From a sleepy quiet post-independence island-state to a busy noisy city-state

The remnants of Tengah forest facing a housing estate on the opposite side of the road, where the melodious sounds of bulbuls could be heard on some days.

I remember when Singapore transited from the 1980s to the 1990s under a new national leadership, one of the key words used for a vision of Singapore’s future is “vibrant”.

“Vibrant” means full of energy and life.

As an example, the popular Music Television (MTV) culture was translated into Swing Singapore mass dance events that were held from 1988 to 1992.

The Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) network began in 1987 and continued to expand around the island, while passenger loads grew over the years to the point where the carriages are often full during peak hours these days.

Crowds in a train station on a typical weekday in 2016

Singapore also began to market itself to visitors around the world as a vibrant city with exciting nightlife.

These days, it is not uncommon to hear Singapore described as “the city that never sleeps”.

The 1980s period also saw a peak number of public housing construction projects all around the island, where secondary forests, former farms and plantations were cleared to make way for roads and buildings.

I remember when I was travelling around Singapore on a bus back then, I would often pass by a construction site with loud pounding noises of the huge machines.

Since then, Singapore has transformed from a relatively quiet, laid-back post-independence island-state to a fairly busy, noisy city-state.

Is that a sign of human progress or regress?

I suppose it depends on how one sees it.

For many urbanites, extroverts and adrenaline seekers, silence is often unwelcome, as it means boredom, lack of excitement, or even a reminder of a cemetery.

But for many nature lovers, introverts and empaths, silence is seen as a means to get in touch with ourselves and heal from the various trauma of life that has been repressed.

Fast forward to today, we are seeing some signs of fallout that have resulted (directly or indirectly) from the increase in the noise and stress levels.

Mental health issues are on the rise, partly because many of the cases have been unacknowledged and/or under-reported, and so are suicide cases.

Human-wildlife conflicts also become more common, partly because the wildlife are stressed from losing their forest homes and being near noisy traffic, and partly because many humans are ill-informed or wilfully ignorant on how to respect wildlife that invariably wander into gardens and housing estates.

Other than yoga centres and meditation centres, one is hard pressed to find quiet, uncrowded spaces for emotional healing and recovering from stress in Singapore, since many parks and gardens tend to be frequented by residents living nearby.

The Covid-19 pandemic since last year has also prevented many from travelling overseas to attend nature retreats or relax on beaches in other parts of Southeast Asia, such as Bali or Phuket.

Due to restrictions for oversea travels in view of the Covid-19 pandemic, many people in Singapore decided to visit local nature places during public holidays. During Good Friday holiday on 2 April 2021, crowds were seen along Green Rail corridor. (Source: MustShareNews)

This is where the few remaining secondary forests in Singapore come into the picture because they can serve as healing sanctuaries for the soul.

These forests also serve as buffers to protect the fragile nature reserves from being trampled by too many human visitors.

Do you think a “City in Nature” should have more forests while seeking to recycle previously developed lands for redevelopment in order to better optimise our land space?


One year after wild boar incident near deforested area at Pasir Ris Park

On this day, the mangroves are witnesses to the destruction that lay waste to the forest.

The echoes of the frightened wild boar escaping from its diminishing habitat reverberate till this day.

The sounds of the roaring wind from the sea appear to muffle the grating noise of the construction works.

From times past, the landscape has seen one forest patch after another flattened to become concrete blocks.

The wildlife inhabitants fled from one forest fragment to another, often invisible.

Until one day, when the last straw broke the camel’s back, one wild boar decided that enough was enough.

In its daze, it knocked down a human being along Sungei Api Api and fled.

The news broke the next day, and the reckoning of our self-destruction dawned on us.

No more deforestation, we tell ourselves and one another, for we have overstepped our planetary boundaries.

No more harm to our flora and fauna.

No more harm to our mental health.

No more damage to our warming climate.

No more damage to our ailing mangroves.

No more.

Reference: My Feedback on the survey on wild animals in Pasir Ris estate

My feedback on the EIS report regarding the proposed development at Tengah Forest North

I wish to thank Housing and Development Board (HDB) for inviting the public to provide our feedback on the Environmental Impact Studies (EIS) report for the Tengah North area.

I also wish to commend the EIS team for putting together a comprehensive EIS report covering the geomorphology, soil, hydrogeology, surface hydrology, water quality, ecology and biodiversity, airborne noise, ambient air quality, visual and landscape, waste management, and Environmental Management and Monitoring Plan (EMMP) at Tengah forest.

Given the tight window of review between 5 November and 3 December 2021 and my busy work schedule, I regret that my feedback may not be as detailed as I would like it to be.

Because of time constraints as well as space constraints in the online feedback form (which does not allow attachments of photos or documents), I will have to write my feedback in the form of a blog and post its link in the form. (This will also enable me to update my feedback as and when necessary to ensure it is as accurate and up-to-date as possible.)

For a summary of my concerns regarding the planned development of Tengah Forest Town as well as my proposed alternatives for HDB’s consideration, please refer to my post “How important is Tengah forest for dealing with climate emergency and biodiversity loss as well as improving our quality of life?” (dated May 2021), written in relation to the petition created by Roxane, Saniroz and me.

Below is my feedback concerning four main aspects of the EIS report:

  1. Environmental Impact Study (EIS) Requirement for the Project
  2. Ecology and Biodiversity
  3. Environmental Management and Monitoring Plan
  4. Land Use

1. Environmental Impact Study (EIS) Requirement for the Project

According to page 23 of the report, “Tengah Town is planned to be integrated with the area’s surrounding greenery and biodiversity. One major attraction will be the creation of an approximately 100 m wide and 5 kilometres (km) long Forest Corridor, in collaboration with NParks, is envisioned to form part of the larger network of greenery that connects the Western Water Catchment Area and the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR).”

Since Tengah forest serves to connect the Western Water Catchment Area and the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, we should ensure that it can facilitate the movements of endangered species, such as Raffles’ banded langur, leopard cat, Sambar deer and Sunda pangolin, for healthy genetic exchange and long-term survival. (Photo sources (L to R): Andie Ang, Marcus Chua, Charles J. Sharp, Piekfrosch)

I am heartened to know that Tengah forest is recognised as an important conduit of wild greenery between the two main water catchment areas in Singapore because we can use it to boost the chances of long-term survival of our critically endangered species, such as Raffles’ banded langur, leopard cat, Sambar deer and Sunda pangolin, besides other keynote species that are important for our ecosystems, as all organisms are interdependent and interconnected parts of Nature.

For example, there are about 60 Raffles’ banded langur individuals in Bukit Timah nature reserve (BTNR) and CCNR, whereas they used to be found in other places such as Tuas and Changi until the 1920s. Since Raffles’ banded langurs are endemic only to southern Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore, we cannot afford to be complacent, lest their population declines due to inbreeding and inadequate forested space.

Having such critically endangered species confined to only BTNR and CCNR is like putting all the eggs in one basket, which is risky and unwise because climate change can affect forests adversely, such as resulting in many trees dying from prolonged dry spells (or droughts) and becoming less resilient to pests and pathogens.

By helping their populations to expand to Western water catchment area via Tengah forest (and other ecological corridors in Bukit Batok and Bukit Gombak), as well as to Upper Thomson forest and Sembawang Woods in the east side of Thomson Nature Park, to Bukit Brown heritage park and Botanic Gardens in the south side of MacRitchie forest, and to Clementi forest and Dover-Ulu Pandan forest in the south side of BTNR, we can improve the chances of their long-term survival as a result of healthy genetic exchange.

If pushed past a certain tipping point, ecosystems may collapse and be unable to recover. Thus, we cannot guarantee that CCNR will be immune to the effects of climate change in the long term. (Source: theweirdandwild)

Similarly, there are only about 20 leopard cats estimated to live in the Western water catchment and CCNR today. Ever since tigers and leopards have become extinct by mid 19th century, the leopard cat is the only native wild cat left in Singapore. Thus, Tengah forest can be its crucial lifeline for long-term survival through ecological connectivity and healthy genetic exchange. As a signatory of United Nations Biological Diversity Convention since 1992, Singapore has a responsibility to conserve our biodiversity, especially our rare native species.

Like the leopard cats, the population of Sambar deer was estimated to be around 20. They were found only in CCNR, and may venture as far south as Bukit Brown heritage park. Since some of them live around Mandai area, one possible route they could take to move to Western catchment area is via Bukit Mandai, Green Rail corridor, Bukit Gombak and Tengah forest.

Last but not least, Sunda pangolins are estimated to number around 100 in the wild in Singapore. As some of them have been discovered and recorded in the EIS report for Tengah North, it is likely that the pangolins use Tengah forest as a core habitat for feeding and breeding, as well as an ecological corridor to move between Western water catchment and CCNR.

As suggested by Nature Society, eco-links are needed to help wildlife move between the eastern side of Tengah forest and the forests in Bukit Batok and Bukit Gombak. The eco-links may take the form of rope bridges (which are ideal for squirrels, macaques, langurs, etc), underground culverts (which are ideal for snakes, pangolins, etc) and/or some other means, so that certain mammals and reptiles can use them to cross the roads safely. (Photo by Jimmy Tan)

(Update on 17 May 2022)

As I regret that my original feedback was incomplete due to insufficient time to submit a more comprehensive response in view of the tight one-month public feedback period and my other commitments, I am wondering if the following proposals can be taken into consideration in your Environmental Monitoring and Management Plan for Tengah (which I mentioned in my recent feedback to HDB regarding the EBS report on Choa Chu Kang N1 and EIS report on Keppel Club site)?

For ease of reference, I have copied and pasted the relevant portions as follows:

(1) Avoid using chemical pesticides, including fumigation, in the vicinity, and instead leverage the help of natural predators of pest insects by ensuring the environment is conducive for frogs, toads, spiders, geckos, dragonflies, damselflies, etc to thrive (instead of concretising the ground surface and using harmful chemical sprays).

(2) Avoid or minimise the use of petrol-powered leaf blowers and lawn mowers, not only in (Tengah forest), but also in all housing estates, because they cause air and noise pollution (thus affecting people’s health and well-being), and harm microorganisms and invertebrates (which include pollinators, such as bees, wasps, moths, beetles and butterflies). 

(3) Observe holistically the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, such as SDG12 “Responsible consumption and production”, by changing the way we produce and consume goods and resources, in order to reduce our ecological footprint, and SDG15 “Life on land”, by conserving and restoring the use of terrestrial ecosystems such as forests and wetlands, halting deforestation to mitigate the impact of climate change, and reducing the loss of natural habitats and biodiversity which are part of our natural heritage.

Kindly refer to the weblinks below for more details of the proposals in the entire context:

P.S. In my feedback to NParks on 21 March 2022, I have also written the following:

Even if 140 ha of Tengah forest has been set aside for green spaces, it is uncertain if they refer to dense forests or open wooded parks, and it constitutes only 20% of the total area, which I am concerned may not be enough, in view of the relatively narrow designated nature way without much buffer space. As proposed in the petition to preserve 30-50% of Tengah forest to protect biodiversity and tackle climate emergency, we need to “preserve at least 30 to 50 percent of Tengah forest’s 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 risk of floods, zoonotic viruses and dengue diseases (as well as roadkills and human-wildlife conflicts), reducing 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.”

(From “My feedback to NParks et al regarding the culling of the wild boar captured in Yishun in March 2022“)