The empty forest


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News from DEB

It is always good to start on a positive note. Accordingly, as promised in my last Porcupine! missive, I am going to report some good news from the Department of Ecology & Biodiversity. Firstly, recruitment of ‘new blood’. DEB has added not one, but two new members of staff to the ranks this year. Both have been appointed as Research Assistant Professors (more or less equivalent to a junior lecturer), and will have some teaching duties in addition to the responsibility (as the title suggests) of undertaking lots of research. Dr Kenny Leung joined us in January from Royal Holloway College in London; a profile is included elsewhere in this issue (p. 5). Dr Benny Chan was formerly a postdoctoral fellow in DEB and, for the tenure of his RAP post, will be based at SWIMS. An account of his ongoing activities will appear in the next issue of Porcupine!

What else is new? Version 3.0 of the Biodiversity Survey database has been completed, and was passed to Government in February. Those of you with long memories may recall that the Survey was underwritten by the Environment and Conservation Fund of Government, and that much of the fieldwork was undertaken in 1996 and 1997. Version 1.0 of the database was made available in 1999. Version 3.0 is more comprehensive and includes over 5,000 species and around 100,000 records. The biodiversity data have been complied and can be analysed using Geographic Information System software so that spatial patterns in the occurrence of plants and animals across Hong Kong can be examined. In short, the database shows what species occur where, and thus it can be interrogated and used as a starting point for finding out whether or not planned developments and designated projects are likely to have an impact on biodiversity. That information can then be taken into account when a thorough environmental impact assessment is undertaken and decisions about compensation, mitigation or avoidance of impacts need to be taken.

Of less import to Hong Kong, but of concern to DEB, is a third matter. The University of Hong Kong is to undergo a Teaching and Learning Quality Process Review in June that will be undertaken by a panel of overseas experts appointed by the University Grants Committee. The focus of the review is quality assurance mechanisms and processes, and the results will "inform funding decisions" in the long term. Given the size of HKU, it isn’t possible to review all teaching departments so a handful have been selected for special attention and site visits from the panel. DEB is one of the departments chosen to represent the University: whether that is an honour or a curse will become clearer as June nears. We shall see.

David Dudgeon





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