Below are my views on other environmental sustainability issues I am concerned with personally for Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE)’s reference.
Increasing local food production to ensure food security should go beyond importing food from more countries and relying on agrotechnology (or high-tech farms).
We should learn from indigenous traditions that rely on Nature-based practices, such as chemical-free soil-based permaculture, aka food forests. This is to ensure that if global supply chains are disrupted or if a global energy crisis occurs, we can still be self-sustainable without relying on food imports or resource-intensive industrial farms. Food forests also serve to protect biodiversity, cool the urban heat island effect, relieve stress and anxiety through forest therapy/bathing, and ensure that we get the necessary nutrition from organic foods instead of mere calories from nutrient-depleted foods, in order to maintain a strong immune system. We can learn from world history that shows how indigenous communities have been successfully surviving and thriving through self-sustaining, regenerative, low-consumption, high-nutrition lifestyles in tropical rainforests (such as the Amazon, Congo Basin and Southeast Asia) over thousands of years, while many empires with advanced technology of their days, such as the Mayan, Babylonian, Greek and Roman empires, could not last more than a few centuries, despite having been prosperous materially and outwardly, because of their self-destructive mindsets and unsustainable lifestyles.
In Singapore’s context, that means having a fusion of traditional soil-based farms (or food forests) and high-tech farms in Lim Chu Kang and Kranji countryside, as well as secondary forests, such as Tengah forest, Bukit Batok nature corridor and Khatib nature corridor, where there are already traditional farms being managed by the older local folks who grew up in kampongs. It would be unwise to force them out of the forests and let their expertise and experience go to waste while they also become prone to senility or dementia from being cooped up in a highly concretised environment. Having said that, I support having more urban farms in housing estates and on multistory carpark rooftops for added food security, although these should not be seen as substitutes for the need to conserve and restore our forests.
(to be continued, as it takes time to research and write based on the latest available information to ensure accuracy and relevance to our national conversation)
Earlier today, I noticed that parts of Bukit Batok South Hill area (next to Bukit Batok hillside park) have been denuded of trees and shrubs, and the heavy monsoon rain has washed the exposed topsoil away, causing soil erosion.
On a steep slope along Bukit Batok West Ave 9 opposite Block 467B, the clearing of vegetation appeared to have resulted in a tree losing its stability and falling onto the pavement.
These hazards suggest that we have crossed the ecological threshold through rapid deforestation and urbanisation – please see here for reference on a recent slope failure at Bukit Batok Hillside Park.
Moreover, along Bukit Batok West Ave 5 opposite Bukit Batok Hillside Park area, the cleared land along the perimeter of the marshy grassland may have caused the pavement to be flooded more easily during wet weather.
Even if the clearance of vegetation has been done to prevent overgrowth onto the pavement, it appears to have been done aggressively to the point where there is less tree and shrub cover to absorb the rainwater.
As this low-lying area was formerly a depression or valley between Bukit Batok South Hill and Bukit Batok Hillside Park before a road (aka Bukit Batok West Ave 5) was built to divide the two hills in 2018, it remains a freshwater marsh on both sides (which support a fairly rich biodiversity) and is also prone to flash floods.
May I urge the relevant authorities and agencies to keep any trimming or pruning of vegetation to a bare minimum in this area please?
This is to ensure that it will not affect the habitats of the wildlife (which include uncommon forest-dependent species such as red-legged crakes and copper-cheeked frogs, as recorded in the Environmental Impact Studies report) and it will also minimise incidences of flash floods, considering the fact that climate change is causing more frequent and more severe storms as reported in the news?
“As for rainfall, the IPCC said that in general, bouts of rain could become more intense and frequent with each additional degree of warming.”
From “IPCC report indicates Singapore could take bigger hits from climate change” (TheStraits Times, 9 August 2021)
Incidentally, I reported a case via One Service recently, in which the slippery pavement along Bukit Batok West Avenue 5 has caused me to almost slip and fall down while travelling along the pavement. The puddles and flash floods in this area during wet weather may pose a hazard to other pedestrians, joggers, cyclists and food delivery riders who use the pavements.
Last but not least, I learnt that NParks is currently covering several green areas (including Bukit Batok south hill and Bukit Batok hillside park area) and future parks in an environmental impact assessment (EIA) along Bukit Batok nature corridor, in line with its efforts to reduce fragmentation of habitats in Singapore.
“Mr Lee said that based on findings from the exercise, future environmental studies are expected to consider the ecological connectivity of the development site to other adjacent habitats.
Enhancement works in the nature corridor’s two parks will mainly consist of habitat restoration and other works that will help improve ecological connectivity, he added.”
From “Environmental impact assessment covering 122ha in Bukit Batok to start at end of year” (The Straits Times, 15 November 2021)
It would thus be inappropriate (and even unethical) to remove any trees along this critical part of the ecological corridor, which links Tengah nature way to Bukit Batok nature park and Bukit Timah nature reserve, especially while the EIA and ecological profiling exercise are still ongoing, as it would invariably affect the liveability of the environment and the biodiversity that depends on it.
Otherwise, the findings and results of the EIA may be skewed at the expense of the wildlife residents who live and move around here, as well as the human residents in Bukit Batok who have come to enjoy and appreciate the wild nature, the cool ambience, and the mental health and immune boosting benefits provided freely by the forests along Bukit Batok nature corridor, both now and for many generations to come.
Thank you for your attention.
Yours sincerely, Jimmy Tan San Tek
P.S. My feedback was submitted through One Service bot in Telegram via the blog weblink due to space constraints, as I wasn’t able to submit it via One Service app due to technical issues.
Indeed, climate change is a result of many parents, especially those in positions of influence and privilege, particularly in corporations and governments, who choose to live an unsustainable lifestyle or make decisions and policies that conform to the capitalistic economic system at the expense of our environment. As a result, our actions cause harm to the environment and affect the future of today’s children.
Come to think of it, if we see parenthood in a broader context, perhaps each of us can be a parent or mentor or guide to our younger generations, whether physically or spiritually.
Will our children and youths inherit a safe, diverse, inclusive and habitable world from us?
Will we also be teachable enough to learn (or relearn) the values of respecting and caring for Nature and sustainable living from them?
These core forest habitats are vital for native wildlife, such as critically endangered Sunda pangolins, common palm civets and wild boars, to rest, roost, forage and take refuge from apex predators, human disturbance and noisy motor traffic, otherwise they will be exposed to danger in open spaces and may also end up wandering into urban spaces and becoming roadkills or getting involved in human-wildlife conflicts.
(The above video records a sighting of a wild boar (whose species is invaluable for tree seed dispersal and regeneration of tropical forests) along the Green Rail Corridor between Pang Sua woodland and Kranji woods in February 2021. As noted in my feedback to NParks, wild boars are sensitive to disturbances of their natural habitat, which may force them to wander into residential areas. In 2017, a wild boar was involved in a conflict with a human being before it got into a fatal road accident in Hillview, about 2 km south of Pang Sua woodland.)
The EBS report noted that the “original vegetation at the Study Area was likely to be a mangrove swamp forest which was subsequently cleared for rubber plantations”. Since mixed vegetation, comprising mainly mature trees and shrubs, currently occupies around 15 ha of the study area, we should conserve and restore the forest to what it originally was as closely as possible, by naturalising Pang Sua canal and rewilding the woodland and Green Rail Corridor, in order to recreate a mix of lowland secondary forest and freshwater swamp forest (since the water in the canal is no longer saline after Kranji river has been dammed to form a reservoir).
This is because besides providing climate resilience and ecological connectivity, Pang Sua woodland is also a sanctuary for human residents and visitors to seek relief from the heat and stress of urban living that affects physical health and mental well-being.
Taking into consideration the official responses to public feedback on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) reports regarding recent planned housing development projects in greenfield sites, such as Bukit Batok hillside park area and Dover-Ulu Pandan forest in 2020-2021, I would like to address possible objections or questions concerning the conservation and restoration of Pang Sua woodland, which is proposed by Nature groups and Nature enthusiasts, including me.
1. Is Pang Sua woodland still worth conserving since it isn’t near any nature reserve in Singapore?
As shown in the map below, Pang Sua woodland is a core habitat located at the Green Rail Corridor (as also noted in the EBS report). It is connected to Tengah forest and Western water catchment via Hillview and Bukit Gombak within 2-3 km in the south. It is also connected to Kranji woods and Sungei Buloh wetlands reserve, Kranji coastal nature park and Mandai mangrove mudflats in the north. To the northeast, it is linked to Bukit Mandai (within 2-3 km) and Central catchment nature reserve.
2. Should Pang Sua woodland be conserved fully as it doesn’t seem to have very much biodiversity?
Critically endangered pangolins have been seen using Pang Sua canal and woodland as an ecological corridor, which may also be used by straw-headed bulbuls as a stepping stone. It is a vital conduit to ensure their safe movements and healthy genetic exchange so as to sustain their existence in the long term. Even the common species, such as rain trees (Samanea Saman), serve as shelter and provide food for less common species.
Incidentally, the pangolin is one of the six indicator species identified in NParks’ island-wide ecological profiling exercise, which were selected “as they are sensitive forest dwellers that may venture out to forest edges, provided suitable habitat is created for them there”.
Even as Singapore’s strict enforcement of the ban of international trade of pangolins is commendable and should be applauded, it seems contradictory that our local pangolin population continues to face the risk of habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation, as well as roadkills, due to ongoing urban encroachment which threatens their existence and safe movements in core habitats and wildlife corridors, such as Tengah forest and Pang Sua woodland.
3. Isn’t there a strong demand for public housing, and shouldn’t human needs come first instead of nature conservation?
Regardless of the reasons for a strong demand for public housing, brownfield sites (such as old or underutilised industrial sites, abandoned schools, open car parks, golf courses whose leases are expiring soon, old HDB flats nearing their 99-year lease that can undergo Selective En Bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS) or Voluntary Early Redevelopment Scheme (VERS) as early as possible, etc) should be prioritised over greenfield sites for housing development or redevelopment projects. For example, the heavy vehicle carpark and defunct bus terminal near Pang Sua woodland can be recycled to build tall Build-To-Order (BTO) flats. Also, human needs aren’t restricted to just housing, but also physical health and mental well-being. Since Singapore is already heating up twice as fast as the rest of the world, it would be detrimental to one’s health and well-being in the long run when one lives in a highly built-up area in hot sweltering conditions, even if it is within 10 minutes’ walk to small pocket parks, as they can hardly cool the urban heat island effect in the surroundings.
4. Hasn’t the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) master plan 2019 already designated Pang Sua woodland for housing developmentmany years ago?
Much as we appreciate the efforts made by urban planners, we also need to acknowledge the fact that urban planning 10 or 20 years ago was different from today’s context. Back then, urban planners weren’t required to take a course on basic ecology and the EIA process, so they might not have taken habitat fragmentation and climate crisis into consideration adequately. The Climate Action Tracker has considered Singapore’s climate policies and actions to be highly insufficient as of July 2020. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has also declared Code Red for the climate emergency in 2021. We cannot afford to adhere rigidly to the master plan if we want to be responsive to be more climate resilient and prevent biodiversity collapse.
5. Should we not consider this issue as a zero-sum game, but rather consider how conservation and development can be done in tandem to have a certain balance, such as by replacing forest loss with replanted trees?
We can achieve that balance by prioritising the recycling of previously developed lands. It takes decades for newly planted trees to grow and mature to be able to provide the same level of ecosystem services and biodiversity support as the existing mature trees, so forest conservation needs to take precedence over tree planting, inasmuch as the latter is also important.
For example, Pang Sua woodland functions as a natural “rain garden” to absorb rain and purify surface runoff and groundwater flow that goes into Pang Sua river.
The river flows into Kranji reservoir, where the water will be treated before it is transported to residential and industrial areas.
Such essential ecosystem services are provided by Pang Sua woodland free of charge.
Hence, conserving the forest would be a cost-effective and self-sustaining nature-based solution to ensure water security, rather than removing the forest and replacing it with man-maderain gardens which will cost a lot of time and resources.
Then again, that might well be a pipe dream that would only come true in an ideal or enlightened world.
This is because if we continue to subscribe to the environmentally destructive capitalistic economic system that prioritises Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth over ecological health, then we will be tempted to justify clearing the trees to sell the land to developers, and give more business to architects, landscaping companies and property agencies.
(A case in point: property agencies were quick to chime in after the government announced their response to public feedback on the Environmental Baseline Study for Dover-Ulu Pandan forest in end July 2021.)
We will also be tempted to justify using public funds to plant a man-made rain garden to replace the existing woodland and then credit it to our national efforts to transform Singapore into a “City in Nature”.
Surely by creating (preventable) problems through incessant deforestation and urbanisation in order to solve them using expensive technology, we can then profess to achieve our Key Performance Indicators (KPI) and present Singapore as a smart and sustainable nation?
Or should we be working towards the implementation of a less resource-intensive and more sustainable and equitable economic model that actually respects ecological boundaries and connectivity, instead of finding ourselves gravitating towards greenwashing while heading towards self-destruction?
6. Isn’t it a fact that Singapore is a small island-state and doesn’t have a large hinterland like bigger countries?
Yes, it is precisely because Singapore is a small tropical island that it should be respected for originally having tropical rainforests and mangrove forests that are best suited to the hot, wet and humid equatorial climate, instead of being dominated by the increasing number of buildings and roads that are worsening the urban heat island effect virtually every year.
As rightly declared by the Singapore Parliament in February 2021, climate change is an existential crisis. Public housing is not, even though it is a hot-button issue (despite Singapore’s low birth rate, slow or zero population growth and high public housing occupancy rates). Have we been getting our priorities right in our long-term planning review?
For example, the Singapore Green Plan 2030 mentions about our ambition to be transformed “from mudflats to metropolis”. Yet I have come to realise something about the science of mangrove mudflats:
The very thing that we seemed to be ashamed of in the past is now helping us deal with the very crisis that we have brought upon ourselves because of our disrespect for and over-exploitation of Nature in the name of (unsustainable) economic development.
If we compare our post-independence narrative of the 57-year-old city-state with the natural history scientific narrative of our thousands-of-years old rainforest and mangrove forest heritage of a tropical island located at the Equator, I wonder how much we are actually force-fitting the concept of “eternal” economic growth and increasing population growth and density without further risking our climate, ecological and mental health thresholds.
Maybe we need to consider adapting the doughnut economic model for better sustainability and rethink the ambition to go “from mudflats to metropolis” because the mangrove mudflats (and forests) have been shown to help boost climate resilience, mitigate urban heat island effect and floods, and protect biodiversity and mental health of our population.
Thus, conserving and restoring our forests, including Pang Sua woodland, is a scientifically proven, cost-effective, nature-based solution to deal with the danger of declining quality of life and deteriorating health and well-being for the populace (especially those who are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, such as the very young, the elderly, those with pre-existing health conditions, those who work outdoors and those who lack access to adequate air-cooling devices or facilities) in a metropolis that isn’t suited to a hot humid tropical climate in the first place.
Summary of my proposal
I agree with the general recommendations on pages 71-72 of the EBS report, such as greening Pang Sua canal, establishing eco-links and planting trees intensively with shrubby undergrowth.
May I also propose the following scientific nature-based conservation and mitigation measures to further enhance the environment in Choa Chu Kang N1 study area, for the sake of better climate resilience, biodiversity support and public health protection in the long term?
(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). As mentioned earlier, fogging is not very effective and tends to make dengue-carrying mosquitoes more resistant and harder to kill. It also harms benign insects and microorganisms, which are vital to a healthy functioning of the ecosystem. Even the use of Wolbachia-Aedes technology may have unknown or undesirable side effects such as the mutation of mosquitoes. Hence, we should use ecologically friendly mosquito control measures, such as making the environment habitable to mosquitoes’ natural predators, such as frogs, spiders and dragonflies, in Pang Sua woodland (as well as all residential areas in Singapore), in order to prevent dengue outbreaks successfully.
(2) Avoid or minimise the use of petrol-powered leaf blowers and lawn mowers, not only in Pang Sua woodland, 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). For more than a decade, members of the public have been calling for these pollutive machines to be banned, as noted in my recent Youtube video about this issue. Otherwise, we are merely paying lip service to the importance of biodiversity when we cause harm to the various organisms (by mowing them down, compacting the soil, and destroying the weeds and wild flowers) instead of protecting them for giving us food security and maintaining a healthy functioning ecosystem.
(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.
For example, if we do not practise responsible consumption and production, and even if we commit the grievous error of destroying Pang Sua woodland and all the other remaining forests in Singapore to build more BTO flats, there will still be a strong demand for public housing, since we have not addressed the insatiable human desire to keep wanting to consume more and more resources at the expense of the environment (and ultimately our quality of life and our very survival).
Imagine the wildlife, such as pangolins, wild boars and palm civets, losing their forest habitats forever, while some humans occupy their former spaces just for a few years before moving or upgrading to another housing elsewhere.
The first scenario is largely a matter of life and death, while the second is largely a matter of lifestyle choice, comfort and convenience.
Ethically speaking, is it worth destroying forests (which are also natural habitats and wildlife corridors) just to cater to this kind of frivolous demand for public housing in greenfield sites (when we can choose instead to educate the public about environmental stewardship and sustainability and redirect such demand for housing towards renting flats/rooms, buying resale flats or new flats in previously developed lands, etc)?
Ecologically speaking, is it wise to replace forests with buildings and parks where newly planted trees take decades to grow, mature and provide the same level of ecosystem services as the existing large trees to combat climate emergency (in which we are racing against time “to avoid the worst ravages of climate breakdown“)?
Economically speaking, does it make sense to ignore the socioeconomic and health costs of losing forests while spending huge amounts of public funds to mitigate floods, dengue and zoonotic outbreaks, mental health crisis, etc?
“It has also been demonstrated that urbanicity could represent a possible risk factor for the spillover phenomenon, facilitating the virus transition from animals to humans via intermediate hosts. Particularly, deforestation policies may facilitate this process, resulting in the destruction of natural habitats of numerous species and reduction of biodiversity, as well as in greater interaction between wildlife and human activity.”
“Community involvement and stewardship will be a key strategy in realising our vision for the Rail Corridor as a vibrant, inclusive, and shared community space. Our community spaces can only become more vibrant when they are designed, programmed and cherished in partnership with the people who treasure, care for and use them.”
Indeed, it is only by treasuring and caring for our community spaces, such as Pang Sua woodland and Green Rail Corridor, will we be able to ensure that they become vibrant and inclusive, not only for ourselves but also the flora and fauna which co-exist with us.
(Photos of zebra dove, collared kingfishers, changeable lizard, monitor lizard and plantain squirrel taken by Jimmy Tan at Pang Sua woodland on 26 April 2022)
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.)
Below is my feedback concerning four main aspects of the EIS report:
Environmental Impact Study (EIS) Requirement for the Project
Ecology and Biodiversity
Environmental Management and Monitoring Plan
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).”
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.
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.
(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.”
I don’t profess to know all about wind, but maybe I can learn something new while sharing whatever little I know.
Physics teaches us that air flows from a high pressure area to a low pressure area.
That’s how wind is formed.
When a land area is heated up by the sun, parcels of air rise and condense to form clouds in the sky.
The rising air parcels cause the area to become less dense, creating low pressure.
The air from areas of high pressure will flow in as wind.
Some surfaces heat up faster than other surfaces, hence creating different areas of high and low pressures.
At the beach, the land heats up faster than the sea during the day, hence air flows towards the land as sea breeze.
On land itself, concrete buildings and asphalt roads heat up faster than parks and forests.
What happens when more forests are cut down to make way for cities?
We experience the urban heat island effect. 🌆
More heat. Stronger winds. More turbulence.
Multiply this effect over time and space, and we will get more extreme weather changes, such as more intense and/or prolonged storms, heat waves, droughts, etc in different parts of the world.
In the longer run, we describe the phenomena collectively as “climate change”.
When measured in terms of the average time span of 35 years, climate may be observed as predictable meteorological patterns, which are fairly constant.
Weather is less predictable, as it changes daily, or even hourly.
Of course, in a much longer term, such as thousands or millions of years, climate changes significantly.
That’s how we get ice ages in between long periods of global warming.
But in the Anthropocene that we live in, climate changes faster than ever before, due to unprecedented emissions of carbon from human activities, such as:
🌳 Deforestation to make way for urbanisation 🌳 Burning of fossil fuels for energy, transport, etc
This is where we are.
On a global scale, winds are influenced by the Coriolis effect, which has to do with Earth’s rotation. 🌏
It causes prevailing winds to rotate clockwise or anti-clockwise, depending on whether they are in the Northern or Southern hemispheres.
That’s how we get monsoons, cyclones, typhoons and hurricanes in different regions of the world, which are being made more extreme by climate change.
These severe weather events may result in natural disasters, such as flash floods, landslides, mudslides, slope failures, etc, which in turn may cause property damage, injuries and/or deaths of people who are affected.
Sumatra squall in Singapore, caused by the southwest monsoon.
Note: This post is meant to provide only a simplified explanation of climate change. Besides wind, temperature and rain, other weather elements, such as humidity and cloud cover, have a part to play in climate too. Local weather cycles affect global weather cycles, and vice versa. To make things more complicated, deep ocean currents also affect the climate on continents.
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.”
Imagine a zombie apocalypse scenario where there is hardly any human being seen in the city.
Where have all the human beings gone to?
The shiny skyscrapers and grand sculptures are left empty like giant whitewashed tombstones.
Are these buildings monuments of humankind’s glorious achievements?
Or are they stark reminders of a decadent dystopia?
In the hot sweltering oven of the sun-baked tropical desert, the air feels hostile and oppressive.
Seedlings of trees all across the island have stories to share.
Those who had the privilege and “good fortune” to be planted in the Gardens by the Bay are under protection by default.
Those who were “unlucky” to grow up in forests such as Bukit Batok Hillside Park live in fear that their days are numbered.
They have heard horror stories of how their tree relatives in Punggol, Tampines, Lentor, Bidadari and Tengah forest woke up one fine morning and heard the dreadful noise of the excavators that came rumbling in to clear their habitats.
Meanwhile, as the island reaches a boiling point, one wonders how long more humans continue the onslaught without destroying themselves.
Already, the city is simmering under the unrelenting heat today (which currently feels like 35 degrees Celsius at 9.50 pm).
How long more can we endure the urban heat island effect and still pay lip service to sustainable development?
P.S. If you do not wish to see our city becoming a post-apocalyptic desert, please sign the petition to support nature conservation and sustainable development.
Yesterday I posted on Facebook about the shift from southwest monsoon to southeast monsoon in Singapore originating from Sumatra, Indonesia. The transition from southwest monsoon in June-July to northeast monsoon in December-January appears to happen around September.
This morning, torrential rain brought by prevailing winds from Sumatra (otherwise known as Sumatra squall) came visiting Singapore again. Though the wind directions in Singapore shown in the weather app by National Environment Agency appear haphazard, the rain seems to be moving from southeast to northwest, as shown below.
How will this knowledge help us?
For me, it can help me plan my route if I want to cycle from the western towards the central or eastern part of Singapore during this time. I can ask myself: Which route shall I take to avoid the brunt of the storm as much as possible? When would be the best time to start my journey?
As evening approached on 18 June 2017, Sunday, a late developer of Sumatra squall made its presence felt in Singapore.
Strong winds blowing from southwest brought heavy rain coupled with thunder and lightning, which lasted over an hour.
“Squall-lines usually occur during pre-dawn and early morning, and are most frequent between the months of April and November. However, squall-lines can occasionally form in the afternoons and move landwards along with the prevailing winds.” (From Stormy shores: the Sumatras)