A botanical surprise in Hong Kong

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Coming to Hong Kong from Nanning is a bit of a culture shock. Yes, there were big shopping malls in Nanning and we foolishly let a taxi driver take us to one packed with designer labels from the west, but they pale in comparison with HK. Here, when you come out of every major station, it seems to be into a huge shopping mall full of western chains and designer outfits and even fuller of people shopping – many of them down from mainland China just a short metro or train ride away. Other differences include the plethora of cake shops, having English spoken quite widely, UK type 3 pin plugs, driving on the left and double decker buses – great for getting a good view from the top deck.

Most people’s image of the place is of the high-rise sea fronts and bustling densely populated areas of Hong Island and Kowloon – where there is a nightly light show (see video in previous blog). The surprise for me, though, was when we headed north of Kowloon into the new territories to visit Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden.

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Here, on a misty Saturday morning, Idy Wong, Head of Sustainable Living and Agriculture, took us on a tour of this hilly wooded place about 20 km north of our hotel in the New Territories. Fifty years ago the area of the farm was barren, she says. The farm was started in the 1950s when the two Kadoorie brothers, wealthy hoteliers from Hong Kong, started a programme for refugees from China, to help them farm and grow food. They also wanted to help retired Gurkas, of whom there were many in HK, and chose the hillside as both having similarities to Nepal and as a good place to experiment with regeneration and restoration.

Today, many of the native species have been restored to the site, there are terraces growing a range of crops and a major research progamme in the botanic garden side. It is also the only wildlife rescue place in HK where many consignments of illegally shipped animals are intercepted.

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Gunther Fischer, who runs the botanic garden, produces deep frozen specimens of some of the many exotic that did not make it on being rescued by the customs authorities. There is also a team from the farm in China working on capacity building, while the flora conservations department focuses on managing the estate and conservation science. This latter involves restoration ecology, as HK was deforested 300 years ago.  Although the British started to reforest it, they did so with fast growing exotic species, not any of the 400 native species.  The staff are also monitoring the flora in the light of climate change and seeing if the composition of the trees is changing. Another team work with orchids, from a micro propagation lab to greenhouses.  They also have a full-scale genetics lab which is used for identifying plants and animals

The staff and 100 or so volunteers also place a high priority in bringing young people on tours of the farm to get an understanding of the environment. They get about 150,000 visitors a year, mostly from kindergarden to university level.

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About geofftansey

I curate the Food Systems Academy, a free, on-line, open education resource to transform our food systems. I am also a member of the Food Ethics Council and chaired the Fabian Commission on Food and Poverty, which reported in 2015.
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