Marshland fire sets off fears for precious birdlife

Local | Sophie Hui 14 Mar 2018

Sophie Hui

Bird experts and green groups are urging the government to help restore the Nam Sang Wai marshland in Yuen Long after a devastating hill fire.

Unless the area is rehabilitated, they fear, migratory birds like the little egret may not return to Hong Kong.

The fire started on Nam Sang Wai mountain at 3pm on Monday and grew in intensity. It raged for 17 hours then appeared to have been extinguished at 8am yesterday.

But it flared again yesterday at 3pm and was only said to be under control nearly three hours later.

Police said initial investigations indicated nothing suspicious about the fire, but Democratic Party legislator Roy Kwong Chun-yu disputed that view.

No one was hurt, but a vast range of trees and reed marshes were lost or damaged. So birds will not visit the area.

Woo Ming-chuan, a senior conservation officer at the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society, said Mai Po and Nam Sang Wai are major night habitats for egrets, while about 30 to 60 percent of egrets around Deep Bay region stay in Nam Sang Wai.

"The fire and smoke affected and scared away the birds, which normally stay in the trees," she said.

Although many birds migrate from Hong Kong after the winter, Woo believes some egrets had not left.

But with a large amount of reed marsh lost the birds will lose out as they forage for food.

"The size and habitat of the reed marshes in Nam Sang Wai is rare to find in Hong Kong and it has high ecological value," Wood added.

It was difficult to estimate how long it will take for the marshland to recover as it depended on summer rains, she said. And invasive plants taking root is a worry.

Kwong visited Nam Sang Wai yesterday and believes the cause to be questionable despite what police said.

"It's understood there were three fire start points all at the same time," he said. "It's very suspicious."

Kwong noted that developers proposed to build a golf club and luxury homes at Nam Sang Wai in 2010, which led to a big protest.

Since then, he added, there have been a series of unexplained incidents at Nam Sang Wai, including strange fires and trees being chopped down.

The combination of incidents will lower the ecological value, he said.

Nam Sang Wai has indeed seen several fires in recent year years. In December 2016 thousands of trees were lost, there was another blaze on January 1, 2011, and at least three fires hit the area in 2010.

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