About Sha Lo Tung

Located in a basin between Cloudy Hill and Wong Leng, Sha Lo Tung is the site of some of Hong Kong's most extensive and rare freshwater wetland. It has an area of 56 hectares and sits more than 100 metres above sea level. The valley receives water from streams with abundant flows all year round. The fertile lands are sheltered by hills in all directions, forming an ecologically rich basin. The three rivers there and their riparian area were designated as a “Site of Special Scientific Interest”. In the New Nature Conservation Policy, the government listed Sha Lo Tung as one of the 12 “priority sites”, and ranked it second in ecological importance, coming only after Ramsar site at Mai Po Inner Deep Bay, indicating its unique and important ecological value.

Sha Lo Tung is best known for its dragonfly diversity. Since the discovery of the Spangled Shadow-emerald (Macromidia ellenae) in the early 1990s and the subsequent first record of Heliogomphus retroflexus in Hong Kong, more than 80 species of dragonflies have been recorded there, representing over 60% of all species in Hong Kong. Also, Sha Lo Tung is home to many rare species of freshwater fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, butterflies and birds, making it Hong Kong’s ecological treasure trove.

Hakka old house in Sha Lo Tung


The history of Sha Lo Tung can be traced back to more than 300 years ago, when there were already Hakka settlements, which subsequently became Cheung Uk and Lee Uk, the area's two main villages. In the past, villagers made their living by farming. Taking advantage of the river valley, they opened ditches and wet farmlands to farm mainly paddy rice. Until the 1960s, the scale of wet agriculture was considerable, with many terraced fields in Sha Lo Tung.

In the 1970s, villagers began moving out, with many of them emigrating and abandoning their farmlands. Although the lands were not then farmed, the irrigation systems from the past remained and Sha Lo Tung gradually became ecologically rich freshwater wetland.

In the 1990s, dragonfly experts discovered a large number of dragonfly species, including species sighted for the first time in the world. Botanists have also discovered at least a hundred rare plant species, confirming the unique ecological value of Sha Lo Tung.

Conservation and Challenges

The ecological value of Sha Lo Tung was recognied before the 1990s. Since then, the pressure to develop the area and the consequent conflicts have been ever increasing. In fact, as early as the 1980s, developers already started to collect lands for the purpose of building a golf course and residential houses. However, because of the discovery of rare species of dragonflies and plants, the development plan was strongly opposed by environmental groups, and eventually had to be abandoned due to failure to comply with legal procedures. Some villagers were unhappy with this and decided to “rehabilitate” their lands by destroying large areas of farmland and irrigation channels. Wet farmlands and wetland became dry, and many invasive species such as Mikania (Mikania micrantha) grew rapidly, covering even the stream surface, damaging the native wetland ecosystems.

Moreover, Sha Lo Tung’s abandoned houses and fields attracted many war-game and off-road vehicle lovers. A number of old buildings, such as at Cheung Uk (classified as Grade II historic buildings), have been damaged by bullet holes from war-gamers. And racing off-road vehicles damaged the natural streams and historic irrigation systems, causing even longer-lasting and extensive impacts to the ecosystems. In addition, illegal poaching is rampant in the area, with numerous animal traps set up in the area. Turtle poaching is particularly serious.

Again in 2015 and 2016, some villagers, frustrated by the delay in the development plan, removed a large area of vegetation to cultivate Brassica. The golden Brassica field attracted many tourists and photographers to the area, and was widely reported in the media. But the fact is that Brassica, disguised by its beauty, dried out the wetland, further destroying the local wetland resources.

In 2017, the government announced that Sha Lo Tung is to be preserved by “non-in-situ land exchange”, allowing the developer to build a golf course at Shuen Wan Restored Landfill in exchange for private lands at Sha Lo Tung. This resolved the deadlock, in which the government would have been unable to push for conservation in private lands, and represented a light at the end of the tunnel for the future of conservation of Sha Lo Tung. The exchange was approved in 2021.

Golden Brassica field dried out the wetland in Sha Lo TungSha Lo Tung is facing the thread of wetland degradation.