Bukit Batok Hillside Park area: First forest tour of the new year 2021 and notes on nature conservation

View of Bukit Batok Hillside Park area from Bukit Gombak

The year 2021 is off to a cool start, as we are currently experiencing the northeast monsoon season and La Nina effect, which have been bringing intense storms in the Southeast Asian region.

Due to the prolonged monsoon rains during the first couple of days of the new year, the temperature in Singapore dropped to as low as 21.2 degrees Celsius on Saturday, 2 January 2021.

The rain abated by Sunday morning, 3 January, thankfully, as about 20 participants and I were able to embark on our first forest tour of the year at Bukit Batok Hillside Park (BBHP) area.

As we are now in Phase 3 of COVID-19 circuit breaker, we divided ourselves into smaller groups for safe distancing during the tour.

Approximate route taken by the tour groups. We saw a huge fig tree near the stream. Considering that there are a number of fairly mature trees providing ecosystem services in the lower elevation parts of the forest, Bukit Batok Hillside Park area is worth conserving in its entirety, instead of having parts of the area destroyed and developed for housing.
Little forest creatures, such as slugs and butterflies, were seen in the hillside park area.
An immersive hiking experience in the cool interior of the surreal forest in our backyard, which is reminiscent of the mossy forest in Cameron Highlands, Peninsular Malaysia
(Photo by Shawal Yeo)
View of the surroundings from the lookout point atop the hill. We could see the destruction of Tengah forest for housing development going on behind the new Build-To-Order (BTO) flats under construction.
Grey or green environment? The kind of future we want to create is in the hands of our current and future generations.
(Photo by Shawal Yeo)
Hiking in the forest is good for our physical and mental health. Exposure to the phytoncides given off by trees and other plants boosts our immune system. We need to preserve the lower elevation parts of the forest as well, for ease of access for both native wildlife and hikers from all walks of life.
(Photo by Shawal Yeo)
Our forest is the lungs of the Earth. While it is good to replant trees for enhanced greenery, the trees in our dense forests purify the air and cool our surroundings much more effectively than fragmented parks, manicured gardens and roadside trees.
(Source: vegantipster on Instagram)
The refreshing natural stream cascading down the forested slope is a rare sight in urbanised Singapore. Given the fragile nature of the water catchment area, if construction were to take place in the vicinity, it could adversely affect the water quality and liveability of the ecosystem for our native flora and fauna, such as forest-dependent birds and amphibians (e.g. greater racket-tailed drongos and copper-cheeked frogs).
Different kinds of mushrooms are found growing in the forest, which is Nature’s pharmacy. We need to conserve our forests and train young botanists and ecologists who can identify medicinal plants for our healthcare needs.
(Photo by Shawal Yeo)
The objective of the tour in Bukit Batok Hillside Park area is to experience the forest for ourselves and share our experience with others. Our flora and fauna cannot speak for themselves, so we are their eyes, ears and voice, by which we can help raise awareness about the need to conserve this entire ecological corridor between Tengah forest and Bukit Batok central nature park.
(Photo by Shawal Yeo)

Conversation on nature conservation and sustainable development

Meanwhile, let’s have a conversation on nature conservation and sustainable development to answer some questions anticipated from critics of environmentalism.

Q: Is it true that we are experiencing global warming, now that we are experiencing cool rainy weather? Do we really need to be concerned about deforestation?

A: Global warming is a long-term climatic trend, not subject to daily or seasonal changes.

Though we may be experiencing cool temperatures of 22-24 degrees Celsius during the rainy northeast monsoon season, we may also experience hot dry intermonsoon seasons at other times of the year.

It is projected that Singapore will experience an increase of as much as 4.6 degrees Celsius by the year 2100.

That means the maximum daily temperature may reach as high as 39.6 degrees in 80 years’ time.

Such hot weather conditions can be detrimental to our health and well-being, especially those vulnerable to climate change, such as the very young, the elderly, the disabled and the sick.

Hence, the time to stop deforestation and focus on redevelopment of brownfield sites is now.

Sizeable dense forests (of 10 ha or bigger) can cool the surrounding air in a built-up urban area more effectively than small parks and gardens.

For example, Bukit Batok is generally 1.5 degrees Celsius cooler than Toa Payoh because Bukit Batok is surrounded by dense forests, whereas Toa Payoh has only roadside trees, and its mainly open-spaced town park has limited cooling ability.

Q: Is our ecosystem really experiencing a crisis? We seem to be getting on fine even after losing more than 95% of our original rainforests and at least 50% of our original flora and fauna in the past 200 years.

A: Let’s consider this analogy.

If you have been eating unhealthy food regularly, such as fast food, for a number of years, you may look healthy outwardly, but inwardly, your blood vessels are clogging with saturated fats.

Occasionally, you may fall sick, or even experience some organ disease and seek treatment.

As you continue to eat unhealthy foods regularly for another 20 to 30 years, you may have to become dependent on medication just to stay alive and prevent yourself from getting a stroke or heart attack.

Would you say that you are still healthy, or are you experiencing a health crisis?

Similarly, if we continue to destroy our remaining secondary forests, even though we seem to be able to go on our daily lives as usual, we are actually spending millions of our public funds to mitigate the negative consequences, such as flood prevention, dengue fever control, heat mitigation, etc.

“The incidence of dengue, caused by viruses spread by the Aedes mosquito, has increased 30-fold in the past 50 years…. Increased urbanisation, travel and migration, the pressures of globalisation, and global warming are likely to maintain dengue transmission at high levels and continue to result in major outbreaks in affected countries.”

(Source: “Act against dengue now with tools that exist“, 24 July 2015)

Suppose we stop spending on all these damage control measures, can we still say we can live as per normal (as compared to, say, indigenous peoples who have been living in tropical rainforests for thousands of years in a simple, sensible and sustainable manner)?

Can we survive the next extreme storm without any expensive flood control technology?

Can we survive the dengue fever outbreak caused by deforestation without any expensive vector control measures of mosquito-frequented urbanised areas?

Can we survive the worsening urban heat island effect without having to spend millions of dollars on mass airconditioning, designing and constructing “green” buildings, etc?

Until we acknowledge the problems and have honest conversations on nature conservation and stop further deforestation (and instead choose to redevelop brownfield sites), we and our future generations will continue to bear the massive costs of environmental degradation and unsustainable development.

P.S. Click here to support the petition to save the forests in the entire Bukit Batok Hillside Park area from housing development.

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2 thoughts on “Bukit Batok Hillside Park area: First forest tour of the new year 2021 and notes on nature conservation

    1. Yes, considering the total area of the forest corridor (including the neighbouring hill) is around 30 ha, I would say the forest is sizeable enough to not only be a little cooler and more humid inside, but also to cool the surrounding area and alleviate the urban heat island effect.

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