25 June 2019
The Ombudsman has stressed the need for legislation on tree management, including establishing the standards for planting, trimming and removing trees. Photo: pexels
The Ombudsman has stressed the need for legislation on tree management, including establishing the standards for planting, trimming and removing trees. Photo: pexels

Training and regulations crucial to tree management

According to research by the Chinese University of Hong Kong, although country parks occupy 40 percent of Hong Kong’s total land area, the green area per capita within the urbanized area is only two square meters, far less than Singapore’s 10 square meters, and Tokyo’s seven square meters.

Trees can be our shelter for cooling — research shows that in densely built urban areas, the cooling effect of greenery is prominent, with temperatures being reduced by two to three degrees.

However, most of the trees in urban areas have grown in places with shallow soil cover, making it difficult for them to have deeply rooted foundations. Fallen trees can be found everywhere after typhoons. Last year, the Ombudsman published a report on the government’s tree management. It made a lot of pertinent comments, in which the most important ones are regulation and skills training.

The report said there is no specific requirements for tree workers. These front-line inspectors are responsible for identifying problematic trees, assessing the risk of collapse and taking daily care of the trees. However, the government only provides them with some basic training lasting two days. No wonder, local tree management has been criticized from time to time for being deficient.

Singapore and Japan have established a tree management talent training system. Singapore set up a training organisation in 2007 to provide horticultural and arboriculture training for landscape workers. At the same time, each scope of work in the horticultural industry has developed industry standards and set the skills promotion ladder for each skill level. In early 2000, Japan established local standards and qualifications system for tree workers and arboriculturists in accordance with the international arboriculture standards, and provided different levels of training.

The Ombudsman also mentioned the need for legislation on tree management, including establishing the standards for planting, trimming and removing trees. Singapore passed the Parks and Trees Act in 1975 and the Tokyo government established the Green Tokyo Plan in 2006 to lay the legal foundation for tree management strategies and clearly define the responsibilities of different parties, so as to ensure the trees on government and private land are properly managed.

New technology is also applied. Examples are Singapore’s mobile application using geographic information system (GIS) launched two years ago to facilitate front-line staff to extract information and real-time updates during inspection; 3D and mathematical models used to estimate the impact on trees under strong wind, and assess which branches need to be trimmed to minimise possible damage.

In recent years, mainland China has begun using new technology for tree management, especially for ancient trees.

This year, the Department of Forestry in Zhejiang province introduced an information management system with each old and famous tree being assigned an electronic account. When you click on a town, the old and famous trees in that region will be shown on the map, then you can view each tree’s location (latitude and longitude), species, age, soil type, growth status, photo and the responsible unit. The workers and staff of agriculture and forestry departments in the city, county, town and village, can locate the conserved trees in an electronic map to facilitate their protection and management.

At the same time, a local community project called Tree Adoption Program was recently launched by the Conservation E3 Foundation. Through an online platform, the project promotes learning about trees among young people.

Earlier this year, the Development Bureau set up an Urban Forestry Advisory Panel to promote a comprehensive greening of the city. I hope the government can strike a balance among urban development needs, environmental protection and quality of living, and can follow the successful experience of our neighbors to actively and systematically nurture talent with the help of information technology, thereby, creating a green smart city for all of us.

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Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong

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