Alumni Linkage — OU People

Alumni Communication & Support Alumni Linkage Past Issues March 2020 Issue Alumni Linkage — OU People

Alumni who love plants and care about ecology may already be familiar with the website Hong Kong Tree Society. Meet its founder Leon Lau, a seasoned arborist and a graduate of OUHK's Environmental Studies programme.

Deeply intrigued by trees, Leon started his journey in arboriculture about two decades ago when ecological conservation was beginning to gain wide popularity. Seeing that the trees in Hong Kong are not really known by the public, he then delved into the literature and went on field trips one after another. The websites Hong Kong Tree Society and Green Plaza were subsequently set up to share his knowledge about plants. After graduating from the OUHK's Environmental Studies programme in 2003, Leon made a career change: from a computing professional to a self-employed tree consultant, and later became a certified arborist in 2008. Conservation and arboriculture are now the lifelong devotion of this tree expert.

He said,'The work of an arborist is mainly about inspecting and assessing trees. When signs of rotting, insect infestation or slanting are noted, the arborist must rectify the situation by trimming, supporting and staking the tree and using pest control. We need to assess the life expectancy of a tree to decide whether it should be cut down or saved. We also write assessment reports for our clients and supervise projects as an authorized person.' He is very grateful to the study at the OUHK where he learned how to understand arboriculture from a macro approach and broadened his environmental perspective beyond Hong Kong. This helped him enormously in his journey to become an arborist.

Saving a tree across mountainous terrains

Recalling one of his unforgettable experiences, Leon shared the numerous difficulties of looking for his 'patients' in the mountains. An arborist often only receives a picture and a map with just the contour lines, and looking for a particular tree is no easy task as there is always no accessible footpaths. Encounters with red fire ants, bees, stray dogs and thorns are all too common. 'A single tree once costed me three expeditions.'

Leon is a true tree lover, but he stressed that human lives are much more important. An arborist, therefore, should apply professional judgement in determining whether a tree should be cut down or not to ensure safety. 'Proper conservation can add decades to a tree's life. But if a tree is already severely ill, cutting it down to improve the environment may be a better option. We do not have to feel overly sorry when that happens,' he explained.

He also promotes conservation by organizing seminars and eco-tours. 'I hope to help the public learn more about trees and develop a stronger connection with them. I do encourage everyone to try to identify the species, names and appearances of different trees, take pictures with them or even give them a good hug,' said Leon.

Newcomers are most welcome

Since the end of last year, the Hong Kong SAR Government has established the qualification standards for arborists and provided more training opportunities for new recruits. Leon suggested that people who are interested in this profession could start with taking relevant courses, then fulfil the requirements of professional qualifications, risk assessment training and relevant work experience step by step. Leon enthusiastically encouraged new joiners to the industry: 'The local arboriculture industry has entered a mature stage. If a student who has a sense of commitment and really loves nature and outdoor work, the career can let him apply what he has learnt, make the world a better place, and he himself will also be happy.'