Public safety is not an excuse for killing the hatchlings of protected wild birds. More than a dozen egrets were dislodged from their nests and killed or injured during a recent tree-pruning operation by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) at a woodland in Tai Po.
The breeding season for many migratory birds lasts from March to August each year. They make nests, lay eggs, and tend to their hatchlings.
The site in the New Territories is the second largest habitat for egrets in Hong Kong. Kadoorie Farm said 12 egret chicks had died in the incident.
To protect the population of wild birds, government departments have been given strict instructions to refrain from disturbing them during the breeding period.
The LCSD said the pruning was conducted in response to a request to remove overgrown branches at the site. It was done to ensure public safety, they said.
However, was removing overgrown branches the real objective? During the pruning, the workers should have realised that they are causing serious harm to a protected bird species.
Besides, are the trees in such dire condition that the overgrown branches endanger public safety? What evidence has been provided by the LCSD to suggest that the situation warranted tree pruning at this time of year?
Surely, the department could have foreseen the problem and taken action earlier.
The lack of a proper explanation means that people suspect that the pruning was a result of a public complaint about bird droppings.
To make matters worse, the LCSD issued a statement saying that there were no guidelines about how to deal with bird nests during tree pruning.
Yet it was later found that the Hong Kong Birdwatching Society has, in fact, issued an advisory, “Guidelines for Planning and Carrying out Construction Works at Egretries”, to government departments telling them about the precautions they should take during such operations. It now seems obvious that the workers were not told about them.
Most importantly, according to the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance, it is illegal to remove, damage or destroy a protected animal’s eggs and nests. This tree pruning is simply another illegal activity.
Government departments cannot use public safety as a handy shield to fend off criticism. Perhaps it is time for the LCSD to take advice from conservation groups seriously and start caring about environmental protection.