It takes over a month for a caterpillar to complete metamorphosis and transform into a butterfly. Shirley, who became an eco-reserve ambassador at the butterfly garden after a 6-month training programme, can relate to this, as she has also seen her life completely transformed by her own “metamorphosis”.
“If a woody plant withers completely, you need to uproot it. The key is to remove the stinkvine, which can climb on other plants and hamper their regeneration,” she explains while digging out the weeds. Shirley today walks and talks like a plant expert, yet as recently as 6 months ago, she was just like any regular white-collar worker with limited contact with nature. An office administrator before her retirement, in her working days Shirley rarely took the time to admire the natural landscape in her community. It was only at the end of 2020 that Shirley learned from social media about the Environmental Association’s recruitment drive for ambassadors. She decided to get involved since she figured that it would allow her to both visit the Environmental Association’s Fung Yuen Butterfly Reserve in Tai Po free of charge and learn how to protect the ecological environment.
With no large balcony, Shirley could only grow water plants in her apartment and knew next to nothing about large shrubs, butterflies, and other insects. During the 6-month butterfly garden management training programme, Shirley and her 39 fellow trainees not only learned how to grow plants and identify different insects, but also took part in hosting an exhibition to showcase their achievements and introduce the butterfly garden to their neighbours. The experience brought Shirley a sense of fulfilment and bound her closer to the community.
Shirley still remembers the first time she stepped into the butterfly garden at Link’s Sau Mau Ping Shopping Centre while undergoing the training programme. The garden was nearing completion at that time, with display boards inside the garden introducing different types of butterflies alongside colourful wall paintings. Yet Shirley and the other trainees still found room to plant a few purple lantana camara and eupatorii herba while the trainer explained to them the logic behind the layout of the garden and how it could attract butterflies: lantana camara blooms all year round and can draw different butterfly families such as papilionidae, hesperiidae, pieridae and brush-footed butterflies, while eupatorii herba comes into flower from October to November and provides enough honey to attract milkweed butterflies. “As I learn more, I’m able to identify different plants and butterflies along hiking trails and discover more of life’s wonders,” says Shirley with a proud smile.
In addition to garnering new knowledge, Shirley also forged many new friendships from the experience. She now joins other volunteers at the beginning of every month to remove weeds and withered plants from the butterfly garden to ensure that it remains in top condition. She also stays in touch with her fellow trainees and takes part in other environmental preservation activities to discover more hidden natural treasures.
Colleen Chiu, Senior Project Manager (Nature Conservation) of the Environmental Association, oversaw the training programme for the 40 ambassadors. She recalled that at first, many of them had only joined the programme to learn about growing and appreciating plants, yet gradually they began to see the broader benefits for the community and the environment.
At the beginning of this year, the Environmental Association launched the “Nature LINK” scheme. Sponsored by Link Together Initiatives, the scheme aimed to transform the outdoor spaces at Sau Mau Ping Shopping Centre and Tsz Wan Shan Shopping Centre into butterfly habitats. Both butterfly gardens were successfully established and Colleen says they have now achieved what they set out to do: bring ecological reserves to Hong Kong’s urban areas. In 2022, the Environmental Association will continue to work with Link to build three more butterfly gardens – at Choi Ming Shopping Centre in Tseung Kwan O, Kai Tin Shopping Centre in Lam Tin and Chung On Shopping Centre in Ma On Shan – to further educate and raise awareness about environmental and ecological preservation.
Colleen has also observed different ways in which the butterfly gardens have enhanced community engagement: more people resting and visiting the gardens, spurring conversations with ambassadors and residents. She notes there is also a general sense of increased ownership among all visitors – for example some of them helped to lift trees up after they were blown down after a recent typhoon, while others simply check on the plants while exercising in the garden every day. The next training programme is coming up in 2022, and Colleen looks forward to seeing more residents from the community join. The admitted ambassadors will be able to participate in the design and construction of new butterfly gardens and to take part in building a better community while contributing to ecological and butterfly preservation. Colleen believes that by giving residents the chance to design and manage butterfly gardens, it can raise their sense of belonging to the communities. “If the plants and natural environment are all part of the community, then people tend to cherish them more,” she says.
“We really appreciate the support from Link, which has allowed us to build butterfly gardens within shopping malls in our communities. This is new for Hong Kong, and we are grateful that Link is supportive of this novel concept,” says Colleen. She expects to create territory-wide urban “Ecological Stepping Stones”, which means building ecological hotspots in different districts that connect with each other. With the extensive network of Link’s shopping centres covering the entire Hong Kong, Colleen believes it is an ideal starting point for creating an ecological network to provide urban habitats for butterflies. “Our long-term goal is to connect Hong Kong’s urban areas to the natural environment sustainably, so we aim to build a city-wide ecological network using the Link butterfly gardens as the starting points.”