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LCSD completes investigation of Tai Po tree pruning incident
     The Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) today (December 1) made public the findings of a thorough investigation into the tree pruning incident in Tai Po on June 6 this year, which had caused adverse impact on some nests of ardeids (egrets and herons) with chicks on the trees.
     The department has also assessed the adequacy of the current modus operandi and will implement improvement and remedial measures to avoid recurrence of similar incidents.
     The investigation concluded that the incident was attributable to multiple factors such as a knowledge gap on protection of wild animals, improper practices in tree pruning and insufficient supervision and manpower of the tree team's sub-team (Sub-team).
     There was a knowledge gap on wildlife protection at the departmental level and the operational level. At the departmental level, the LCSD at the time did not maintain any information repository on the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance (Cap 170), the nearby Tai Po Egretry Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), the location or characteristics of egretries in Hong Kong, or the codes of practice or guidelines on wildlife protection in tree management work. Neither did the department's training at the time cover the protection of wild animals. At the operational level, front-line supervisors and staff were expected to exercise common sense and judgement to schedule tree work in such ways to avoid or minimise impact on wild animals (such as birds and bird nests) notwithstanding the absence of specific guidelines. The investigation also revealed that the Sub-team supervisor concerned had underestimated the complication and impact of the tree work in regard to the wild animals in this incident. There was also room for improvement in the communication to ensure that the Sub-team leader's instruction was clearly conveyed, elaborated and understood before assigning the Sub-team to conduct tree work in his absence. The Sub-team failed to exercise common sense and awareness on wild animal protection nor stop the work when they noticed that the nests of the birds would be affected.
     Furthermore, the pruning work was not conducted properly, resulting in over-pruning, and the over-pruning by topping was considered unacceptable. If proper tree pruning had been carried out, the effect on the birds would certainly have been minimised. Appropriate action has been taken by the department in accordance with the established departmental guidelines against the staff concerned for the substandard performance and non-compliance with guidelines.
     On the supervision and manpower of tree teams, the investigation concluded that there was no urgency to arrange tree work on that day and the decision to schedule and arrange the tree operation in the absence of a supervisor was not prudent or appropriate given the complexity and sensitivity of the case. The feasibility of arranging for a supervisor of a higher rank to cover the duties of the immediate supervisor of a Sub-team in case of major, complex and sensitive tree operations during the absence of the latter should be explored.
     To avoid the recurrence of similar incidents in the wake of the above investigation results, the LCSD has implemented or will implement 12 improvement and remedial measures in the short, medium and long terms.
     The short-term measures which have already been implemented in July this year are (1) to obtain the boundary of an SSSI from the Planning Department and remind all District and Regional Tree Teams under the LCSD to be alert when conducting tree work at these locations; (2) to establish and maintain a regular communication channel with the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) and identify locations of egretries where trees are under the management of the LCSD; (3) to remind all Regional Tree Teams and horticultural contractors to avoid disturbance to wild animals and the environment when conducting tree work; (4) to recirculate the Guidelines on Tree Pruning to all staff and contractors concerned and remind them on proper tree pruning techniques; and (5) to enhance the supervision of Sub-teams.
     In the medium term, the department will (1) review its internal policies, guidelines and procedures on tree management work; (2) work with the AFCD and establish the work flow to handle tree maintenance work, if so imminently required, which may affect the breeding or roosting sites of wild animals, e.g. egretries; (3) enhance refresher training for front-line staff on tree pruning techniques; (4) include topics of protection of wild animals in future training; and (5) enhance the tree inspection form and the LCSD's tree management database to include information on special site conditions and tree conditions for reference in conducting tree management work.
     As for improvement measures in the long run, the LCSD will liaise with relevant government bureaux and departments to explore the need to revise the relevant circulars and guidelines to cover the protection of wild animals in tree work, and will review the organisation, resource requirements and deployment of tree teams to identify room for improvement.
     A spokesman for the LCSD again extended apologies to the public for the regrettable mishap, noting that the department would endeavour to strengthen its tree care training, enhance the internal guidelines, and raise the awareness and techniques of all staff on wildlife protection in their daily work.
Ends/Friday, December 1, 2017
Issued at HKT 11:44
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