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Achieving Conservation and Sustainability on Different Fronts – Hong Kong Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden

Volume 3 Number 2 - July 2006

Michael Wai-Neng Lau

Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden (KFBG), located on the northern slopes of Tai Mo Shan, is a Hong Kong based non-profit corporation, with a tradition of agricultural aid dating back to the 1950s.  In response to the rapid economic expansion and the decline in farming in Hong Kong, KFBG was realigned in the mid 1990s with the new direction to promote nature education, sustainable agriculture and the conservation of biodiversity in Hong Kong and the greater South China region.  The mission is now “to increase the awareness of our relationship with the environment and bring about positive change in the world through conservation and education”.  We tackle this on a number of fronts.

Education in Nature

We believe education is one of our most powerful conservation tools.  With years of conservation effort, KFBG is now a lush hillside sheltering streams, woodlands, orchards and organic vegetable terraces.  Not only is it a haven for local wildlife, but also a unique nature classroom providing over 20 educational displays featuring South China biodiversity, native wildlife conservation, organic farming and sustainable living.  Every year, KFBG offers diverse educational opportunities, including school guided visits, nature-interpreter volunteer programmes, environmental arts programmes, wildlife habitat enhancement programmes, community gardening, an organic festival, organic farmers’ markets… (the list goes on).  We seek to provide visitors with a pleasant experience as well as striking and memorable encounters with our pristine natural environment, and thereby encourage people to appreciate and forge bonds with nature.

Conservation in Action

In adherence to our mission, KFBG has developed several teams to help protect biodiversity in the region, including departments of Flora and Fauna Conservation, and a China Programme.

Over the past years, KFBG has been actively conserving rare and endangered plants, ranging from ferns to orchids.  We have initiated native tree nursery projects, both in Hong Kong and Guangdong, to encourage reforestation with native species.  With close collaboration with Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), KFBG has actively conducted workshops and symposia to facilitate information exchange, develop and strengthen networks between botanic gardens nationally, regionally and internationally.

On the fauna conservation front, our Hong Kong work ranges from wildlife rescue to habitat conservation.  In 1994, an outdoor butterfly garden was established by planting the hillside with butterfly food plants; today it is one of the best sites to observe butterflies and moths in Hong Kong.  With the concept of close-contact education in mind, KFBG has established a variety of educational displays including a raptor sanctuary, an insect house and an amphibian and reptile house.  Through intimate contact with animals and plants and through on-site interpretation, we aim to evoke visitors’ empathy and concern for wildlife; by linking these values to personal responsibility and the principles of sustainable living, we hope to help stem the tide of the modern extinction crisis. 

The KFBG’s conservation efforts are not limited to Hong Kong, but extend to the greater South China region.  Since 1998, our China team has conducted a series of rapid biodiversity assessments in over 50 forest areas across Guangdong, Guangxi and Hainan.  These have improved understanding of the distribution and status of many species, the conservation importance of their habitats and the urgent threats they face.  In 2003, the China Programme expanded its focus: in addition to forest ecosystem conservation and protection of critically endangered species, the Programme promotes sustainable agriculture and sustainable living in the region.  Our major engagements include conserving the Hainan Gibbon (the world’s rarest primate) at Bawangling, enabling effective conservation of Hainan’s last tropical forest strongholds, monitoring the devastating trade in wild animals, and channeling information to those who are able to influence conservation management and attitudes.

The Way to Sustainability

We believe sustainability is the key to a promising future.  On the agriculture front, we seek to support sustainable food production systems that integrate human, environmental and economic considerations, and promote them in Hong Kong and the greater South China region.  We publicise the consequences of human resource use – our Ecological Footprint – and transmit a vision to bring it within natural limits.  Within KFBG’s premises, we seek to develop institutional practices and apply resource conservation measures that reduce energy and resource consumption.  Examples include a green procurement policy, the use of solar panels, a waste recycling treatment and green building design.  In the long run, we aim to develop KFBG itself as a model for sustainable living.

Our world is changing at a great rate under ever-increasing population, rapid and senseless economic development and the resulting environmental degradation.  For this decline to be reversed, conservation must expand from a minority concern to a deep and active commitment across society, founded on emotional, intellectual and spiritual connection with nature.  Botanic gardens have traditionally been seen as pleasant landscapes, places to learn plant names, and sites of rare plant propagation.  How can they make a greater contribution to sustainability?  The question deserves more thought by botanists, conservationists, environmental educators, and visitors.  With urgency, we need to expand the membership and positive impact of the team that cares.

About the Author

Michael Wai-Neng Lau is Senior Manager - China Programme at the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden