It’s been a few years since I learnt to plant a tree as a volunteer for NParks at Kranji Marshes.
On 17 March 2023 afternoon, I took time off after my morning food delivery shift to participate in a tree planting session at the upcoming Lim Chu Kang nature park.
I was glad that the demonstration by the NParks guide helped to refresh my memory on the techniques of planting a tree.
They include digging a hole in the soil deep and wide enough to fit a tree sapling, removing the covering after planting the sapling, filling the hole around it with soil and leaf compost, and watering the sapling.
I look forward to seeing the young trees grow to form a forest.
Upon returning to Sungei Buloh wetlands reserve extension, I went to check out a couple of baya weaver nests near the visitor centre.
I am reminded that a number of baya weavers had to move house from Tengah forest ever since deforestation took place around 2018 onwards for development.
Some of them might have taken refuge at Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve, as I don’t recall having seen their nests during my volunteer photography assignment during the opening ceremony of the new visitor centre in December 2014.
Still, the baya weavers are often on the lookout for potential predators, such as white-bellied sea eagles who regularly patrol the sky above.
Why is it so important to conserve Tengah forest and Bukit Batok hillside park (BBHP) area?
Why was the recent disruption of wildlife corridor between Bukit Batok nature park and Toh Tuck forest caused by excessive tree-cutting for road widening so serious?
And why do we need to protect Pang Sua woodland along Green Rail corridor from housing development?
One main reason is “ecological connectivity”.
Due to rapid deforestation and urbanisation in the past two centuries, there is only one contiguous forest left that can provide safe movements of wildlife between western water catchment and central nature reserves,
which include critically endangered Sunda pangolins, leopard cats and straw-headed bulbuls, globally endangered long-tailed macaques, and uncommon Malayan colugo,
Already, we have lost native species, such as the giant cream-coloured squirrel and forest gecko, when the Bukit Timah expressway construction separated Bukit Timah nature reserve from Central catchment area since the 1980s-1990s.
The stakes are high for the ecological connectivity between western water catchment and central nature reserves too.
Though strong dispersers among aerial and canopy wildlife, such as changeable hawk-eagles and long-tailed parakeets, are able to fly long distances, they face the threat of habitat loss, which means fewer sites for nesting, breeding and feeding.
Moderately strong dispersers among canopy wildlife, such as straw-headed bulbuls, will be affected by even small-scale deforestation, such as a planned 4-ha BTO (Build to Order) site in BBHP area.
Weak dispersers among forest-dependent wildlife, such as red jungle fowl, Sunda colugos and possibly red-legged crakes, will be most affected by any disruption of ecological connectivity, as they seldom travel far from forest edges.
Here is my feedback to HDB for the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report on Bayshore forest.
I appreciate that the EIA and Environmental Management and Monitoring Plan (EMMP) have been arranged for the regenerating scrubland and secondary forest in Bayshore area, which I noted has been fully reclaimed from the sea by the 1980s and zoned for development in 2003.
Firstly, according to the executive summary page 1, the “baseline ecological surveys were conducted between 25 April and 21 July 2022”. Given the considerable size (31.4 ha) of the study area, which is about the same size as Dover forest (33 ha), and the fact that the survey was conducted outside the bird migratory season (September to March), I think that the 54 avifauna species recorded in the EIA may not be fully representative of the bird demographics that use Bayshore forest as a core habitat and/or ecological corridor or stopover between the forested areas around Sungei Serangoon water catchment area in the north and the linear forests south of East Coast Parkway (ECP).
During my short recce at Bayshore area on 21 November 2022, I saw some birds resembling parakeets flying around Upper East Coast Road (though I couldn’t make out their exact species from a distance). Together with other vulnerable species such as Rusty-breasted cuckoos and Red-legged crakes as well as endangered Blue-crowned hanging parrots, Changeable hawk-eagles, Oriental magpie robins and Red junglefowl, these birds may have nesting or roosting sites within Bayshore area.
If the entire forest were to be decimated for housing and road development, many of these birds would become homeless and would be forced to relocate to other forests where they have to compete with other forest-dependent birds for food and shelter.
Some of these birds may also be forced to nest or roost in roadside trees close to houses and apartments in urbanised or residential areas, such as Bedok, Siglap and so on, where they may face fierce competitions from urban-adaptive birds such as Javan mynahs, or they may be considered a nuisance by human residents, due to noise (like in the case of parakeets, as many of them were recently captured and/or culled in Choa Chu Kang, unfortunately due to their being displaced from Tengah forest as a result of deforestation and habitat loss in the vicinity).
Secondly, I noted from page 1 of the executive summary that “the Developments are located primarily on reclaimed land with an exotic-dominated secondary forest”. To me, land reclamation does not necessarily give humans the right to own the land, as it ultimately belongs to Mother Nature, to whom we owe our existence. We also owe our ability to reclaim the land partly to other countries where sand mining was carried out. As noted in an article, “instances of land erosion, community displacement, floods, or droughts in obscure parts of our Southeast Asia neighbours — all of which can be linked to Singapore’s land reclamation pursuits.”
Therefore, could we rethink our relationship with the reclaimed land of Bayshore, just like we have chosen to conserve most of the forest in Coney island which was mostly reclaimed too, and enhance the biodiversity of Gardens by the Bay which was also created on reclaimed land?
Thirdly, during my recce at Bayshore forest on 21 November afternoon, I encountered many mosquitoes in the stretch of the forest between Bayshore MRT station construction site and ECP, and I had to swat at the mosquitoes that were biting my arms every few minutes.
Despite the presence of dragonflies, which are natural predators of the mosquitoes and other insects, the mosquitoes appear to proliferate in the area, most probably due to the forest ecosystem having been disturbed by the ongoing construction works in the vicinity.
We need healthy ecosystems, such as the relatively undisturbed mature secondary forests in Windsor nature park and Bukit Batok nature park, where frogs and dragonflies thrive, in order to curb mosquito populations and prevent dengue outbreaks effectively. You need not have to take my word for it, as you could visit the aforementioned forests and check for yourself, for we cannot care for what we do not know experientially. I believe that your forest experiences will tally with the observations below:
“Urbanization, habitat destruction and fragmentation, climate change, as well as chemically-intensive landscape management and agriculture have all led to disruptions in ecosystems. While mosquitoes can readily breed in poor-quality sites created by human disturbance, other organisms, including many of the predators that naturally control mosquitoes, require higher quality habitat. Pesticides that are used to try to control mosquitoes may actually be making matters worse as mosquitoes become resistant to the pesticides, while natural predators and other invertebrates are killed or harmed, which throws aquatic food webs out of balance.” (“Ecological mosquito management” by City of Boulder Natural Climate Solutions)
Therefore, could we apply similar ecological mosquito management, such as the one recommended in section 1.2.10 “Biodiversity-sensitive insect pest control practices” in Springleaf forest EIS report commissioned by Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), and also conserve and restore at least 20-40 percent of the forest to improve ecological health and support natural predators and other invertebrates such as spiders, so as to control disease-carrying mosquito populations and prevent dengue outbreaks effectively?
Fourthly, since palm civets live in Bayshore forest, as noted in the EIA report and evidenced by the presence of their poop on the forest floor, it would be good to not only ensure they have sizeable habitats to live in, but also to build drain culverts or tunnels to enable the civets and other ground-dwelling creatures, such as monitor lizards, otters and snakes, to move or escape to the wooded area across ECP for their long-term survival.
Otherwise, the civets will be forced to move to residential areas nearby where they have been sighted more often in recent years, as noted by Ms Xu Weiting, an instructor (ecology, evolution and biodiversity) at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Department of Biological Sciences: “The seemingly high encounter rates could be a combination of factors, which include increased awareness of local wildlife over the years, ease of reporting sightings on social media and also clearing of forest patches, which has led to civets dispersing out into nearby areas.”
Although certified wildlife handling contractors or animal management specialists will be at hand to help relocate the animals to safer grounds during the construction phase, extra care should be taken to prevent or minimise incidences of roadkill and human-wildlife conflicts as a result of the forest-dependent animals being displaced from their habitats.
This is because the animals may end up injured or dead if they are not shepherded or captured for release under safe conditions, as illustrated in a recent case of a palm civet having to be euthanised after getting burnt on a hot stove in a coffee shop during an apparently botched attempt by the contractor to capture it.
Last but not least, while certain native flora species, such as fish-tail palms and bird’s nest ferns, may be common species, they are essential for supporting native fauna, including endangered species, thus ensuring functional biodiversity and optimal ecological health in Bayshore forest. As also noted in Tengah North Environmental Impact Studies (EIS) report (page 185), “it is important to recognize that both common and rare species contribute ecological functions in an ecosystem.”
For example, the fruits of fish-tail palms, which are found growing in Bayshore forest, provide food for squirrels, palm civets and a variety of birds, including the critically endangered Oriental pied hornbills (who may use Bayshore forest as a stepping stone in the East Coast vicinity even if they are not recorded in the EIA report), who are also seed dispersers.
In summary, given the urgency of climate emergency, threat of biodiversity loss and public health risks, may we implement or adapt the following measures?
1. Conserve at least 20-40 percent of Bayshore forest so that the densely growing trees can cool the rising urban heat island effect, mitigate floods and rising sea level along the East Coast, support forest-dependent birds and other wildlife, promote ecological health and prevent dengue outbreaks, as well as protect residents’ physical health and mental well-being.
2. Build in advance drain culverts across ECP to connect Bayshore forest and East Coast park woodland to ensure safe movements of palm civets and other animals.
3. Restore some degraded parts of the forest and create dragonfly ponds to support natural predators of mosquitoes and other pest insects, so as to prevent dengue and other disease outbreaks effectively, without resorting to harmful chemical pesticides (which inadvertently make mosquitoes more resistant).
4. Build taller buildings and redevelop brownfield sites elsewhere if need be, in order to optimise land use and ensure sustainable development, besides adopting a more sustainable economic model such as degrowth or Doughnut.
5. Implement measures to discourage short-term property investment/speculation that artificially boosts housing demand and makes it more difficult for genuine long-term home buyers (such as young couples getting married and starting a family) to buy a new Build To Order (BTO) flat, such as extending the Minimum Occupation Period (MOP) from 5 years to 10 years or longer.
Here is my feedback concerning the Fauna Baseline Study Report dated 5 September 2022. I noted on page 22 of the report that 206 fauna species were recorded in the Project area, with a total of 15 species of conservation signatures and two species of interest.
Since a total of 362 trees exceeding girths of 1 m in Kranji woodland were cut down in 2020 before NParks could study on further measures to be put in place to safeguard wildlife, public safety, public health and ecosystems, it is possible that the Project area would have been more biodiverse if part of the forest had not been prematurely cleared (which compromised the results of the environmental study report).
As also noted on page 61, though mammal species of conservation significance such as Sunda pangolin and long-tailed macaque were not recorded during the field assessment, they are identified to be likely present at the Project area.
I noted on page 10 of the report that the AFIP is established as a pilot cluster to catalyse innovation in the food- and agri-tech ecosystems, by bringing together high-tech urban indoor farming (agriculture and aquaculture), food production including alternative proteins, and associated research and development (R&D) activities.
Since AFIP developments may include indoor plant factories, aquaculture hatcheries, insect farms and innovative food manufacturing industries, I wonder how much the Project area will be deforested and concretised with cement and asphalt surfaces?
Should we at least retain 30-50% of the existing forest in Kranji woodland as part of nature-based solutions to mitigating climate change, which are highlighted by National University of Singapore (NUS) at the United Nations climate change conference COP27?
Not only a dense forest can cool the urban heat island effect up to 300+ metres, according to a research study, it can support biodiversity to ensure there are pollinators, seed dispersers and decomposers necessary for agriculture, especially permaculture or organic soil farming.
Although indoor high-tech farms may generate higher crop yields, an overreliance on indoor food farms could negatively impact Singapore’s future food security, as such facilities are often energy-intensive, and require imported seeds, substrates and fertilisers which are vulnerable to geopolitical forces, as compared to a regenerative, biodiverse, climate resilient food forest.
One root cause of such environmental problems is capitalism, which is recognised to have generated massive wealth for some, while also devastated the planet and failed to improve human well-being at scale.
Lately, I learnt that an alternative economic model is gaining traction in today’s world, in which we are grappling with climate change, biodiversity loss, and threats to our well-being.
It is called the Doughnut economic model, conceived by Oxford University economist Kate Raworth for promoting respect for our social foundation and ecological ceiling.
It has been adopted by major cities, such as Amsterdam, Brussels and Melbourne, and has also been proposed by Red Dot United (RDU) and Singapore youths’ 2022 SG Green Policy Paper, in the hope to address the issues of widening inequality and climate emergency.
Not only it results in a loss of ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration, cooling of urban heat island effect and prevention of soil erosion and landslides, it also disrupts safe movements of wildlife between Bukit Batok nature corridor and Clementi nature corridor.
Annual tree cover loss through deforestation in Singapore from 2001 to 2021 (Source: Global Forest Watch)
While we note from a Land Transport Authority (LTA) spokesman that “detailed environmental studies were not needed when the project was first proposed in 2016 as the works mainly impacted the fringes of secondary forest dominated by rubber trees”, and that “the project will cater to the expected increase in traffic in the vicinity”, many things have changed since 2016.
Expected increase in traffic in the vicinity is questionable
Firstly, more people have been studying and working from home ever since the Covid-19 pandemic took place in 2020, and this trend is likely to continue as many schools and companies have learnt to be flexible in dealing with any such future pandemics.
Secondly, LTA has been promoting their vision for a car-lite Singapore since 2016, such as encouraging more people to walk, cycle, share cars or take public transport.
So, it is questionable as to whether traffic will increase in the vicinity as much as it was expected in 2016, since car drivers can choose to use greener transport modes, or travel via alternative routes, or adjust their travelling schedules to avoid any peak hour congestion where possible.
Another resident of Bukit Batok also noted that “the roadworks may be necessary, but it seems the road is being made unnecessarily wide, considering that the traffic jam occurs at only certain hours of the day”.
Moreover, in my feedback to LTA via One Service app in February 2022, I wrote that the Right Turn storage lane from Bukit Batok East Ave 6 to Bukit Batok East Ave 2 could be extended to accommodate more vehicles, so there was no real or urgent need to widen the road to the extent of encroaching on the existing pavements and trees.
While I understand from LTA that the widening of the junctions within Bukit Batok leading to Hillview and Dairy Farm is meant to enhance connectivity and support the growth in new and future residential and commercial developments in these neighbouring areas, I wonder how many people buy property just to sell them in 5-10 years upon meeting the Minimum Occupation Period (MOP) to make quick profits, instead of staying long-term?
“Many of my peers who are also applying for a BTO unit or have already booked one seem to have this more dispassionate view: They believe it is a no-brainer that one should sell a BTO unit as soon as possible, while it is still relatively new, so as to reap sizable profits.”
– Ng Jui Sen “Adulting 101: My first BTO flat — a home to sink roots and build a family or a money spinner?” (TODAY, 31 July 2021)
Such a situation will invariably (and artificially) boost housing demands (whether for long-term homes or short-term investment or upgrading), and property developers will constantly need new land space or forests to clear to build more Build-To-Order (BTO) flats and condos. Is that sustainable, as compared to redeveloping previously developed or under-utilised lands (and perhaps also lengthening the MOP for new BTO flats in former forested lands to discourage people from speculating in property at the expense of the forests)?
Thus, if we keep building on new condos in the vicinity to cater to such frivolous housing demands instead of redeveloping brownfield sites for genuine home buyers, we not only may make it more difficult for Singaporeans to find affordable public housing given the space constraints, but also unwittingly sacrifice our precious few forest habitats to widen roads mainly to cater to the rich and privileged who drive cars.
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in ecologically sensitive areas should be mandatory
In recent years, the Ministry of National Development (MND) has been strengthening EIA frameworks, such as in 2020 when Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) spelt out that an environmental study must be done if the development works are located close to an area of ecological significance, such as the nature reserves, nature areas, marine and coastal areas, other areas of significant biodiversity or with potential trans-boundary impact.
While LTA has done well to ensure that an EIA was done for the North-South corridor project in Sembawang woods, and for the Cross Island Line projects in Central Catchment nature reserve and the forested areas in Eng Neo Ave, Turf Club, Clementi forest, Maju forest and Windsor nature park to mitigate environmental impacts, it is regrettable that they neglect to do so for the road widening project between Bukit Batok nature corridor and Clementi nature corridor, as both nature areas have been studied and established to be highly biodiverse and ecologically sensitive.
We have seen how over the years previous development projects done in forested areas without any EIA have serious negative impacts on wildlife and human residents, such as in Punggol, Pasir Ris, Tampines and Hougang.
For example, the loss of forest habitats in Punggol and Pasir Ris have resulted in human-wildlife conflicts, resulting in injuries to unfortunate passers-by caused by the displaced wild boars, and the injured residents had to bear medical costs and possibly experienced post-traumatic stress disorder for a long time.
The loss of secondary forests, such as in Tampines bike park and in Hougang, have also contributed to flash floods during intense rain, causing vehicles to stall and resulting in inconvenience, distress and costs of damage for the drivers.
All these negative impacts on humans and the environment might have been prevented if an EIA had been conducted and there were mitigation measures (such as wildlife shepherding and retaining of sizeable forested areas to minimise the effects of habitat fragmentation and loss) in place.
As it were, the lack of an EIA for the road widening project in Bukit Batok to mitigate environmental impacts of the forest fragmentation is disappointing, as it suggests a disregard for climate change mitigation, wildlife movements, ecological connectivity, and human safety and well-being.
As colugos live on tall trees and move between Bukit Batok nature park and Toh Tuck forest, they may suffer chronic stress, fertility problems and change their migration routes in response to the construction noise and loss of tall trees along the road in the vicinity. Furthermore, if the forest patch next to Bukit Batok hillside nature park (which is part of Bukit Batok nature corridor) is cleared for housing development, it will further disrupt ecological connectivity and affect safe movements of wildlife. (Sources: NParks, ST Graphics, HDB, Our Singapore Facebook page)
Already, an uncommon native Sunda colugo, an arboreal forest-dependent animal that lives and glides among trees, was found to be stranded in a car park next to Block 271, Bukit Batok East Ave 4, late last month. It is likely to have been affected by the loss of mature trees between Bukit Batok nature park and Toh Tuck forest due to the roadworks, which suggests that the mitigation measures LTA had discussed with NParks have not worked as well as they should.
“These nature corridors are important pathways for animals to travel between areas of high biodiversity, which help rejuvenate green fragments. If the link is broken, green fragments become cut off from ecosystem functions available in a mature forest.”
– Mr Sivasothi, “Part of wildlife corridor in Bukit Batok cleared for roadworks” (The Straits Times, 26 October 2022)
If naturalists and nature groups had not spoken up about this issue, I wonder if LTA and National Parks Board (NParks) would have reinforced their efforts to mitigate such impacts?
In addition, given the fact that an EIA is being carried out along Bukit Batok nature corridor (which Bukit Batok Hillside Park (BBHP) Hill 1 and 2 are a part of) since end 2021 and is expected to take about 15 months upon commencement, shouldn’t the respective agency or contractor allow for the proper environmental studies to be done, to ensure wildlife, flora and fauna could be properly managed, before deciding whether (and how much) to clear or conserve any part of the forest (like in the case of the erroneous clearance of part of Kranji woodlands last year)?
Wouldn’t the ongoing removal of vegetation at BBHP Hill 2 (as well as the planned deforestation for the November 2022 launch of BTO site in BBHP Hill 1) further disrupt ecological connectivity, which might also further impact the wildlife (such as the uncommon native Sunga colugos, critically endangered pangolins, forest-dependent palm civets, endangered long-tailed macaques, etc) moving between western water catchment forests (via Tengah nature way and Bukit Batok nature corridor) and the central nature reserves?
Early this month, at the time of writing, representatives from Singapore are attending the COP27 United Nations climate talks in Egypt – can we really present our revised climate targets on net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050 with a clear conscience when we continue to clear carbon-absorbing forests right in our own backyard for road widening to accommodate more vehicles (many of which are carbon-emitting)?
Similarly, how can naturalists, nature groups and the general public have trust in our governance of wild green spaces if the authorities fail to respect NParks’s Ecological Profiling Exercise in the aforementioned nature corridors?
I believe that Singapore can do better than merely coming up with promising solutions that may end up being little more than greenwashing than actually dealing with the environmental problems.
In view of the climate emergency, biodiversity loss and public health crisis facing us, may I recommend the following solutions to prevent incidents, such as the clearance of part of a wildlife corridor, from happening again?
Create or appoint an independent, non-governmental agency or organisation with regulatory teeth to ensure that there are proper checks and balances regarding environmental studies, since NParks may not have sufficient clout to enforce their own regulations when it comes to working with other government agencies, such as LTA and Housing & Development Board (HDB).
Consult nature groups at the earliest possible stage of any development project involving ecologically sensitive nature areas, so as to ensure accountability and transparency of the relevant policies and mitigation measures.
Adopt the degrowth or Doughnut economic model to ensure that we respect our social foundation and ecological ceiling, so that every Singaporean will lead their life with dignity, opportunity and community within the means of our environment.
Increase MOP from 5 years to 10 or more years for new BTO flats (especially those that will be built in greenfield sites), so as to discourage people from buying new property purely for short-term investments and profits at the expense of the forests and forest-dependent wildlife.
Avoid any further deforestation along Bukit Batok nature corridor (including BBHP Hill 1 and 2 area) and in Tengah forest, so as to maintain ecological connectivity, climate resilience and a liveable environment for humans and wildlife between Western water catchment and Central catchment nature reserve, and focus on redeveloping brownfield sites elsewhere.
P.S. To support the conservation of (the rest of) Bukit Batok Hillside Park area so as to ensure a sustainable future, click here.
To support the preservation of at least 30-50% of Tengah forest so as to protect biodiversity and tackle climate emergency, click here.
It is heartening to know that “extensive engagements were made with stakeholders (including Nature Groups) to discuss measures to reduce environmental impacts during the EIS process, including the design optimisation of worksites as a method of Impact Avoidance / Elimination”, as mentioned on page 2 of the “Non-technical summary for the EIS of CRL2”.
I learnt that these measures include relocating the upcoming Maju station to protect the flora and fauna in Maju forest, and realigning the tunnels between King Albert Park station and Maju station to reduce the ecological impact on wildlife.
Even so, I am concerned to learn that “the nearly 2,000-page study found that the CRL could still have a major environmental impact on several forested areas near Eng Neo Avenue Forest, Clementi Forest and Windsor due to irreversible habitat loss.”
Several questions came to mind, which I hope LTA and other relevant agencies could address, and which I hope are not too late or inconvenient to ask, considering the fact that we are facing climate emergency, biodiversity loss and public health challenges in the Anthropocene:
Firstly, when the Cross Island Line was first announced in 2013, were the plans based on any public survey to ascertain if there was sufficient demand from residents in the affected areas for MRT connectivity, in view of the controversy over the alignment of the line’s Bukit Timah stretch crossing the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) and MacRitchie Reservoir?
Part of the controversy centres on whether the protection conferred on nature reserves under the Parks and Tree Act extends for the entire infinite depth of the State-owned land below the surface of the reserve.
If there was no public survey or consultation done prior to the environmental groups voicing their concerns about the encroachment of the planned MRT line in the central nature reserve, other than the initial reason given that “the line was planned to relieve congestion on the existing East West Line”, I wonder what would be the economic imperative(s) that drove the CRL plans?
For example, would the planned CRL construction be driven by the “growth-at-all costs” capitalistic economic model that Singapore has been subscribing to, which would lead to a constant need to clear existing carbon-sequestering regenerating secondary forests for more housing, transport network, and other aspects of high consumption lifestyles (such as house flipping with no intention for long-term stay or little regard for habitat loss resulting from building new flats, condos, roads, MRT stations, etc), even if there is a low population growth rate?
If so, what if we were to adapt and adopt viable alternative economic models that respect planetary boundaries and de-prioritise limitless economic growth, like that of New Zealand and doughnut economics, as recommended by Singapore youths’ Green Policy Paper 2022?
Would we still need to proceed with the development of the CRL2 line as planned, and could we also revise or postpone the development of the CRL3 and the remaining phase of Jurong Region Line (JRL), if any, indefinitely until there is a definite demand from stakeholders, including residents in the affected areas, since CRL3 and JRL lines may adversely impact more forests and wildlife, such as in the highly biodiverse Western water catchment area, in the future?
Similarly, could I request that LTA work with other agencies such as Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and Housing & Development Board (HDB) to restrict any future housing developments around the new MRT stations, such as Turf City and Maju stations, to only previously developed lands because we do not want to end up with another undesirable scenario where more forests have to be sacrificed (resulting in ever-increasing habitat fragmentation and dwindling biodiversity, as well as rising urban heat island effect) like in the case of Dover forest, which is located next to Dover MRT station, whereby Dover Forest East is planned to be mostly cleared for public housing?
Annual tree cover loss through deforestation in Singapore from 2001 to 2021 (Source: Global Forest Watch)
Secondly, while it is good that Singapore has revised our climate targets on achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, it is worrying that Singapore has been experiencing an increase in tree loss through deforestation in the past decade. In 2021 alone, Singapore has lost 201 ha of tree cover, equivalent to 97,200,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.
Could LTA account for the carbon emissions that will be caused by the resultant forest habitat loss from the construction of CRL2 line, such as getting the polluting companies to bear the environmental costs proportionately, whether in the form of carbon tax or equivalent for channelling the funds to help the less privileged or protect nature areas, as a necessary part of upholding climate justice?
Thirdly, page 5 of the “Non-technical summary for the EIS of CRL2 – Windsor and Eng Neo Avenue Forest” notes that species of conservation significance, such as globally and nationally critically endangered Sunda pangolin and nationally threatened near threatened Sunda colugo, inhabit the forests in the study areas.
Although there are no stations located within the section of the alignment under this EIS, I noticed that the worksites are intended for the Tunnel Boring Machine launching activities near Eng Neo Avenue Forest and for the CRL facility building at Windsor nature park.
Incidentally, in 2015, I came across a dead pangolin along Dunearn Road near Kampong Chantek (about 200-300 m from Turf City), which is likely a roadkill. Earlier this year, a pangolin was spotted at an MRT station in Bukit Timah area. These sightings suggest that pangolins are vulnerable to becoming roadkills when they happen to venture onto roads in the vicinity.
Thus, I wonder how the pangolins would be affected by the upcoming construction of Cross Island Line (CRL2) MRT station in Turf City and underground tunnels in the vicinity.
Being nocturnal animals that burrow underground, the pangolins can be hard to track and monitor for their safety, and workers who are not trained in recognising such endangered wildlife might not realise how the digging activities in the ground may result in accidental injury or even death if a pangolin (or pangolin mother and child) happens to be moving within the construction sites.
Since Eng Neo Avenue forest used to be part of the Central nature reserve before becoming severed from the main nature reserve by the construction of Pan Island Expressway (PIE) years ago, and since the pangolin population in Singapore was estimated to be only around 100 in 2021, any further encroachment on their natural habitats, including Eng Neo Avenue forest, Windsor nature park, Tengah forest, etc, must be given serious attention to ensure that the pangolins do not eventually become extinct, just like the other native wildlife that Singapore used to have, including the cream-coloured giant squirrel and forest gecko (which might have become extinct as a result of the construction of Bukit Timah Expressway that separated Bukit Timah nature reserve from Central catchment nature reserve since the 1990s).
Therefore, may I recommend that LTA and other relevant agencies compensate for the loss and/or disturbance of forest habitats, by building eco-link(s) across PIE to connect Eng Neo Avenue forest and Central catchment nature reserve, whether in the form of a wildlife bridge or culvert or both, so as to facilitate safe movements of pangolins, colugos, etc should they need to escape and seek refuge from future human disturbances and ground vibrations caused by the planned construction in the vicinity?
If cost is an issue, could we get corporate sponsorship from companies that wish to be part of environmental sustainability for building the eco-links?
Thank you for your attention, and I look forward to receiving responses from LTA to the feedback and plans when ready.
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)
On 9 October 2022 (Sunday), I attended the afternoon session of Day 2 of the Inter-University Environmental Conference 2022. It is the largest youth-led sustainability conference in Singapore, jointly organised by students from the 8 major universities of Singapore.
The conference facilitates focus group discussions, open debates and exhibitions with government representatives, youth leaders from our favourite organisations, and fellow participants.
The Conference Partnerships Team has kindly provided their bite-size booklet on all we need to know about the SG Green Plan.
During the Energy Reset dialogue, over 40 questions were asked by members of the audience for the panel speakers to answer.
The questions asked at the Energy Reset dialogue include the following:
Anonymous How will Singapore decarbonize the economy that’s so reliant on $ from fossil fuels while we’re shifting away from using them ourselves?
Anonymous how can singapore take accountability for the emissions it facilitates but isnt directly responsible for (e.g. refineries, airport)?
Anonymous Nuclear power has become exponentially more safe and, in the near future, can become more compact. Does/should it have a future in Singapore?
Anonymous Cross Island Line will be built under Central Water Catchment? Thoughts?
Anonymous Singapore is considering nuclear energy. Do you think the market will consider nuclear energy as an alternative to fossil fuels (which are cheaper)?
Anonymous is there any way we can pursue electrification without increasing demand for extractive, harmful mining practices around cobalt, lithium etc?
Anonymous Is there room for nuclear power in singapore?
Anonymous Has Singapore figure a solution for recycling solar panels that are implemented in the solarnova project
Anonymous Why is nuclear fusion not currently used in the electrical energy generation industry ?
Anonymous With Singapore’s current reputation as a massive oil hub, how can we become a profitable renewable energy hub with quick reduction on fossil fuel dependence?
Anonymous How is the research and development for fusion reactors in Singapore?
Anonymous it seems like energy reset will cause a significant impact on marine life, is there a way to go about energy reset without impacting biodiversity?
Anonymous Are there solid plans for Singapore to de-emphasize car-based transport infrastructurally?
Anonymous What needs to be done to mine lesser minerals to prevent exploitaton of Least Developed Countries by Developed Countries to achieve their climate goals?
Anonymous Are there enough actions to incorporate solar into our electricity mix (XT’s not-pofma slide showed 3%), and what more can we do?
Anonymous Electric bus fares are rising with other public transports. How can we encourage less carbon when fewer people are willing and able to pay for public transport?
Anonymous German policy of $9 a month for trains feasible for SG?
Anonymous Will hydropower be used in Singapore?
Anonymous If dont import energy then get from where hah
Anonymous Apart from taking public transport, how can individuals make a difference?
Anonymous Is there any other alternative to making electric batteries? Since it does have negative impacts on the environment too (ocean pollution)
Anonymous What are some of the strategies for demand reduction of energy?
Anonymous How is SG handling the waste generated from the lithium batteries of EVs?
Anonymous Why dont we dig up landfills to extract materials
Anonymous Should reduction of energy (on industrial levels especially) have a bigger role in this conversation?
Anonymous Is SG’s efforts to make the air-con more efficient? Eg, the bldg is so cold today & temp can be adjusted so that less energy is used & everyone feels comfotable
Anonymous How can the government push for industries to reduce their energy use since they contribute the most? (edited)
Anonymous Do you think investing in asteroid mining for resources would be a good alternative to mining for resources?
Anonymous Seems like usage of energy is also a matter of choosing the less evil. In your opinion, what is that ‘less evil’ we can pursue more aggressively?
Anonymous What are some ways the public transportation sector can increase efficiency and lower emissions in SG?
Anonymous Does reducing our energy demands mean that progress as a whole country will be stunted for a bit given that there will be a transition phase which takes time
Anonymous Technology is used to improve energy efficiency, but technologies are also the culprit of carbon emissions e.g. Data Centre, how do we strike a balance?
Anonymous how do we change social paradigms that value and encourage private car ownership?
Jimmy How will we prioritise forest conservation since extracting minerals for making electric vehicles etc via mining has environmental and human rights concerns?
Anonymous are there any corporate governing bodies that could set net zero targets for shipping or energy usage?
Anonymous Another environmental impact of EVS is the battery recycling. Does Singapore have a plan for that?
Anonymous What can MOT do to encourage cycling as a mode of transport, like in some European countries?
Anonymous What Singapore have done in energy reset? what can the youth do to make It better way for Singapore
Anonymous What about tidal energy?
Anonymous There are studies being conducted for the cross island line, on how it would affect the nature there, and it seems like it wouldn’t as it would be built deeper
Up next is a series of talks by panel speakers, Dr Shawn Lum, Mr Syazwan Majid and Mr Tan Kiat How, who offered various perspectives about Singapore as a City in Nature.
For example, we learnt that Singapore is more than just an island nation, for we are a nation of islands.
We also learnt about the plan by the Ministry of National Development (MND) for transforming Singapore into a City in Nature, with the help of community stewardship.
During the open debates at the foyer, the participants wrote their answers to pertinent questions about nuclear energy, forest conservation, and so on.
One of the questions at the open debates is:
“Should Singapore immediately halt all clearing of forests and large expanses of land (eg Dover forest/western catchment)?”
I wrote one of my answers as follows:
“Quality of green spaces matters, in terms of ecosystem services, biodiversity, ecological connectivity, etc (not just quantity), so forest conservation must be done in tandem with the one million tree planting programme.”
During the City in Nature dialogue, over 50 questions were asked by members of the audience for the panel speakers to answer. These questions include:
Anonymous what are the various panelists’ opinions on otters and what actions should we take in response to the increasing prevalence of otters related interactions?
Anonymous The key targets of the SG green plan mostly focuses on green spaces. Will there be more commitment to protect our blue spaces as well?
Anonymous How do you negotiate between building new green spaces (e.g. the parks you mentioned) and keeping existing spaces (e.g. Dover Forest)?
Anonymous How can cultural preservation work hand-in-hand with the city in nature movement?
Anonymous Biophillia is great but what about making this functional i.e. biodiversity value of the space, ecosystem service valuation?
Anonymous Do you think culture can be a double edged sword, and we should denounce certain activities we deem unsustainable, or should we trust it throughout ?
Anonymous Hello! Do you think that planting multi-tier roadside verges will increase the chances of roadkill/wildlife-vehicle collisions?
Anonymous what are consequences of focusing too much on tangible benefits of nature and ecosystem services? good for humans =/= good for wildlife
Anonymous Is there space for indigenous people in Singapore?
Anonymous Why don’t we talk about indigenous practises more in mainstream narratives of sustainability and living harmoniously with nature
Anonymous How is “nature” being defined in City of Nature?
Anonymous What can urban designers/ planners learn from indigenous ecological knowledge?
Anonymous Are strips of park connectors, high-rise bound urban parks, and limited ecological complexity suffice in the greater plan of ecological connectivity?
Anonymous What’s the definition of a park? Some “parks” are just one tree one bench one path
Anonymous Is de-urbanization possible? Why look for nature based solutions instead of stopping the problem…
Anonymous how can we bring singaporean to be more appreciate /self awareness more nature around us.
Anonymous I work with architects, when they plan for nature areas, they ask ‘why care about the animals? They add no value to people’? How will we change this mindset?
Anonymous What is your definition of nature? (edited)
Anonymous will history/social studies in school change to teach young sgeans abt our indigenous roots?
Anonymous Many of the forested areas are cleared for developmental purposes(e.g. punggol for housing) How can these tree cover be brought back in the now developed areas?
Anonymous what plans are there for older buildings to integrate into nature (not just new-build ones to have green walls)?
Anonymous Is there more or less native species in Singapore over the years?
Anonymous Why not instead of greenery only, we can include farms ?
Anonymous There is a concern for animals being extinct in the near future due to climate change and it’s effects. What work can we do to prevent this from happening?
Anonymous Are we going to continue exterminating bees when green corridors attracting more bees to build hives closer to residents. Bee are Keystone species to ecosystem.
Anonymous Otter populations will self regulate, pls otter-proof your house if you want to keep koi or other fishes
Anonymous This building is an example of so much Aircon. Are we making any progress in this regard?
Anonymous How can we encourage biophilia and expand parks while developing and our remaining secondary forests? How can we negotiate this tension?
Anonymous Can we relocate beehive instead of exterminate by releasing toxic chemicals? How can we manage wild bees in a more sustainable way?
Anonymous Will we consider reduced or negative economic growth to reduce the land use pressures?
Anonymous Is there a possibility of mandating private developers and HDB to educate potential buyers of possible wildlife conflict in the area?
Anonymous Are there any plans for food forests?
Anonymous beyond gardens and parks, what interactions w nature will singaporeans have in the future?
Anonymous How big of a priority do you think it is to maintain local biodiversity in its development journey? Considering land use for energy, defence, industrial etc
Anonymous Some spaces are slated for development in a long time, but these secondary forests become homes for many wildlife. How do we mitigate the loss of these wildlife
Anonymous Is there any available effort for sustainable fishing and harvesting practices?
Anonymous Why do we need to exterminate bees when we can humanely rehoming them? They are important to our ecosystem?
Anonymous Can we focus on conserving forests instead of just planting trees, as research shows 10 ha of forests can cool over 300 m, while rooftop gardens only up to 4 m?
Anonymous How do you prepare people to live in our city in nature, including certain lifestyle adjustments they may have to make.
Anonymous Does Singapore can achieve 100% greenery country in earth?
Anonymous Can more people be taken through green spaces and nature on their commute to work or school? For example, MRT lines or shuttle routes going through them, quietly
Anonymous what can sg’s current aquaculture R&D efforts learn from orang laut/other indigenous fishing practices?
Anonymous Why is the EMMP tossed out the window when the development phase reaches landscapers and architects?
Anonymous Other than ecosystem services, can we shift to value the biodiversity in a less-human centric manner?
Anonymous As we become a city in nature, there will be many more encounters with wildlife. How can we manage potential human wildlife conflicts? (edited)
Anonymous Why we cannot stick to nature rather than investing new technologies? By reducing, we can rather not use the technologies like before.
Anonymous Would you consider more co-living typologies to reduce the need to develop land for residential buildings?
Anonymous Is there any recent examples of Singapore heritage construction techniques embedded in modern real estate projects?
Anonymous how do Singapore implement more VIA project or activities to spreading awareness of importance of city in nature
Anonymous But bringng about green takes a lot of time. Eg, to grow trees. Is there anything that can be done?
Anonymous By 2023 will there be more planting over the HDB flats? What can we expect by 2023 for City of Nature?
Anonymous how to Singapore bring closer to children to let them know what’s is the important of greenery country.
Anonymous With more natural green spaces, can there be more danger posed to people passing through, especially at night?
Anonymous Can we conserve 50% of Tengah forest as it connects western and central catchment areas & has critically endangered species like pangolins, so to avoid ecocide?
Anonymous How may we discern between real housing “needs” (eg long term homes) and superficial housing “wants” (eg selling BTO upon meeting 5-year MOP for quick profits)?
Kudos to the youths for organising and participating in this landmark environmental conference. May it inspire many positive changes to be made for our environment, flora and fauna, and ultimately our well-being.
29 September 2022 felt like one of the longest days in my life.
I attended a plant rescue programme at Dover Forest East in the morning, which was organised by Nature Society Singapore (NSS), in collaboration with National Parks Board (NParks) and Housing & Development Board (HDB).
The event was supervised by NSS reforestation officer Chua Chin Tat.
I witnessed how the dedicated volunteers dug up saplings and placed them in bags for transplanting.
After the event, I had lunch with some of the volunteers and learnt much from their sharing of knowledge and experiences in various fields –
from hiking to recycling to scavenging to food security to nature conservation.
Then I cycled to Alexandra Woods for a recce via Green Rail Corridor before starting my dinner delivery shift at Bukit Merah area.
After the shift, I decided to make my way back via the Green Corridor in the dark of the night.
I was glad for the bright front lights for my bicycle and the improved surface of the greenway, which help to ensure safety.
Somehow, I am reminded that when it is darkest, we shine the brightest, even though things around us may look bleak, in view of the existential crises facing us.
“Our planet has been wounded by our actions. Those wounds won’t be healed today, or tomorrow, or the next, but they can be healed by degrees.” – Barack Obama, COP26 speech, November 2021
What can the Government do to support Singapore’s transition to a low carbon future?
Renewable energy may not be as green as it sounds, though it is less pollutive than fossil fuels.
This is because extracting cobalt and other minerals for manufacturing electric vehicles etc through mining in Congo etc and proposed deep-sea mining has serious environmental and human rights concerns.
In comparison, conserving and restoring forests and mangroves is a more cost-effective and less resource-intensive nature-based solution for reducing greenhouse gas emissions (as well as protecting biodiversity and boosting public health and well-being).
That means putting an indefinite moratorium to deforestation, instead of just replanting trees while continuing to sacrifice secondary rainforests.
At the end of the day, our priorities should be focused on life and death issues (aka existential crisis of climate change fuelled by unrelenting deforestation and urbanisation) rather than comfort and convenience (aka insatiable demand for housing for upgrading and investment, excessive consumption lifestyles, etc).
What can businesses and industries do to support Singapore’s transition to a low carbon future?
Pay carbon tax et al for deforestation to compensate lower income residents affected by the loss of ecosystem services in Singapore.
What can individuals and communities do to support Singapore’s transition to a low carbon future?
Consume less. Cycle, walk, take public transport. Don’t use (buy & sell) property at the expense of our forests and mental health just for investment to make quick profits. Learn to be contented in life and do no harm to oneself and others.
7. While there may be trade-offs or inconveniences, I am willing to contribute / play my part in helping Singapore realise its net zero ambition.
I agree to play my part in helping Singapore realise its net zero ambition.
8. Do you have any other thoughts on Singapore’s climate ambition that you wish to share?
Replace “grow at all costs” economic model with degrowth or donut economic model or equivalent. Please see attached link for details.
P.S. In case what I have shared above is seen in a negative light, I was expressing my wish to the government for them to be more mindful to the less privileged who are most affected by the effects of rapid deforestation and urbanisation. It isn’t about anti-development or anti-housing, as it is about sustainable development where everyone has equal rights to housing and health and well-being, instead of only the minority of the ultra rich and megacorporations who keep on encroaching limited green spaces to profit themselves, at the expense of the general populace and the natural environment, including native flora and fauna.