13 October 2000
Lok Ma Chau Spur Line does not threaten the bird community in Long Valley
We have read with dismay information released to the public by the opponents of the Spur Line to Lok Ma Chau. The objectors have made much of the diversity of the bird community in Long Valley, emphasizing that over 210 bird species have been recorded there since 1983.
The importance of the bird community in Long Valley is not in dispute. But we must be clear that it is not a second Mai Po marsh habitat. It is a habitat that was created by farmers who live around the valley and who changed the nature of the valley floor according to their needs, and not those of the avian community. It is clear from the observations of our experts that there has been a deterioration in the number and diversity of wetland dependent birds in the valley since the mid-1990's. Species that are now present in smaller numbers include the Schrenck's Bittern, Chestnut Bittern, Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler, Siberian Rubythroat and Bluethroat. Our ornithologists believe that the common factor which links the decline of these species is the need for undisturbed wetland vegetation, which is not available in this valley due to the farmers' active wetland agriculture.
Contrary to what the critics of the Spur Line have said, the future of the bird community is by no means certain at this time. It is threatened by the loss of undisturbed freshwater wetland habitats. This loss of biodiversity because of intensive agricultural use is also a major concern worldwide. The compensation proposals contained in the Spur Line environmental impact assessment study are designed to address this problem. The creation of permanent wetland areas prior to railway construction, which will be professionally managed for wildlife will make a major contribution to preserving habitat diversity, ensuring that Long Valley provides a home for its diverse bird community in permanently protected areas that are not under threat because of farming activities.
The statements that 38 Black-faced Spoonbills have been sighted within our EIA study area are misleading. A recent WWF study of Spoonbills recorded only one sighting of five birds in Sam Po Shue near Mai Po, just inside the study area, taking advantage of a drained fish pond and prior to that no record of any sighting during the previous 10 years. The EIA report anticipates occasional feeding habits of this nature, by Spoonbills and other species of birds. Spoonbills are, of course, not found in Long Valley, whereas the Greater Painted Snipe is. The Snipe is of special interest and radio telemetry of its habits has taught much about its ability to cope with the pressure of life in Hong Kong. Within the valley, it flies near to the ground only at night time and feeds in the wet agricultural area. During the daytime the Snipe will stay hidden in long grass even close to construction activities, providing that it is not directly disturbed by human intrusion.
The information obtained by our ornithological experts which they have gathered by direct observations day and night during the past seven years, gives confidence that the mitigation and compensation measures proposed for the Spur Line will be successful. We have consulted with American experts, who have seen our ornithological experts' work for the Spur Line, and agreed with their findings. Those critics of our compensation plans, who have referred to American failures have not revealed that the failures relate to attempts to recreate nature, which everyone knows is fraught with difficulties. Wetland recreation in Hong Kong is of a different character. It does not seek to recreate nature, but simply to improve upon habitats created in the first instance by farming and fish pond activities. This is entirely feasible and the design of wetland habitats specifically targeted at the important bird species found in Long Valley and Lok Ma Chau does not face the problems which have resulted in failures in the U.S.A.
The concerns of members of the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society as well as other green groups are understood. These concerns, however, must not be allowed to cloud the real facts. Our full-time ornithologists are professionally obliged to ensure that any measures to protect Hong Kong's bird life are based on the best possible information available. This is gathered in Hong Kong from the published material by their colleagues and non-professionals resulting from observations in Hong Kong over many years. They also take into account the best possible material from overseas, and it is this accumulation of factual evidence which underlines our confidence in the Spur Line EIA report. Those who argue against the validity of the EIA do not appear to have produced equivalent scientific and quantifiable factual evidence in support of their criticisms. We say this having studied the 225 public submissions to EPD following the publication of the EIA report. This is the reason why we cannot agree with those who seek to find serious fault with the environmental study for the Spur Line.
With all of this factual information at the disposal of our experts, we strongly reject the notion that Long Valley or any part of the Spur Line alignment to Lok Ma Chau will be destroyed as a result of the presence of the railway. Scientific evidence shows that birds in particular, will not be driven away and that the professionally managed permanent wetland areas will enhance the ecological value of the surroundings in which they are located.
A report published in the South China Morning Post on Wednesday this week refers to Birdlife International identifying 23 species of threatened birds in Hong Kong, an increase from an earlier report in 1994. Unfortunately, the source of this information is not available to our experts for verification. Notwithstanding this lack of verification, the Spur Line compensation measures generally will benefit all species of birds whilst being targeted at those of greater concern. It is a fact that bird life in Hong Kong does adjust to changes in environment such as new structures and re-shaping of existing ground. The evidence of this can be seen by the behaviour of Egrets for example along East Rail and the Airport Railway along the northern side of Lantau.
An important point which is being overlooked by critics of the Spur Line is that the EIA for the first time in Hong Kong examines in depth the direct impact and the disturbance effect of the railway structure. The passage of trains is taken into account, and the disturbance criteria used may in fact be conservative in nature, given the special noise reduction features and the high parapets which partially hide the movement of trains from view. We believe that the Spur Line environmental protection measures are a natural progression from Hong Kong's experience which has been gained thus far, and the measures proposed are demonstrably based upon sound scientific principles to ensure the best foundation for success.
Finally, we would like to deal with criticisms related to Hong Kong's international obligation under the Ramsar Convention, and the issue of fragmentation of Long Valley. It has been implied that the Spur Line is incompatible with the wise use of wetlands. But what is not said is that the recent Ramsar Strategic Plan (1997-2002) which was adopted in Brisbane states that wise use is synonymous with sustainable use, and that human usage on a sustainable basis is compatible with Ramsar listing and conservation in general. The creation of 3.8 hectares of wetland for long-term management provides in itself sustainable use of Long Valley, coupled with 28.5 hectares of permanently enhanced and managed fish ponds to the west of Lok Ma Chau station. These are measures fully described in the EIA study, and satisfy the Ramsar principles.
In regard to fragmentation impacts, the EIA report does address this issue in a comprehensive manner. The Spur Line crosses Long Valley at a location which minimizes impacts on the wet agricultural land, with the eastern half of the alignment bordering the developed village area, having minimal ecological value. The western half of the alignment is not a barrier to the passage of birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles. Because the railway is on viaduct, it will not break the physical connection between areas in Long Valley either side of the alignment.
To those who may still have concerns despite the weight of the scientific evidence, these concerns are as natural as those which remain notwithstanding reassurance from your doctor. Our willingness to obtain more land in Long Valley for compensation measures, and thereby to increase the areas of Long Valley under permanent wetland management for bird life, is intended to provide further assurance to those who may still have lingering doubts.
Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation
As the professional ornithological advisors to the KCRC referred to in the above statement, we agree with the content thereof.

Mike Leven      Paul Leader      Asia Ecological Consultants Ltd.

Sheung Shui To Lok Ma Chau Spur Line