Ramboll is assisting a local developer with a low-rise residential housing development at 8.1ha of land within a wetland conservation area. With careful project design consideration and the implementation of a wetland enhancement plan, the development creates a win-win scenario for providing good quality housing while enhancing nature conservation.
Ramboll assisted with an Environmental Impact Assessment Report for the project in 2015, gaining planning permission and an Environmental Permit, which requires long-term management of the wetland restoration area. Early stakeholder engagement an essential balance due to the sensitive nature of the site and the interest from environmental groups and the government, without sacrificing the development potential.
Development in an ecologically sensitive area
The project site is located within the wetland conservation area at about 800m from the Mai Po Ramsar site, a recognised important wetland habitat for globally threatened species, in particular migratory birds. Surrounded by developments and infrastructure, the site contains an abandoned pond, marsh, reedbed, seasonally wet grassland, dry agricultural land and grassland/shrubland.
As a result of a lack of management, the ecological value of the existing habitat is not high. But due to its close proximity to the Ramsar site, with the fishponds acting as a continuation of wetland habitat, the project is highly sensitive to local people and environmental groups. Stakeholder engagement during the early project planning stage was vital.
Incorporating ecological mitigation and enhancement measures in project design
Along with our client, Ramboll has adopted a proactive approach with this project. Instead of leaving the site to degrade and further decline in ecological value, we used a holistic approach to achieve specific conservation and protection objectives through an incentive comprehensive development mechanism.
The proposed low-density development incorporates a low-impact wetland buffer zone to separate the wetland from other development sites and to reinforce the separation of human activities from the natural environment, while maintaining a continuous ecological linkage to the rest of fishponds.
Nearly half of the development site to be a wetland restoration area
The development will be limited to a low-density residential development with a plot ratio of 0.2 (3-storey houses) and will only be developed on the dry land. An area of 3.8ha of the site – more than 45% of the total site area – will be a wetland restoration area and subject to active and ongoing future management.
The ratio of land designated for wetland restoration was the outcome of discussions amongst stakeholders and was accepted by environmental groups, the government and the client as the compromise between nature conservation and the development potential.
Habitats to be restored and enhanced in the wetland restoration area will include ponds with deep and shallow water zones, marsh, reed, bamboo, gravel (non-vegetated area), grassy bund and buffer planting. All habitats have been carefully chosen to provide suitable conditions for the wetland fauna (waterbirds, amphibians and dragonflies) that current use the project area.
The wetland restoration area will also form an ecological connection between wetland habitat ponds in the vicinity and the nearby Ngau Tam Mei channel to ensure the flight-lines of waterbirds will not be impeded and that they will be permanently protected. The wetland restoration area will be completed before the construction works within the residential portion commence to mitigate direct disturbance to birds during the construction phase.
Other good project design features include provision of private backyards to set-back development as well as landscape buffer zone from the wetland restoration areas and erecting temporary noise barriers to screen noise and lighting from the construction works.
Ramboll’s work with the client since 2015 has produced an outstanding development plan that will fulfil the client’s objectives as well as enhancing sensitive and vital biodiversity and ecological value. We are currently helping our client to conduct further environmental assessment to support other statutory approvals for their latest development scheme.