Over the centuries, Hong Kong’s lush subtropical woodlands have been burned, accidentally and deliberately – cut down for fuel, slashed to make way for agriculture, flattened by typhoons, replanted to stabilise hillsides, cut down to make way for development, devastated by insect plagues and replanted again. Whatever happens, they keep coming back.
Now the tracts of green trees that blanket mountains and valleys are spreading naturally, making Hong Kong one of the few largely urban places in the world where forests are taking back territory. And every weekend, Hongkongers take off into the countryside, walking among the trees, hiking, birding, photographing, picnicking, relaxing, and enjoying the green world.
“Yes, the forest is creeping back,” says Zhang Jinlong, a senior plant ecologist at the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden in Tai Po, in the New Territories. “It’s quite amazing actually.” But species diversity is not necessarily coming back at the same time, he adds. “Although it looks very green, the diversity could be very low.
This forest regrowth lacks the range of plant species of different sizes needed to nurture a wide variety of native animals and insects. Often extremely dense, dark and scrubby, much of Hong Kong’s forest – which is almost entirely secondary forest – lacks the different layers found in untouched primary woodland.