Bukit Gombak Park and other upcoming parks: Have we missed the forests for the trees?

Bukit Gombak Park, which opened on 5 September 2021, used to be a mix of grass and scrubland that remained after the original tropical rainforest was cleared for agriculture two centuries ago.

While it is good to have about 1,500 new trees to improve the ecological connectivity of the region, the eastern part of Tengah forest near the park may soon be cleared as per HDB’s development plan.

The designated wildlife corridor in Tengah is considered too narrow as it does not have sufficient buffer spaces for the safe, quiet and undisturbed habitation of many wildlife. (Source of map: National Parks Board)

If so, it will restrict the effectiveness of Tengah forest corridor to facilitate movement of wildlife, especially amphibians, reptiles and mammals, since NParks seem to focus on birds and butterflies when designating parks and nature ways.

Having only 10% of the original Tengah forest left may result in a loss of half of the species, according to an ecological rule of thumb, as mentioned by Nature Society’s report.

Another section of the western portion of Tengah forest has been cleared, as of September 2021.

This ecological issue begs the question: Have we missed the forests for the trees?

Trees are amazing, no doubt.

They provide ecosystem services, such as purifying the air, providing shade, cooling the urban heat island effect, stabilising the soil, absorbing rainwater and preventing floods, capturing and storing carbon, and so on.

But in the context of tropical rainforests that once graced almost the whole of Singapore 200 years ago, the trees are never meant to exist in isolation or fragmented clusters.

The trees of the forests are meant to live together in close communities, supporting one another as well as providing food and shelter to a huge diversity of fauna species, which range from microorganisms to apex predators.

The bigger and denser a forest, the greater the biodiversity it can support and the more effective it is in providing ecosystem services that can also benefit human residents living nearby.

However, with barely 20% of our land occupied by unmanaged secondary forests that are left standing today (other than the nature reserves occupying less than 5% of Singapore’s land area), we have lost much of the original biodiversity and ecosystem services.

For every new park that opens with fanfare about how many new trees are planted near a residential area, a bigger proportion of the remaining forests elsewhere in Singapore is being sacrificed to build more roads and buildings.

Any potential benefits that are projected to be provided by the new trees in ten years’ time would be outweighed by the immediate costs of losing the mature trees in the forests that are being cut down for development.

These costs may include economic, health and environmental costs, resulting from increasing incidences of roadkills, human-wildlife conflicts, dengue and zoonotic outbreaks, urban heat island effect and flash floods in low-lying areas, as well as declining numbers of forest-dependent species.

P.S. Click here to support the preservation of at least 30-50% of Tengah forest to protect biodiversity and tackle climate emergency.