"The most radical act of any generation is to become aware”
the story behind the lamma forest...
Once upon a time, not too long ago, on a small Island in the South China Sea, there lived a man named Bobsy. This Island was the third largest island in Hong Kong and it was called Lamma. Though the island was beautiful its hills were mostly barren as her trees had been felled long ago for fuel and other purposes. He had arrived on Lamma in early 1993, and began to put out feelers into the local green community of kindred spirits and soon enough a small Charity was set up to raise environmental awareness which he named ABLE.
By 1996 Bobsy had explored most of this special island he now called his home & had begun planting trees up in some very dry spots with bad soil erosion relying on the help of a handful of ABLE volunteers equally enthusiastic about protecting the environment.
Bobsy is a passionate man and one of his passions is creating space, community & ceremony especially around music & kindred spirited people. In those daze he would often walk up into the surrounding hills and find magical spots to gather with friends. It was during one of these that he had a feeling to plant trees there, as the hills although beautiful were rather barren and subject to soil erosion. And so next April’s tree planting took place up on the Northern Hills in between Po Wah Yuen & Pak Kok Villages on that Earth Day Weekend. That year happened to be 1997 and there was a build up towards the Handover of Hong Kong back to China, heady days to say the least, with a buzz in the air, an unmistakable buzz that comes with a fin de siecle. Many people were nervous about what the Handover could mean. Bobsy felt differently and felt a need to reinforce his love for his chosen home by sewing hope through the planting of the very first 2,000 trees on those barren hills overlooking the West Lamma Chanel, where he had enjoyed many a gorgeous Sunset setting over the adjacent Cheung Chao & Lantau Islands.
It was during that very long & exhausting weekend that a vision dawned on Bobsy. What if we came back again the following year and planted more trees in the same spot ? Would a Forest one day exist ? The idea intuitively felt right & by that stage in his life Bobsy had often come to use his intuition & indeed to listen deeply to her callings. Every muscle in his body said YES!
The challenge was unknown, after all this is a Charity and not a private enterprise. There was no precedent in Hong Kong he could rely upon. The people around him could not share that vision as it belonged to the future and that was uncertain.
The 2,000 trees planted that Earth Day weekend did well and were visibly happy to be growing on those hills. This encouraged ABLE to come back once again in April 1998 and press repeat.
The Lamma Forest was seeded & born. Today decades later there is a guesstimate of over 50,000 trees growing on the once barren hills of North lamma. The trees are now self seeding naturally, through the winds, bird droppings & rodent and mammalian activity. Forests are sustainable.
There has been no official tree planting up in The Forest since 2011, although there has been plenty of forest activities, such as maintenance, path clearing, clean ups and landscaping, as well as the planting of the odd 4 or 5 dozen endangered local trees here & there, as well as a few more interesting species. A forest’s work never ends.
Hundreds of volunteers, mostly from secondary schools, local Lamma residents & HK corporations have come and helped plant the trees as well as maintain the paths ( see the Lamma Forest Map ) over the two decades since that very first planting back in 1997. For this we are thankful, but more importantly and what matters the most today, is the level of awareness & education cultivated through the noble act of planting a tree and giving Life back to Life.
As the late Martin Luther King once said, “If I knew the world was ending tomorrow, I would still plant a tree today. “ And this is how we change the world, one vision at a time.
Little could Bobsy have imagined all those years ago surrounded by cynics, doubters & naysayers that one day future generations could now go up to the lush green shaded lands, take a stroll breathing fresh air and admire one of HK’s best Sunsets, only within a stones’ throw away from home.
Today, as Bobsy often likes to say “Mission accomplished!”
Dedicated to the late Tobias Forster Co founder of ABLE Charity & early advocate of conservation.
Special thanks to Lamma Island's archival extraordinaire, Herman, better known as Lamma Gung of 'LammaZine'