Chi Fu Valley — a site of ecological and historical importance in Hong Kong

Figure 1 Precious wild land just next to the urban area. — at Chi Fu Fa Yuen. source: Chi Fu Residents

There was an old ranch abandoned in the mountain slope next to Chi Fu Fa Yuen in Pok Fu Lam, Hong Kong (Figure 1). The old ranch was built by Dairy Farm in 1886 and purchased by Hong Kong Land Holdings Limited for residential development in 1972. Part of the land was built into Chi Fu Fa Yuen, a large private housing estate, and the rest was given to the government as land exchange. It was then left alone until the government announced its plan to develop the site in 2015. (Hugh Farmer, 2015)

The site does not only possess valuable heritage, but it also contains precious ecological and cultural values. Thanks for the efforts of the Chi Fu residents and the consultants of the Housing Department, 25 faunal species and 9 floral species with conservation importance have been discovered within the study area (ARUP, 2017), details as follows:

Faunal Species (animals)

1. Crested Goshawk Accipiter trivirgatus
2. Black Kite Milvus migrans
3. Eastern Buzzard Buteo japonicus
4. Greater Coucal Centropus sinensis
5. Collared Scoops Owl Otus lettia
6. Short-nosed Fruit Bat Cynopterus sphinx
7. Masked Palm Civet Paguma larvata
8. Pallas’s Squirrel Callosciurus erythraeus
9. Small Indian Civet Viverricula indica
10. Leopard Cat Prionailurus bengalensis
11. Short-legged Toad Megophrys brachykolos
12. Lesser Spiny Frog Quasipaa exilispinosa*

13. Four-clawed Gecko Gehyra mutilata
14. Tree Gecko Hemiphyllodactylus sp.
15. Common Rat Snake Ptyas mucosus
16. White-spotted Slug Snake Pareas margaritophorus
17. Orange Awlet Bibasis oedipodea
18. Dark Palm Dart Telicota ohara
19. Powdered Oak Blue Arhopala bazalus
20. Cornelian Deudorix epijarbas
21. White Royal Pratapa deva
22. Chinese Yellowface Agriomorpha fusca
23. Emerald Cascader Zygonyx iris*
24. Tiger Hawker (Larva) Polycanthagyna erythromelas
25. Freshwater Crab Nanhaipotamon hongkongense

Figure 2 Some Faunal Species with Conservation Importance discovered in the Chi Fu Valley. Source: ARUP (2017)

Short-legged Toad and Lesser Spiny Frog

Among them, the short-legged toad and the little spiny frog, which are firstly discovered by Chi Fu residents in the site, are endangered and vulnerable species in the global IUCN red list and should be protected.

Figure 3 The short-legged toad was found in the Chi Fu Valley by the Chi Fu residents. Source: Chi Fu Residents
Figure 4 The little spiny frog was found in the Chi Fu Valley by the Chi Fu residents. Source: Chi Fu Residents

Besides toad and frog, bird watching experts in the neighborhood have recorded a total of 72 species of birds in the Valley, including 36 species of resident birds, 24 species of winter migratory birds, 5 species of summer migratory birds, 5 species of spring migratory birds, and 2 autumn migratory birds.

Students from the University of Hong Kong conducted an ecological census within the research area and found a number of animal species, including 3 types of fish; one type of lizard; two types of shrimp; a class of crabs; and 11 classes of dragonflies.

Tree Gecko — Hong Kong Slender Gecko

More importantly, the tree Gecko discovered in the Chi Fu Valley was confirmed to be a unique gecko, which is now called “Hong Kong Slender Gecko, 𝘏𝘦𝘮𝘪𝘱𝘩𝘺𝘭𝘭𝘰𝘥𝘢𝘤𝘵𝘺𝘭𝘶𝘴 𝘩𝘰𝘯𝘨𝘬𝘰𝘯𝘨𝘦𝘯𝘴𝘪𝘴”, and it has been officially registered in the IUCN Red List in May 2018 as a Near Threatened species under the B1a+2a standard (Yang, 2021).

The details of the Hong Kong Slender Gecko found in Chi Fu Valley have been published by Sung et al. (2018) in Zootaxa. The following picture (Figure 5) is downloaded from The Reptile Database (2022) website, the recorded distribution area is in Aberdeen Country Park, Hong Kong (22°15.51' N , 114°9.69' E; 120 m elevation).

Figure 5 The Hong Kong Slender Gecko. Source: Reptile Database (2022)

At present, iNaturalist has a total of 36 observation records of Hong Kong Slender Gecko. If you find Hong Kong Slender Gecko while hiking, you can upload and share your photos (with date and coordinates) to the iNaturalist — Hong Kong Slender Gecko website (Figure 6) at (https://www.inaturalist .org/taxa/738104-Hemiphyllodactylus-hongkongensis).

Figure 6 iNaturalist — Hong Kong Slender Gecko website at (https://www.inaturalist .org/taxa/738104-Hemiphyllodactylus-hongkongensis).

Floral Species (Plants)

In terms of floral, the consultants of the Housing Department identified 9 floral species (plants) with conservation importance within the study area, as follows:
1. Artocarpus hypargyreus
2. Ailanthus fordii
3. Canthium dicoccum
4. Diospyros vaccinioides
5. Gnetum luofuense*
6. Pavetta hongkongensis
7. Aquilaria sinensis*
8. Lagerstroemia fordii*
9. Platycodon grandiflorus

Figure 6 Some Floral Species with Conservation Importance discovered in the Chi Fu Valley. Source: ARUP (2017)

Besides the 9 floral species with conservation importance, there are about 30 ficus trees, which reached the standards of old and valuable trees, were found in the neighborhood. Many of them have been intertwined with the pasture stone monuments to become “Stone Wall Trees”.

Since part of the ground has been cemented, many tree roots are grown on the ground or stone surfaces. The roots pattern, meshed like a wedding dress, is beautiful (Figures 7,8).

Figure 7 Old ficus trees with air roots. source: Chi Fu residents
Figure 8 Old ficus trees with wedding dress like roots. source: Chi Fu residents

A resident, who is an arborist, estimated that Chi Fu Valley has the highest density of old trees in Hong Kong, reaching 8.5 old trees per hectare, which is higher than the second one of just 4.1.

Heritage

As a historical site, there are 63 historical monuments identified in the ranch with 11 structures within the study area have been rated as Grade 2 or 3 monuments, plus 22 historical sites of Grade 2 or 3 pastures outside the study area (Figure 9). A typical monument of a masonry wall of the ranch is shown in Figure 10.

Figure 9 Locations of old dairy farm remains. source: ARUP (2017)

However, in the document of the AMO (The Antiques and Monuments Ordinance), it was found that they might have underestimated the construction year of some monuments. For example, we conducted research on the two monuments numbered N276 and N278. When the AMO indicated that their construction years were before 1941 and before 1931, we searched the registers of the Rating and Valuation Department and found that N276 (cow pen no. C17) was recorded in government documents as early as 1910, and N278 (cow pen no. C18) was also recorded in government documents from 1910 to 1927, stating that they were built at least 30 years earlier than the AMO’s (AAB, 2017).

Figure 10 A typical monument of a masonry wall of the ranch. Source: Chi Fu residents

The history of the ranch is summarised by Greenberg (2017): “The dairy farm was founded by Dr. Patrick Manson — also known as the father of tropical medicine because he helped identify mosquitos as culprits in malaria’s spread. At its height the farm covered 300 acres and hosted some 2,500 head of cattle, an unprecedented size for a farm in the 19th century that continues to dwarf many industrial dairies even today.”

It must be pointed out that the old ranch was not only the largest milk ranch in Asia before the war, but also a rare group of industrial monuments in Hong Kong. It forms a part of a cluster of heritage in the area. For example, there are two blocks of senior staff quarters of the Dairy Farm outside the Chi Fu Valley, which has been incorporated into a revitalization of historic sites project, a Pokfulam Village, which is listed as a Chinese cultural heritage on the 2014 World Heritage Monitoring List, the Bethany Seminary, which is listed as a declared monument, and the Pokfulam Reservoir, which is also a declared monument.

We proposed that for such a wide-spread and scattered group of monuments, we should not rate each structure individually, but should conduct an overall rating of the clusters of monuments in the form of cultural landscapes according to the international concept of cultural relics conservation.

Housing Development Sites and the Reduced Development Areas

Finally, the site is designated to build a housing estate. With the efforts of the Chi Fu residents and the consultants of the government, the proposed development conceptual plan is revised to exclude the two most ecological and historical sensitive areas from the development, as shown in Figure 11.

Figure 11 Proposed Pok Fu Lam South Public Housing Development and Wah Fu Estate Redevelopment — Information Leaflet №4 (5/2017). Source: ARUP (2017)

Thanks to the government’s ecological consultant company AEC Ltd., they proposed to exclude the sensitive sites from the development without affecting the total number of flats to be built.

After discovering the Hong Kong Slender Gecko at the site,

”a revised plan was finally proposed to completely avoid the woodland where geckos were found in the project without affecting the overall unit quantity target, achieving a win-win situation between protection and development!” (aec, 2022)

The green patches in Figure 11 is the reduced development area. The Hong Kong Slender Gecko, the Short-Legged Toad and the Little Spiny Frog were probably found in these green areas in 2016.

In such a small valley of just several hectares, precious ecological, historical and cultural treasures are found. We therefore proposed to the Town Planning Board (SupportHK, 2016) to designate it as an eco-heritage park, for scientific research, education and tourism purposes. Unfortunately, the proposal was rejected by the Board.

References:

AAB (2017) Historic Building Appraisal of the Old Dairy Farm in Pok Fu Lam, Hong Kong — Cowsheds, Bull Pen and Paddocks, http://www.aab.gov.hk/form/historic_22_new_items.pdf

aec ltd. (2022) post, February 10, Linkedin. https://www.linkedin.com/posts/aec-ltd%2E_ecologyproject-environmentalimpact-hkecology-activity-6897387501166702592-BpBw

ARUP (2017) Summary of the Findings of the Technical Assessments of the Proposed Public Housing Developments in Pokfulam South, 31.7.2017, Presented to DDHC of Southern District Council http://www.districtcouncils.gov.hk/south/doc /2016_2019/tc/committee_meetings_doc/DDHC/11890/DDHC_2017_12_TC_ppt_2.pdf

HD (2017) Proposed Public Housing Developments in Pokfulam South, 31.7.2017, Presented to DDHC of Southern District Council http://www.districtcouncils.gov.hk/south/doc/2016_2019/tc/committee_meetings_doc/DDHC/11890 /DDHC_2017_12_TC_ppt_1.pdf

Hugh Farmer (2015) Dairy Farm, Pok Fu Lam — Ming Pao article, effort to preserve what remains…, The Industrial History of Hong Kong Group. Available online at https://industrialhistoryhk.org/dairy-farm-pok-lam-efforts-preserve/. Accessed on 11 February, 2022.

Greenberg, A. (2017). The People Preserving a Pocket of Environmental and Historic Value in Hong Kong, KCET, June 29. https://www.kcet.org/shows/big-cities/the-people-preserving-a-pocket-of-environmental-and-historic-value-in-hong-kong

Sung, YH., Lee, WH., Ng, HN., Zhang, Y. & Yang, JH. (2018) A new species of Hemiphyllodactylus (Squamata: Gekkonidae) from Hong Kong. Zootaxa 4392 (2): 361–373 . https://www.biotaxa.org/Zootaxa/article/view/zootaxa.4392.2.8

SupportHK (2016) Environment Petition: Make Chi Fu Valley HK’s first “Eco-heritage Park”, SupportHK Environmental Petitions, September 17. https://www.supporthk.org/petition/make-chi-fu-valley-hks-first-eco-heritage-park/?lang=en

The Reptile database (2022) Hemiphyllodactylus hongkongensis SUNG, LEE, NG, ZHANG & YANG, 2018, https://reptile-database.reptarium.cz/species?genus=Hemiphyllodactylus&species=hongkongensis

Town Planning Board (2017) Proposed Amendments to the Approved Pokfulam Outline Zoning Plan No. S/H10/15, Metro Planning Committee on 25.8.2017, MPC Paper №5/17. http://www.info.gov .hk/tpb/en/papers/MPC/587-mpc_5–17.pdf

Yang, J. (2021) Hemiphyllodactylus hongkongensis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2021: e.T126299153A126299156. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2021-2.RLTS.T126299153A126299156.en. Accessed on 10 February 2022.

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