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ABLE Tree Planting Day May 27, 2007

Bobsy - Single-named Chairman of ABLE Charity (A Better Living Environment):

THE LAMMA FOREST - A brief history

The first seedlings were planted, in the area now known as the Lamma Forest, on the barren northern hills of the island in April 1997. The initiative was undertaken by a handful of volunteers working with ABLE Charity, a Lamma-based grassroots organization set up to make an ecological difference on this small island.

At first, the idea was to just plant trees to combat the extensive deforestation on the island, as well as be part of the greening of Hong Kong. Soon after the first seedlings were embedded in the dry soil of the hills the idea of planting a forest that covered the entire northern parts of the island was born. It was a “Eureka!” moment, an idea whose time had come. Why not a forest? Why not work towards creating a mass of land that can one day become eligible for conservation status, Lamma had none anyways. Why not create a beautiful green and pleasant land for future generations to appreciate?

So with great enthusiasm the local community was motivated to partake in the next tree planting the following year, where 2,000 seedlings were planted over an entire weekend in the same area. The results of the first plantings had by now started to appear somewhat and that gave hope and further inspiration, as well as confirming that we were planting in the right area. Other members wanted to plant in different parts by now, but I reasoned that if we stick to one area we can start seeing results and make a noticeable difference.

Planting 2,000 trees in one weekend is no easy task. Looking back at the photos taken I can see the fatigue on the faces of the three main organizers, but I can also see the passion and the excitement.

The exercise was a success thanks to our enthusiastic local community that came out in big numbers to support. We had spent the previous weekend and the ensuing evenings leading up to the event camped out in Yung Shue Wan Main Street raising awareness and drumming up support.

A few weeks later - as if to support our efforts - the government-hired contractors came and planted thousands of trees up on the same hills over a period of a week or so and suddenly the beginnings of a forest was starting to appear as if by magic. That was a huge bonus that felt like a gift from the heavens. I no longer had any doubt that we were on to the right thing.

The following October during the Chung Yeung Festival disaster struck our island. There were over 20 fires that day, started by careless people who had come to clear and clean their ancestral graves.

The Lamma Forest did not escape, one particular grave site started a huge fire that swept across the dry hills all the way down to Pak Kok Village, burning most of the trees we and the government had planted earlier in April and May. Gone up in the blink of an eye. That was very painful indeed.

That day we were combating fire with our beating sticks and taking big risks getting in close to the burning bush and trees. We were up there helping the firemen and the odd police officer covered in black soot, dehydrated and over-heating as we watched the folly of humans unwittingly destroying the source of that which nourishes them.

Luckily, the wisdom of nature has her ways and since then many trees have regenerated back at a more evenly spaced distance, and today there is a remarkable difference between both sides of the same slope which is noticeable from the ferry as it goes round and past Pak Kok. In fact one of the best places to see the extent of the Lamma Forest is from the ferry by looking up at the hills between Po Wah Yuen and Pak Kok Tsuen.

Able Charity has since planted trees most years with the help of corporations, schools (notably KG5) and the local community. Our efforts have been funded by the generous green fund from our local HK Electric company and in recent years the generous support of the KFBG who supply the expertise as well as the local indigenous seedlings to plant.

Fast forward to May 2007 and this year’s tree planting weekend. The mission was 500 indigenous trees specifically selected for this stage of the forest. The seedlings included two endangered species listed under class 2 act of China & Hong Kong. (for example, the Panda Bear is class 1).

The way we normally work is on the Saturday all the 500 holes are dug, the trees are transported up to the site and from there taken up to the base camp which is then readied for the next day’s planting. Out of both days perhaps Saturday is more physically challenging, but the Sunday is always more mentally challenging as it involves dealing with a lot more people, jobs and tasks.

Most tiring of all is the clean-up afterwards, when you have already done two days of intense work and everybody just wants to go home, but all the tools have to be put away, the rubbish cleared, the base camp dismantled and the task completed.

The weather this year seemed to be testing us. Saturday we had the hottest day of the year so far at a scorching 35 degrees Celsius and Sunday we had the wettest day so far with wild thunder and lightning storms and heavy monsoon rains.

We were not deterred, in fact we found it quite amusing and just enjoyed the ride. Once you are wet to the bone there is just no way to get any wetter, so you just plough on and get on with the job at hand. Although, I must admit I was a little apprehensive when those lightning bolts were exploding above and all around us.

All in all, approximately 60 people showed up to help plant trees and the vibes were good. People genuinely seemed to be excited and eager to make a difference. Every tree planting event there are always a handful of knights in shining armour who just seem to show up and make all the difference.

This is always a pleasant surprise to me as I never know who is going to turn up on the day. Often, the people you depend on the most never seem to make it for one reason or the other. These people know who they are and to them future generations will be thankful.

Now, after 10 years of tree-planting, the hills of North Lamma have transformed from slopes with trees sticking out of them into a vibrant ecosystem.

This transformation I only really noticed in the last few months. Suddenly, there is water running down, various edible berries - including an abundance of the medicinal Chinese gooseberry (amla) - colourful flowers that are attracting an increasing number of butterflies and bees, diverse bird species, over 20 different species of trees and just a vibrancy and a healthy energy that somehow wasn’t there until recently.

This is truly a revelation to me, to see such a transformation in my lifetime, in just 10 years to witness life return to the land has filled me with hope that, yes, we can change the world.

Photos by Bobsy:

Photos by SheiLAP:

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