Below are some excerpts of the Channel News Asia Insider wildlife documentary.
Singapore is at the southernmost tip of the Malayan peninsular, so it is a very important pit stop for migratory birds travelling from the northern hemisphere, especially birds of prey (hawks and eagles), to refuel before continuing to fly over the vast expanse of the sea towards Indonesia between August and March every year.
(That means it is vital for us to conserve our existing forests in order to ensure a sustainable population of birds of prey migrating through our island.)
In the last 200 years, we have lost almost a third of our native wildlife.
Examples of extinct wildlife include the Malayan tiger and the cream-coloured giant squirrel. The giant squirrel used to be common until the 1960s, and it was last seen in 1995 (supposedly after Bukit Timah expressway was built, separating Bukit Timah nature reserve from the Central nature reserve).
The main cause of wildlife extinction in Singapore is habitat loss due to land use change or deforestation and urbanisation, making it difficult for the wildlife to find food and living space.
More than 1,600 native species are on the brink of extinction, according to the Singapore Red Data Book, first published in 2008.
It was estimated that only 67 Raffles Banded Langur were left living in the wild.
As more lands are cleared, more wildlife venture into urban spaces, resulting in forest animals getting stranded in people’s homes or getting injured or killed by moving vehicles or cruel people or cats and dogs, as observed by ACRES.
According to a 2007 study, there were about 1,000 Sunda Colugos left in Singapore, hence every single one of them matters. Though they can do a single glide further than the length of a football field, they may get stranded when they fall onto the ground or get trapped by barb wires on fences.
Sunda pangolins are critically endangered, and every life matters. They have a habit of venturing out of forests to explore and may get themselves injured or killed in unfamiliar urban areas.
Singapore freshwater crabs are rare, critically endangered and endemic to Singapore, found in hill streams in forests in Bukit Timah nature reserve, Bukit Batok and Bukit Gombak.
Narrator: What is at stake if this (Singapore freshwater crab) species vanishes from our hill streams?
Daniel Ng, Manager, Biodiversity (Terrestrial), NParks:
It plays a number of roles in the ecosystem. It will feed on leaf litter, as well as the animals that are present in the stream. It is also an opportunistic predator who will predate on small animals inside the stream. So, all these species are part of the ecosystem, or interdependent on each other. With the removal of one species, such as the Singapore freshwater crab, it may have an adverse impact on the stream ecosystem and potentially affect the entire stream ecosystem as well as its other inhabitants.
Narrator: So then, with the loss of one species, could the ecosystem collapse?
Daniel Ng: It’s possible.
Narrator: There is still so much that scientists don’t know, but if one tiny critter can potentially have a huge impact on our ecosystem, what about the most prolific group in the animal kingdom – the insects?
Delvinder Kaur, Junior animal care officer, Zoology, Wildlife Reserves Singapore:
Invertebrates are very unique. They play a part in almost every ecological process out there. We need them more than they need us. Insects are responsible for approximately 80% of the pollination out there. Pollination is needed for our crops, and that gives us food security.
Narrator: Without them, most plants can’t disperse their pollen, and butterflies are among some of the most important pollinators.
Most of the time, we tend to undermine (or underestimate?) the roles of insects in our ecosystem. But we have discovered approximately a million species. At the same time, scientists also predict there are so many more out there that we still have yet to discover. Having not discovered them, we don’t exactly understand the total impact of how much we are benefitting from them.
Phytoncides is a compound that protects plants from disease and bacteria, and inhaling them can boost our immunity and reduce stress.
Pangolins typically produce only one or two offspring every year, and they are notoriously hard to breed in captivity, so it is crucial to create the best chances for each male pangolin to sow their seeds in the wild.
Bernard Seah, Otter working group:
Our smooth-coated otters are a very urban and adaptive species, but not all animals that we find in Singapore are this adaptive. Singapore mainland doesn’t have ideal habitats , for example, for the Asian small-clawed otters to thrive – they need shallower waters, mangrove habitats, estuarine habitats, so it is important that we preserve some existing forests, mangrove areas.
The much publicised “Tengah Forest Town” development that is planned to clear 90% or more of the original forest has become a controversy. For a start, Tengah forest (aka Bulim forest) has a very impressive record of 262 fauna species, of which 60 are regarded as forest-dependent wildlife species and at least 44 species are nationally threatened, according to HDB’s baseline report dated 2017. The forest also has at least 33 species of plant life with “conservation significance”, as well as 159 significant large trees, of which 90% belong to the fig family (Moraceae). (Photos by Jimmy Tan)
This diagrammatic map illustrates that Tengah forest is a vital conduit and habitat supporting biodiversity and ecological connectivity between Western catchment area and Central catchment area, which are Singapore’s main terrestrial “green lungs”. They provide essential ecosystem services, including removing pollutants, purifying the air, absorbing carbon emissions, cleaning the soil, preventing flash floods, cooling the urban heat island effect, and providing food and shelter for living organisms. Thus, they potentially save billions of dollars’ worth of social, health and environmental costs that would be incurred if the forests were removed or reduced. (Satellite image dated May 2021 by Akihiko Hoshide)
It has been about two years since Housing and Development Board (HDB) has started development works in the 700-ha Tengah forest in early 2019 after fencing up its perimeter. It has resulted in the clearance of about 30% or more (or 210 ha or more) of the forest so far, in a bid to build a “forest town” in Singapore, which would be about the same size of Bishan housing estate.
To date, HDB has launched thousands of new BTO (Build-To-Order) apartment flats in parts of Tengah area in November 2018, May 2019, November 2019, August 2020, November 2020 and February 2021. In May 2021, another 782 HDB BTO flat residential units were launched in Tengah.
However, although an environmental baseline study (EBS) was done in Tengah forest in 2017, we urgently need to reconsider the ramifications of Tengah forest town development because concerns about rapid deforestation and urbanisation in Singapore have been raised by Nature groups and members of the public, especially in recent years.
These petitions have highlighted various negative consequences of continual deforestation, such as increased urban heat island effect contributing to climate change, endangerment of forest-dependent species and biodiversity loss, and threat to our physical and mental well-being as well as our very existence.
As the fate of Tengah forest is still hanging in the balance, this blog post serves to provide examples of its rich biodiversity and its indispensable function as an important ecological corridor connecting Western catchment area and Central catchment area. It also aims to highlight the fact that Tengah forest in its current state is crucial for dealing with climate emergency and biodiversity loss as well as improving our quality of life.
In view of the importance of Tengah forest (which we will read about below), we urgently need to preserve the rest of its remaining area as much as possible, or at least 30 to 50 percent of its original 700-ha size (or 210 to 350 ha). In order to do so, we need to:
heed Covid-19 pandemic (and resurgence of community cases) and other warning signs seriously and halt or minimise deforestation in Singapore, including in Tengah forest
treat climate emergency as it really is because we are running against time to deal with its existential threat to our survival, and Tengah forest is big enough to have a significant impact on our microclimate
protect our biodiversity in Tengah forest (and its connecting corridors and core nature areas) from further loss and endangerment of species
establish sizeable wildlife corridors and core habitats areas in Tengah forest in order to maintain a healthy ecosystem that benefits humans, flora and fauna
focus on redeveloping alternative sites or brownfield sites such as underutilised lands and abandoned schools etc in order to achieve a better and more sustainable future for ourselves and our future generations.
1. We need to heed Covid-19 pandemic (and resurgence of community cases) and other warning signs seriously and halt or minimise deforestation in Singapore, including in Tengah forest.
In view of the possibility that the coronavirus has made the jump from animals to humans in China since late 2019, the Covid-19 resurgence in local community cases in Singapore in late May this year is a cause of concern, especially in the wake of continual deforestation and urbanisation.
On 4 June 2021, scientists behind a new independent taskforce, which is hosted by Harvard University and will report to the coalition on Preventing Pandemics at the Source, said that ending the destruction of nature to stop outbreaks at their source is more effective and cheaper than responding to them.
“Recent research estimated the annual cost of preventing further pandemics over the next decade to be $26bn (£18bn), just 2% of the financial damage caused by Covid-19. The measures would include protecting forests, shutting down risky trade in wildlife, better protecting farm animals from infection and rapid disease detection in wildlife markets.”
Incidentally, earlier this year, we have been talking about adopting science-based approach and nature-based solutions in dealing with wildlife management and environmental issues. In the case of Tengah forest, National Development Minister Desmond Lee said:
“we recognised that the forests at the future Bukit Batok Hillside Nature Park and Bukit Batok Central Nature Park are important stepping stones between the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, and the future Tengah Forest Corridor. That is why we dedicated these nature parks as part of the Bukit Batok Nature Corridor – they will be kept lushly forested, so that they can strengthen not just the area’s green network, but also ecological connectivity between the Nature Reserve and Tengah.”
While it is good that we are taking the science-based approach towards wildlife management and forest conservation, we will be ignoring the scientists’ warnings about pandemics and environmental destruction at our peril. In other words, the conservation of Tengah forest (and other secondary forests) is a non-negotiable measure that we must take in order to deal with the urgent public health and environmental crises facing us.
2. We need to treat climate emergency as it really is because we are running against time to deal with its existential threat to our survival, and Tengah forest is big enough to have a significant impact on our microclimate.
On 1 February 2021, in response to the petitions and the questions raised by various Members of Parliaments (MPs) on behalf of concerned residents and citizens, the Singapore Parliament has rightly declared the issue of climate change a global emergency, recognising it as a “threat to mankind” that requires a concerted effort to “deepen and accelerate efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change, and to embrace sustainability in the development of Singapore”.
While the Green Plan includes the one-million tree planting programme, which is laudable, botanist Shawn Lum cautioned that “tree planting is beautifully complementary to, and not a substitute for, the care and protection of existing forest habitats.”
In fact, one of the most effective (and cost-effective) nature-based solutions to combat climate change, as also proposed by conservation scientist Professor Koh Lian Pin, is to “protect Singapore’s remaining forests and avoid further emissions from deforestation“.
Although the SG Green Plan may envision Singapore becoming a metropolis like London or New York, we need to bear in mind that unlike these cities in cool temperate countries, Singapore is a small tropical island-state. Since we experience hot, wet and humid tropical climate at the Equator, we cannot keep removing our default natural vegetation, which includes tropical rainforests, freshwater swamp forests and mangrove forests, without facing dire consequences on our health, safety and well-being as well as our flora and fauna.
Singaporean climate change scientist and professor Winston Chow attributed the rising temperatures to a phenomenon known as the “Urban Heat Island Effect,” which occurs when cities replace natural land cover with dense concentrations of concrete, pavement, buildings, and other surfaces that absorb and retain massive amounts of heat. He added:
“Singapore has definitely been getting hotter and every degree counts. The hot weather we’ve been experiencing recently is not only a clear indicator of climate change but also the effect of how rapidly urbanization alters local climates.”
“Climate change increases the risk of illness through increasing temperature, more frequent heavy rains and runoff, and the effects of storms. Health impacts may include gastrointestinal illness like diarrhea, effects on the body’s nervous and respiratory systems, or liver and kidney damage.”
In terms of economic and financial implications, it is likely that we will be spending billions of dollars improving healthcare infrastructure and access as well as covering increased medical bills when we see a rise in cases of heat waves affecting the human body and more severe storms and more frequent floods resulting in water-borne illnesses. There are also intangible costs, such as loss of reputation, lost recreation and the psychological impact on people, all of which feed back to the economy, as noted by Nanyang Technological University (NTU)’s head of economics, Euston Quah.
Similar concerns about climate change on the environment have also been raised by scientists around the world. For example, according to Professor Daniel Murdiyarso, principal scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), based in Bogor, Indonesia:
“Deforestation or removal of rainforests has certainly reduced the landscape capacity to absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide. Combined with the effect of climate change, it has caused the ecosystem to be more vulnerable to extensive droughts and wildfires. Rainforests are very fragile. Large-scale disturbance like deforestation or fires will not give them the chance to renew themselves.”
“Forests are needed to absorb carbon, but the overheating planet might soon flip a critical switch” (CNA, updated 4 May 2021)
Already, scientists are concerned that as much as 40% of the Amazon rainforest, which is more than 3,000 times the size of Singapore, may reach a tipping point in 50 years’ time, whereby it may collapse and morph into arid savannahs as a result of climate change.
So we cannot guarantee that we will not be spared from such an ecological catastrophe too, especially since our protected nature reserves occupy less than 5% of our total land area, while we continue to lose our spontaneous vegetation, which includes secondary forests, shrublands and scrublands, and which occupies only about 20% of our total land area.
(In contrast, Mauritius, also a tropical island like Singapore with a high human development index, has 47% of its total area occupied by forests. So, it may very well be a myth that we must keep on sacrificing our forests for economic development in order to enjoy a high standard of living and good quality of life.)
Thus, it is imperative for us to treat climate change as a real emergency and re-emphasise the importance of Tengah forest (as well as other secondary forests) for dealing with climate emergency and biodiversity loss as well as improving our quality of life.
3. We need to protect our biodiversity in Tengah forest (and its connecting corridors and core nature areas) in order to prevent further loss and endangerment of species.
Firstly, an environmental baseline study (EBS) had been initially done for Tengah forest by HDB. Given the findings of this baseline study, the vice-president of the Nature Society (Singapore) (NSS), Dr Ho Hua Chew has pointed out that Tengah forest harbours a rich biodiversity.
An academic paper on updating the classification system for secondary forests in Singapore has noted that rare, threatened or endangered species may be found in regenerating forests. Hence, nature groups and members of the public should be consulted as early as possible on urban planning before any environmental impact assessment (EIA) is carried out and before any developer is awarded a construction project contract tender for any forest patch.
Like Dr Andie Ang from the Wildlife Reserves Singapore Conservation Fund also noted, even if delays were to occur, it is better off to consult green groups and residents at the review stages of the URA Master plan. This is so that we can “ensure a higher quality of urban planning, which can minimise the impact on the environment and improve the overall quality of life for residents. Feedback at an early stage would also help planners to understand what residents want and to build accordingly”.
As it were, the general public were apparently not consulted in advance to gauge if there was a significant demand for housing in Tengah forest before HDB conducted EIA in the forest several years ago. Notably in February 2021, one day after the latest batch of BTO flats were launched in Toa Payoh/Bidadari, Whampoa/Kallang, Tengah and Bukit Batok, the latter two appeared to be not quite popular for home buyers. As the Straits Times noted:
“Those who wish to live in the non-mature estates of Bukit Batok and Tengah may have better luck as application rates were relatively low yesterday evening.”
Thus, in view of the rich biodiversity in Tengah forest and the relatively low initial demand for housing in Tengah, we need to seriously reconsider the need to develop the rest of Tengah forest as originally planned. We should also focus on redeveloping brownfield sites within reasonable distance from existing town amenities and infrastructure, such as vacant lands, underutilised lands, abandoned schools, etc, as well as building taller apartment blocks where possible in order to make up for any shortfall of planned flat units.
Secondly, according to a Straits Times article dated 23 February 2021, National Development Minister Desmond Lee said that “a more comprehensive picture of Singapore’s nature areas and how they connect to one another will be developed. The idea is to map out the islandwide ecosystem and connectivity to better consider how specific sites connect to nature areas, buffers and corridors.”
Indeed, we do need to take into account the big picture of biodiversity on a national scale instead of treating the development of Tengah Forest Town merely as a localised or discrete project. Hence, we need to acknowledge that in view of the rich biodiversity in the regenerating secondary forests between the Western catchment area and Central catchment area (which include Tengah forest, Bukit Batok Hillside Park ridges, Bukit Gombak forest (aka Little Guilin or Bukit Batok Town Park), Bukit Batok Nature Park and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, etc), it is paramount to preserve the remaining parts of Tengah forest as much as possible (which in fact is one of the largest contiguous patches of green space in Singapore, bigger than even the 163-ha Bukit Timah Nature Reserve).
This will ensure that the native wildlife, such as Sunda pangolins, Sunda colugos (or flying lemurs), palm civets, Malayan box turtles, green crested lizards and greater bamboo bats, have sufficient space to live, move, feed, reproduce and carry out pollination and seed dispersal, without ending up as animal roadkills or getting into conflicts with humans in residential areas, which may lead to injuries or even deaths.
As a testament to the rich biodiversity in Tengah forest, at least a dozen baya weavers’ nests have been found in the northeastern part of Tengah forest. This sighting, together with other wildlife sightings mentioned in this blog, suggests that there is abundant natural food supply and complex food webs of interconnected flora and fauna that already exist in the ecosystem.
From my understanding, HDB is currently doing a new Environmental Impact Study (EIS) in the north of Tengah, including the baya weavers’ nesting area that I have highlighted to them via OneService app. I was told that their EIS consultant will take into consideration my feedback when assessing the potential impacts from the development plans with mitigating measures to be recommended and implemented by the future contractor.
(It must be noted that the new EIS is being done in a smaller area within the original Tengah forest, which is already cleared in some parts. Hence, the results of the EIS may reflect lower biodiversity than before any construction work began in 2019, due to disturbances being caused to the flora and fauna by edge effects, light pollution, noise pollution, etc as a result of the forest clearances. In other words, this new EIS is unlikely to capture the full conservation value of the original Tengah forest, hence our review of the EIS report must take this reality into consideration.)
As for the beautiful flat yellow butterfly, it is described as rare in the forested plains of Singapore and Malaya, with only a few sightings in parts of Singapore, including Tengah forest. Moreover, according to Delvinder Kaur, junior animal care officer, Zoology, Wildlife Reserves Singapore, “insects are responsible for approximately 80% of the pollination out there. Pollination is needed for our crops, and that gives us food security”. Given Tengah forest’s close proximity to Kranji countryside where farms are plentiful in Lim Chu Kang and Neo Tiew areas, the proliferation of insects, such as bees and butterflies, in Tengah forest is crucial for pollination of crops in the nearby farms to ensure food security for us. This also means that we shouldn’t just focus on protecting rare, endangered and/or endemic species (as crucial as they are), but we should also seek to accommodate common species because they also contribute uniquely to functional diversity, and both rare and common species are all interrelated and interdependent in the ecosystem.
Both Sunda pangolins and straw-headed bulbuls are globally critically endangered, and their populations are also threatened by poachers for illegal wildlife pet trade. NSS has reported that the confirmed presence of the Sunda pangolin with a young in Tengah forest “reveals that Tengah forest is not just a foraging ground for the species but most notably a breeding ground as well”.
As for the straw-headed bulbuls, they have become extinct in Thailand and parts of Indonesia and are facing a decline in Malaysia. It is estimated that at least 202 individual straw-headed bulbuls are distributed over multiple forest patches, including Tengah forest, in Singapore, which has become a crucial global stronghold for preventing them from becoming extinct in the wild. It would be tragic if such critically endangered species were to disappear altogether in the wild right under our nose due to our neglect to take care of ecological connectivity (just like how the large forest gecko and cream-coloured giant squirrel became extinct after Bukit Timah expressway (BKE) was built in the 1980s) when we have the knowledge and the means to protect them and their natural habitats.
Notably, the presence of eagles (also known as raptors or birds of prey), which are apex predators at the top of a food chain, indicates a healthy, thriving ecosystem in Tengah forest, where there exists a complex food web consisting of plant producers, microorganisms, herbivores, carnivores and omnivores. Also, the endangered changeable hawk-eagles, near-threatened grey-headed fish eagles and near-threatened long-tailed parakeets are forest-dependent native wildlife, hence their populations may be adversely affected if we continue to destroy our secondary rainforests, such as Tengah forest, and replace their natural feeding and breeding grounds with parks, gardens and roadside trees around concrete buildings.
Like Mr Lim Liang Jim, Group Director of National Biodiversity Centre who oversees NParks’ Nature Conservation Masterplan, said:
“We really don’t know at this point in time how species interrelate. So, it could even be a butterfly effect. If you lose one small species, you will never know what it will result in the long term to the health of the forestry.”
(Note: The aforementioned insects, birds and mammals are just some examples of the numerous important native wildlife in Tengah forest. Do refer to Nature Society Singapore (NSS)’s Position Paper on HDB’s Tengah Forest Plan here for more details on its flora and fauna.)
4. We need sizeable wildlife corridors and core habitat areas in Tengah forest in order to maintain a healthy ecosystem that benefits humans, flora and fauna.
Firstly, while it is somewhat encouraging that the town planners have set aside 50 ha out of 700 ha to create a wildlife corridor of 100 m wide in the Tengah forest town development plan to facilitate animals’ movements as a connector, NSS feels that its effectiveness in helping the wildlife adapt to the change with this corridor is questionable.
According to NSS, the 100 m width will not be enough to mitigate disturbances for wildlife because 50 m is the standard buffer for a forest habitat on all flanks and there will not be any interior space. This will be tragic for the rich wildlife currently inhabiting the area.
Secondly, it is worrying that under the HDB’s plan, only up to 10% of Tengah’s original forest is retained. This means that half of the species there could be wiped out, based on an ecological rule of thumb, the NSS said. Even though HDB said that some 20% of the land in Tengah will be set aside for “green spaces”, the replanted young trees and crops in man-made parks and community gardens and farms cannot substitute the regenerating secondary forest in terms of ecosystem services and biodiversity support.
Thirdly, if we were to consider the percentage of forest cover found in housing estates in Singapore, Bukit Batok actually tops the list. It is estimated that Bukit Batok has 17% forest cover, because about 190 ha out of a total area of 1,113 ha is occupied by the forests in Bukit Batok Town Park (77 ha), Bukit Batok Nature Park (36 ha), Bukit Batok Hillside Park area Hill 1 and Hill 2 (30 ha), Bukit Batok East Forest (30 ha) and Bukit Batok Central Nature Park (17 ha).
Thus, it would be incongruous to proclaim Tengah as Singapore’s first “forest town” when its planned forest cover of a paltry 50 ha pales in comparison to that of its neighbouring town Bukit Batok. At this point, credit must be given to the town planners for having set aside 190 ha of the total area of Bukit Batok for the forests. Bukit Batok is a role model for other towns to emulate for its wild green spaces that provide essential ecosystem services and support biodiversity. It is also hoped that no further deforestation should be carried out in Bukit Batok after the unfortunate clearing of part of Bukit Batok Hillside Park area in February 2021 for housing development because the forests there are vital for ecological connectivity.
At the same time, we need to ask ourselves: “Will the word “forest” in the name “Tengah forest town” be merely used as a form of tokenism? Or will it be prioritised to honour the native species whose previous generations have existed and used the forest as a habitat and ecological corridor long before our forefathers arrived on this island?” If it is the latter, then we need to ensure that Tengah “forest town” lives up to its billing by preserving at least 30% to 50% of the original forest cover. May we refer to the map showing the two core areas for wildlife as proposed by NSS below?
As proposed by NSS’s position paper on Tengah Forest, “the eco-links/bridges that should be created as the essential part of the Tengah Nature Way (TNW) need to be set up first — prior to the further clearing of the forest after Phase 1. This will at least allow the wildlife to disperse to whatever available green refuges outside the Tengah development zone. Otherwise, the problem of wildlife roadkills will be re-enacted as in the tourism development at the Mandai Lake Road recently. Most importantly, some core areas must be designated and left untouched for the future survival of the wildlife within the Tengah Forest itself — so that some, if not all, of the forest-affiliated species recorded there will still have a home for their long-term survival”.
“The Tengah Nature Way is the culmination of the first ever large-scale scheme to promote ecological connectivity, guided with ecological principles, in our town planning processes and we are certainly heartened by this bold plan, but given the rich biodiversity that exists at Tengah Forest, more should be done in terms of biodiversity protection for both resident and migratory species through the setting aside of some parts of the forest as core habitats.”
5. We need to focus on redeveloping alternative sites or brownfield sites such as underutilised lands and abandoned schools etc, in order to achieve a better and more sustainable future for ourselves and our future generations
As mentioned earlier, we should also focus on redeveloping brownfield sites within reasonable distance from existing town amenities and infrastructure, such as vacant lands (such as mowed lawns in Bukit Batok, Jurong, Choa Chu Kang, etc), underutilised lands (such as open carparks), abandoned schools (such as the now defunct Jurong Junior College), etc, as well as building taller apartment blocks (within the vicinity and/or elsewhere in Singapore) where possible in order to make up for any shortfall of planned flat units.
Just as the SG Green Plan 2030 advocates that “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle” will become a norm for citizens and businesses, with a national strategy to address e-waste, packaging waste and food waste, we should apply the same 3R principle for recycling our existing built-up lands in order to conserve Tengah forest (and other secondary forests such as Clementi forest, Dover-Ulu Pandan forest, Bukit Brown forest, Pang Sua woodlands, Kranji forest, Sembawang woods, etc) as much as possible. This will ensure that sustainable development will be a living reality for us all. In fact, the following statement released by the Ministry of National Development also supports the move to recycle existing built-up lands.
“In the past, we could build new homes on swathes of undeveloped open land. Now, after 55 years of building and development, there are far fewer of these, and it has become more challenging to balance competing uses for land. In order to continue providing good homes for Singaporeans, we will have to recycle previously developed land.”
Last but not least, it appears that the upcoming Tengah forest town is designed not so much to accommodate genuine home buyers who may be facing prospects of homelessness, but rather to appeal to property investors. The article “Residential hotspots: Districts shaping up to be interesting investment bets” (1 April 2021) reveals such intent with key words like “investors”, “home upgrading”, “property market”, etc. For example, it states “Home-owners in Tengah are likely to look towards the nearest growth centre, JLD (Jurong Lake District), for home upgrading opportunities after serving out their minimum occupation periods (MOPs). While there are no current launches in the JLD, projects such as Parc Clematis and Clavon have seen positive reception from the market as investors buy into the growth potential of the JLD.”
This trend of home upgrading and property investment shows that public housing today is a far cry from what it used to be in the 1960s when many people had lacked safe housing with proper sanitation. Hence, is it justifiable that we continue to sacrifice our few remaining secondary forests to build more BTO flats instead of redeveloping underutilised lands? We are talking about existential threats to our native flora and fauna because it is a matter of life and death for them, whereas for many of us, it is just a matter of material comfort and convenience rather than basic survival or a real housing crisis.
In other words, the proposed development of Tengah forest town seems to be a case of “induced demand” for public housing. There seems to be a growing trend that many people buy BTO flats not because they have no place to live or have a genuine need to move out of existing homes, but rather because more supply of flats invites people to buy property for upgrading and investment.
In the context of climate emergency and biodiversity loss, even if there are people who have a genuine need for new housing or if they want to upgrade and invest in property, it should be better for them to consider resale flats, private property, etc, or at the very least, choose locations where BTO flats are built on existing built-up lands such as mature housing estates, rather than our precious few remaining greenfield sites, such as secondary forests like Tengah forest, Dover forest, etc.
In view of the sheer importance of Tengah forest for dealing with climate emergency and biodiversity loss as well as improving our quality of life, it would be very much appreciated if the authorities could:
preserve the rest of Tengah forest as much as possible, or at least 30 to 50 percent of its original 700-ha size (or 210 to 350 ha) for purifying the air, cleaning the soil, removing pollutants, cooling the urban heat island effect, supporting biodiversity, preventing/mitigating the risk of floods, zoonotic viruses, dengue diseases, saving electricity usage for air-conditioning, enhancing our physical and mental health etc, thereby potentially saving billions of dollars of public funds and personal/household expenses, in terms of healthcare, socioeconomic and environmental costs.
allocate the aforementioned two core habitat areas within Tengah forest to serve as essential resting/feeding/breeding spaces for wildlife, as proposed by NSS
designate eco-links in both the western and eastern parts of Tengah forest to facilitate safer and easier movement of wildlife along the ecological corridors and nature areas between Western catchment areas and Central catchment areas
ensure that the wildlife moving along the long, narrow Tengah Nature Way are protected from traffic noise from the expressway and potential human disturbances from the surrounding new/upcoming residential areas as much as possible
release the latest EIS report on the north of Tengah to Nature groups and members of the public for our feedback and review when it is ready for early engagement in the planning and development process, before any further development work starts and before any developer is awarded the tender for any construction project done in Tengah forest.
The last point is in line with the key changes made to the existing environmental impact assessment (EIA) framework in 2020, which include the following:
“The third change to the framework will see the planning process – and not just the development work itself – become more sensitive to Singapore’s natural environment. This will be done through earlier engagement with nature groups in the planning and development process, and through the introduction of a course on basic ecology and the EIA process for planners from development agencies.”
“Development works in Singapore to be more sensitive to wildlife under changes to EIA framework” (25 October 2020)
“We have to look at forests as a whole and not in compartments. You cannot talk about intact forests without talking about the wildlife that lives in the forest. So even if you preserve a green corridor or a strip of greenery, but if it’s an inadequate space for wildlife to really thrive in, that’s not fully protecting our biodiversity.”