative Council on Wednesday that birds – such as cormorants and black-faced spoonbills – were still feeding and staying around the affected area, following inspections by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD).
“No significant or long-term ecological impacts to Nam Sang Wai were observed at the moment,” he said.
“The affected reeds and grasses are fast-growing plants. These plants would readily regenerate in the coming wet season and thus restoration work is considered not necessary.”
He said The AFCD will continue to closely monitor conditions at Nam Sang Wai to assess any ecological impact owing to the fire. The AFCD, the Fire Service Department and the Police will also step up patrols in the area.
In 2010, developers launched a proposal to develop parts of Nam Sang Wai into residential buildings and golf courses.
There have been a number of fires and a number of tree-felling incidents in the area over the past few years.
A musician previously said that he saw masked men acting suspiciously during a recent blaze. A suspected jerry can of diesel was found near the source of a fire.
Lawmaker Leung Che-cheung asked if the government will consider taking over private land of extremely high ecological value, and offering reasonable compensation to affected landowners and fishermen.
Wong said in reply that the government should not take over land or pay compensation solely for the reason of conservation, because it would not be a sustainable option. Plus, taking over land would involve complicated issues related to private land ownership.
“The government has no plan to change this existing policy,” he said.
Lawmaker Gary Fan accused some developers of choosing to destroy land before development, so that the Town Planning Board’s environmental impact assessments will proceed more easily.
But Wong said that wildfires would not be considered as a factor for the environmental impact assessment, since a requirement for the Town Planning Board states that developers cannot reduce the size of the wetlands in the area.
He said the government has been using the official Environment and Conservation Fund to conduct public-and-private cooperation in conservation.