Feedback: Environmental concerns over habitat fragmentation in Bukit Batok nature corridor and Tengah nature way

[On 18 November 2022, the following feedback has been sent to the representatives of Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), Housing & Development Board (HDB) and National Parks Board (NParks) as part of our ongoing dialogue.]

Thank you for your reply dated 8 Sep 2022 regarding our email to Dr Amy Khor, in which she advised us to approach Ministry of National Development (MND) for a dialogue. We appreciate the time that you have taken to respond to our email.

As our email to Dr Khor didn’t convey our full feedback on Bukit Batok Hillside Park (BBHP) area, since we were requesting a Meet-the-People session to discuss the details, may we take this opportunity to respond to your email to briefly introduce ourselves and provide some details of our feedback, as part of the dialogue to promote environmental sustainability in the community?

Jimmy Tan’s background

As a resident of Bukit Batok East who is also a nature enthusiast and who works in the vicinity as a part-time food delivery cyclist and freelance writer and editor, Jimmy feels compelled to share his lived experience and observations after moving from his original hometown, Toa Payoh, several years ago, partly to seek refuge in a cooler and quieter environment next to Bukit Batok nature park (which makes him a “microclimate refugee”).

Also, as the creator of the petition to save BBHP area from housing development and one of the co-creators of the petition (with Roxane and Saniroz) to conserve at least 30-50% of Tengah forest, he hopes to be a voice representing almost 15,000 BBHP petition supporters and close to 10,000 Tengah forest petition supporters of nature conservation in some ways, who are concerned about the health, social and environmental impacts of development.

Denise Liu’s background

Denise is a senior researcher working in a social service agency and an associate lecturer with the Singapore University of Social Sciences. She is also an active member of the Bukit Batok community. She chose to purchase a BTO flat in Bukit Batok because she enjoys the greenery in the area. During COVID-19, in particular, taking her dog for long walks around BBHP Hill 2 is essential to her well-being and mental health.

As a member of her neighbourhood’s Resident Network, she has spoken to many residents who also value the greenery and nature of the estate. Many have expressed their concerns about losing these spaces, which provide a much-needed respite from the crowded BTOs they live in. The loss of BBHP Hill 2 will be particularly devastating for the hundreds of residents who cycle, jog or walk around the hill as part of their fitness routines. She spoke to a resident recently who is thinking about selling her flat if/once BBHP Hill 2 is redeveloped, as she cannot imagine living in a neighbourhood surrounded by BTOs, without greenery and the space to bring her dog for walks.

When looking at greenery in a forest, we experience stress relief as we breathe in the immune-boosting phytoncides released by the plants, commune with the flora and fauna, and get a good workout while hiking, jogging or forest bathing. (Map from, photos by Jimmy Tan)

Our response to HDB’s reply to Jimmy’s feedback on EIS report on BBHP area

Firstly, we noted that HDB’s reply dated 9 September 2020 says:

“The land use zoning of this area is gazetted as ‘Residential’ and ‘Park’ in Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA)’s Master Plan since 2003. As reflected in the current Master Plan 2019, the area is safeguarded for housing and park development, which will offer more housing choices and recreational spaces in Bukit Batok town.”

Although URA’s Master Plan 2003 was approved and gazetted after public consultation, we have seen that many things have changed over the past 19 years.

Back then, the urgency of the existential crisis associated with the climate emergency facing us had not received as much attention and concern as it has today.

Early this month, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reminded everyone at COP27 that the world was losing the battle against climate change, and it would soon be too late to undo the damage being inflicted on the planet.

Notably, eight of the ten warmest years on record in Singapore have occurred in the 21st century.

Since Singapore is heating up twice as fast as the rest of the world, mainly due to rapid deforestation and urbanisation, especially over the past few decades (as shown in the graphs below), it may be suicidal for us to keep on replacing the naturally cooling dense forests with heat-absorbing concrete and asphalt surfaces.

As the Centre for Climate Research Singapore has projected that Singapore could experience an increase in daily mean temperature of 1.4 to 4.6 degrees Celsius towards the end of this century, more intense and frequent heavy rainfall events, and mean sea level rise of up to 1 metre by 2100, the need to conserve and restore our forests is critical for our survival, as also noted in NParks’ One Million Trees Webinar | Beneath the Canopy: Uncovering the Science of our Forests in December 2020.

According to research studies, sizeable forests (10 ha or above) with dense trees can cool the environment up to 300+ metres, whereas plants on facades of buildings can only cool within 4 metres effectively. (Graphs from Global Forest Watch and, map from NParks webinar, photos by Jimmy Tan)

Secondly, much as we appreciate the efforts and dedication of our urban planners, we note that they have not undergone any mandatory course on basic ecology and the EIA process until the plans were announced in 2020 regarding this requirement.

Hence, it is possible that the Master Plan 2013, as well as the Master Plan 2019, has not taken into consideration the full impacts of continual forest habitat loss and fragmentation on our climate, biodiversity, ecological connectivity and human health and well-being, partly because we did not have the benefit of hindsight.

In the past decade alone, Singapore has witnessed floods, landslides, animal roadkill, human-wildlife conflicts and disease outbreaks – many of which are unprecedented, as mentioned in Jimmy’s blog.

EIS report on BBHP area is likely to have been compromised by certain factors

As regards BBHP area (aka “Zone A” according to your email), while it is commendable that the agencies conducted an EIA in 2018 to better understand the site condition and recommend measures to mitigate environmental impacts of development, we note that the EIA was likely to have been compromised by the ongoing construction of Bukit Batok West Ave 5 in 2018, which divided the two hills (aka BBHP Hill 1 and Hill 2).

(The premature clearing of trees in Kranji woodland by JTC in 2020 before NParks could complete their biodiversity studies serves as a lesson here, since the exact impact on the environment could not be calculated because the offences took place before any studies were undertaken.)

The building of a new road (Bukit Batok West Ave 5) has affected ecological connectivity and might also have compromised the EIA process in BBHP area in 2018. (Sources: BTOHQ, Google Map)

Shouldn’t both BBHP Hill 1 and Hill 2 be studied together before any construction was done in the vicinity, as they were originally part of the same ecological corridor, which was also recognised by a National University of Singapore (NUS)’s paper on vascular plant flora of Bukit Batok in 2013 as having “the highest percentage of native species”?

Moreover, the various feedback from other members of the public, which was compiled by Singapore Youth Voices for Biodiversity (SYVB), also noted that the biodiversity survey was conducted in April over 8 days, which is outside the bird migratory season.

Another feedback noted that there was a lack of reporting being done with regard to the Chiropteran assemblage (bats), who provide an invaluable service as insect predators and seed dispersers.

Over the past couple of years, during recces in/around BBHP area, some native fauna not recorded in the EIS report have also been spotted, such as:

Approximate locations of native fauna sightings in BBHP area in 2021-2022. Note that the list is not meant to be exhaustive. (Source: Google Map, photos by Jimmy Tan)

All these suggest that the EIA done on BBHP area could have been better and more comprehensive in its assessment of the environmental impacts if more time and attention had been given, as it is relatively limited compared to the other EIAs which were done for other ecologically sensitive areas, such as Tengah forest north and south, and Springleaf forest.

This is regrettable because a deeper appreciation and understanding of its relatively rich biodiversity should compel us to focus more on preserving natural features to facilitate ecological connectivity with minimal disruption and harm caused to the well-being of the wildlife and human residents living along and around Bukit Batok nature corridor.

Environmental impacts observed along Bukit Batok Nature Corridor in 2018-2022

As it turns out, we have seen some environmental impacts along Bukit Batok Nature Corridor after the EIA was conducted in BBHP area in 2018, and after about 30% of Tengah forest was cleared since 2018 (as well as 4 ha of the forest in BBHP area was cleared for housing development in early 2021), despite mitigation measures being taken, such as:

Although the colugo, who most likely glided from BBNP and/or Toh Tuck forest (TTF), was not directly impacted by the ongoing deforestation in BBHP area, the fact that it got disoriented illustrates how the loss of ecological connectivity due to the removal of trees during the road widening process between BBNP and TTF has affected safe movements of the wildlife such as the colugos.

The stranded colugo was likely to have been affected by the loss of mature trees between Bukit Batok nature park and Toh Tuck forest due to the roadworks. (Map from LTA, screenshot from Our Singapore Facebook page, photo by Jimmy Tan)

This impact is significant because as noted in the above blog:

“Wouldn’t the ongoing removal of vegetation at BBHP Hill 2, aka Zone B (as well as the planned deforestation for the November 2022 launch of BTO site in BBHP Hill 1, aka Zone A) 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 catchment forests (via Tengah nature way and Bukit Batok nature corridor) and the central nature reserves?”

Why Zone A and Zone B of BBHP area should be protected from further deforestation

While HDB has done well in retaining the natural stream (aka Stream A according to the EIS report) and its catchment area within the planned BBHNP and expanded the original ‘Park’ area from 7.5ha to about 9.2ha, it is regrettable that Stream B and its catchment area in Zone A of BBHP area have not been retained due to their being zoned as a BTO site to be launched in November 2022.

This is because Stream B catchment area has a large fig tree (Ficus vasculosa) with conservation status of Endangered and some seedlings are situated on higher ground immediately next to the stream B (where dragonflies can be found to control the mosquito population), and slender pitcher plants (Nepenthes gracilis), which the rare pitcher blue butterfly is dependent upon, have also been discovered growing on the steep slopes there.

Speaking of which, both the aforementioned areas in Zones A and B have steep slopes along parts of the perimeter of the forest – some of which have gradients of 30 to 40 degrees or more. As noted in an article, “Anything above 20% (incline) is deemed steep. Beyond about 15%, costs begin to increase significantly as the risks become greater and the work becomes more difficult.” (See below image for reference.)

The second BTO site at BBHP area (Zone A) is only about 50 m away from the spot where a previous landslide had occurred on a steep slope, which has since been covered by a protective sheet to prevent further soil erosion. Would it be better to redevelop a previously developed or underutilised land elsewhere than potentially risking lives and further disrupting ecological connectivity by building on the steep slopes in this area? (Source: Google Map,; photo by Jimmy Tan)

Although we appreciate that the agencies seek to provide affordable public housing to Singaporeans, we wonder if it is feasible building BTO flats on such steep slopes, considering that it is more costly and also more risky, since the removal of vegetation that holds the soil together along the slopes may invariably result in soil erosion and even landslides, given the history of landslides occurring in the hilly regions of Bukit Batok and Bukit Gombak as well as the occurrences of more severe storms due to human-induced climate change over the past decades.

Why Tengah forest should also be protected from further deforestation

Speaking of climate change, residents living (and those who work outdoors such as food delivery cyclists and walkers) in Jurong, Bukit Batok West and Choa Chu Kang around Tengah forest risk experiencing heat injuries (such as dehydration, skin rashes, fatigue, irritability, heat strokes and inability to focus on work, affecting safety, creativity and productivity for those who work from home or outdoors) due to the warming microclimate as a result of the deforestation and urbanisation that have been going on since around 2018.

For example, while doing part-time food delivery in this region lately, I (Jimmy) could experience the warming effect on some of the apartment blocks, such as Block 435A, Bukit Batok West Ave 5 (see image below for reference).

Deforestation at Tengah forest increases the urban heat island effect. In their Green SG Policy Paper 2022, Singapore youths have called for Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) processes to be strengthened, such as “expanding EIAs to include the social impacts of development (i.e. Environment and Social Impact Assessments – ESIAs)”. Would social impacts of development include assessing how residents living near the forests marked for clearance will be affected by the warming microclimate? (Map from Global Forest Watch, photos by Jimmy Tan)

The air outside some units of Block 435A felt stuffy and smelled stale due to lack of ventilation, and since the small units along the narrow corridors seem to be for lower income residents, they may be affected by the urban heat island effect the most due to inadequate or lack of access to air-cooling/conditioning devices and healthcare services, and there is only so much we can do to adapt to the warming climate in our own capacity.

Last year’s SG Climate Rally features Marlina, who shared about the challenges of dealing with the rising heat with no air conditioning in a rental flat, which shows that Muslim women in particular tend to suffer more from heat injuries as they have to wear tudung and full length clothes in the households.

As a Bukit Batok resident working as a food delivery cyclist in the vicinity, Jimmy has also been dealing with symptoms of heat injuries, such as skin rashes, which persisted for months earlier this year and required medical treatment before the symptoms finally subsided. (The receipt of the medical bill is available upon request.)

Last but not least, we learnt that certain fauna in the remaining parts of Tengah forest have been affected by the noise and disturbances caused by the ongoing construction works as well as the habitat loss and fragmentation – they include the native wild boars (Sus scrofa) and the nationally near-threatened (and globally vulnerable) long-tailed parakeets (Psittacula longicauda).

As shown in the above video dated 5 Sep 2022, the wild boar at the forest fringe along (old) Jurong Road somehow got a fright when it saw human beings and ran away even though the hikers stood still. Compared to wild boars in the forests of Pulau Ubin, as well as the nature parks and reserves in mainland Singapore, the wild boars encountered in Tengah forest ever since forest clearance began around 2017 tend to be skittish or nervous, possibly because they have been stressed by construction noise and habitat loss (and it is highly unlikely that the wild boars have been fed by humans since the forest perimeter has been fenced up).

If we are to learn from the encounters with wild boars who have been displaced from their homes and wandered into residential areas in Punggol and Pasir Ris in 2018-2021, in which humans got hurt by the disoriented wild boars, utmost care and attention should be given to minimise habitat loss and improve ecological connectivity in and around Tengah forest, in order to prevent such human-wildlife conflicts in future, such as by conserving at least 30-50% of the original forest.

Tengah Nature Way should be spacious for pangolins, wild boars, etc to travel unharmed, without becoming roadkills or getting into human-wildlife conflicts. (Photo by Jimmy Tan)

As for long-tailed parakeets, even though they might seem to be more commonly seen in residential areas such as Choa Chu Kang, over the past year or so, their conservation status remains vulnerable especially since they are being displaced from their habitats in Tengah forest. Already, some residents find these parakeets too noisy, and it is a sad reality that such beautiful forest-dependent birds are being seen as a nuisance or even pests just because they became homeless and were forced to adapt and co-exist with humans in residential areas as a result of rapid deforestation and urbanisation in Singapore.

Let’s also remember the fate of other native fauna in the diminishing Tengah forest, such as the globally and nationally critically endangered Sunda pangolins (Manis javanica) and the globally endangered long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis).

The current 20 percent of Tengah forest set aside for greenery is unfortunately insufficient to ensure their safety and long-term survival, if we were to go by the artists’ impressions of the manicured, sparsely growing plants in 50-m wide wildlife corridors (which is considered by botanist Dr Shawn Lum as too narrow since at least 50-m buffers are needed on both sides for adequate protection from human disturbances, light pollution, etc) surrounded by buildings and other man-made features, and the absence of eco-links to facilitate their safe movements between Western water catchment and Central catchment nature reserve.

At the very least, the mitigation measures recommended by the Tengah forest EIA reports should incorporate the same considerations for wildlife-friendly environments as those in Springleaf forest EIA report commissioned by URA, which has recommended about 70 percent of the forest to be conserved and specially designed housing and pathways that minimise human-wildlife conflicts to be built.

Why and how ecological connectivity in Tengah nature way and Bukit Batok nature corridor should be improved. (Base map by ST Graphics)

Last but not least, we note that the Straits Times reported on 11 November 2022 that “while Singapore’s forests provide refuge for up to about a third of the world’s straw-headed bulbuls, the globally critically endangered species prized for its singing has increasingly been driven to the brink of extinction.”

If the critically endangered straw-headed bulbuls (Pycnonotus zeylanicus) are becoming more endangered, then their forest habitats should also be even more protected, instead of just having the international songbird trade regulations tightened.

While it is good to show concern and take necessary actions regarding the trade of the endangered songbirds on the international stage, we should also spare no effort to stop the decimation of their forest habitats in our own backyard, such as Bukit Batok hillside park area, Tengah forest and Dover forest, where these songbirds have been seen and heard.

Otherwise, it would be tragic to witness the extinction of the straw-headed bulbuls in the wild happening right under our nose when we already have the knowledge and the means to protect them and their natural habitats, especially since Singapore has only about 200+ individuals left (in mainland Singapore, as of 2021) and is their last stronghold in Southeast Asia, if not the world.

Why we should focus on redeveloping brownfield sites to meet demand for public housing

Finally, we believe that our dialogue to promote environmental sustainability in the community wouldn’t be complete without a brief discussion about HDB’s announcement of strong demand for public housing in Singapore, as it has been cited as a major reason for the need to clear our secondary forests for housing development.

We note that the strong demand for public housing (whether BTO, resale or rental) tends to occur mainly in housing estates close to downtown, such as Bendemeer, Kallang, Queenstown and Redhill, whereas news reports have shown that initial applications for new BTO flats in western parts of Singapore, such as Tengah and Bukit Batok West, tend to be lower than those in Toa Payoh and other central locations in Singapore.

As stated by HDB in June 2022, “There were about 19 BTO projects that had flats with first-timer application rates of 1.7 or lower. The locations for these BTO projects included areas in Bukit Batok, Jurong West and Tengah for non-mature estates, and in Tampines for mature estates.”

Hence, we feel that our focus should be more on redeveloping brownfield sites for SERS, VERS and BTOs (such as in the case of the recent Tanglin Halt and Ang Mo Kio SERS projects as well as redevelopment of Mount Pleasant and Keppel Club golf course for public housing), rather than sacrificing the forests in ecologically sensitive areas and along the nature corridors identified by NParks in their Ecological Profiling Exercise (EPE), which include Bukit Batok nature corridor and Clementi nature corridor.

As also noted in the above blog, the news reported last year that 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.  

Hence, if we keep on building new BTOs and condos in the vicinity to cater to such frivolous housing demands instead of redeveloping brownfield sites elsewhere for genuine buyers who want to stay long-term, 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, such as along Bukit Batok nature corridor, to build housing and widen roads mainly to cater to the rich and privileged who could afford to buy housing for property investment/speculation and drive cars.

There is also a chance that Singapore may eventually experience an oversupply of HDB flats, as noted in a commentary by Stacked Homes dated 20 October 2022, in view of the ageing population (and the global warming fallout).

Our proposals

In view of the climate emergency, biodiversity loss and public health crisis facing us, as well as in the spirit of participating in Forward SG, may we ask URA, HDB, NParks and other relevant agencies to seriously consider the following proposals:

  1. 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.
  2. Make resale/rental flats more affordable/accessible, optimise the allocation of Sale-Of-Balance flats, and make it compulsory for those who own private housing to give up and sell back their public housing flat to HDB because subsidised public housing should not be used for profiteering.
  3. 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 (such as old industrial sites, underutilised or vacant lands, abandoned schools, golf courses whose leases are expiring soon, etc) elsewhere.
  4. 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.
No further deforestation along Tengah nature way (at least 30-50% of the original forest with eco-links at both western and eastern ends) and Bukit Batok nature corridor should be carried out, in order to prevent further habitat fragmentation and avoid disrupting the ecological connectivity between the western water catchment and the central nature reserves. (Photo by Jimmy Tan)

Although Bukit Batok Hillside Park area is relatively small and seemingly insignificant compared to other bigger forests in Singapore, it may well be our weakest link because any further disruption along this part of Bukit Batok nature corridor may irreversibly affect the safe movements of fauna (including pollinators and seed dispersers vital for our food security) between Western water catchment and Central catchment nature reserve. The physical and mental well-being of our residents living in the vicinity is also at stake, as shared earlier.

We are only as strong as our weakest link, for we are all members of the same body and citizens of the cosmos, and if the most vulnerable among us suffer as a result of climate emergency, we all suffer together as one. As rightly noted in the vision that Dr Amy Khor has for Hong Kah North (which can be applied for the entire Singapore) - may we build “a place where no one is left behind, but everyone progresses together, each at his own pace”. This can be achieved by adopting the above-mentioned proposals, which include conserving and restoring the forests in Bukit Batok nature corridor and Tengah nature way, to prevent further habitat fragmentation, boost climate resilience, and protect our health, well-being, safety and long-term survival.

Thank you for your attention, and we look forward to continue working with you and Dr Amy Khor on promoting environmental sustainability in the community.

Yours sincerely,

Jimmy Tan San Tek, Bukit Batok East resident

Denise Liu, Bukit Batok West resident


Dr Amy Khor, Adviser to Hong Kah North SMC Grassroots Organisation

Mr Desmond Lee, Minister for National Development of Singapore

[Main text edited slightly to ensure clarity and reflect the latest updates as of 1 January 2023]


Open petition letter to support conservation of Bukit Batok Hillside Park area to ensure a sustainable future for us

The following open petition letter was sent to the relevant authorities in December 2020.

To: Dr Cheong Koon Hean, CEO, Housing Development Board (HDB), Singapore

cc. Mdm Halimah Yacob, President of Singapore

Mr Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of Singapore

Mr Tan Meng Dui, CEO, National Environmental Agency (NEA), Singapore

Mr Fong Chun Wah, Deputy CEO (Building), Housing Development Board (HDB), Singapore

Mr Kenneth Er, CEO, National Parks Board (NParks), Singapore

Mr Desmond Lee, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of National Development (MND), Singapore

Mr Lim Eng Hwee, CEO, Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), Singapore

Subject: Open petition letter to support conservation of Bukit Batok Hillside Park area to ensure a sustainable future for us 

Dear Dr Cheong,

This petition letter is concerned with the fate of Bukit Batok Hillside Park (BBHP) area, where an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was conducted in 2018. I understand that this area was originally part of a larger ridge that runs parallel to Bukit Gombak town before the ridge was cut in half by a new road (namely, Bukit Batok West Avenue 5) in 2018.

An aerial panoramic view of Bukit Batok Hillside Park (BBHP) area on 15 December 2020, with its verdant splendour sweeping into the distance. Someone commented that it looked like the Amazon (rainforest).
Before 2018, BBHP area was part of a larger forested ridge. The ridge used to be a continuous ecological corridor connecting Tengah secondary forest in the north and the forested hill (now known as Bukit Batok Central Nature Park) in the southeast before it was halved by a road construction. (Source: Google Earth) 
A panoramic view of the forested hill next to BBHP area, whose highest point is 71 metres above sea level. Comprising igneous and sedimentary rocks (and possibly volcanic rocks), it has a majestic presence. If indigenous people were living here, they would probably revere the hill as their sacred ancestral heritage, like in the case of the Blue Mountains, Grampians Highlands, or Ayers Rock (Uluru) in Australia.

It is my conviction that both the current BBHP area and its neighbouring forested hill (which were formerly parts of the same ridge) are worth conserving in their entirety because they are important landmarks that not only preserve our natural and cultural heritage (which is getting rarer due to rapid urbanisation), but also provide clean air, an ecological refuge for our native wildlife (including the critically endangered straw-headed bulbuls), cooling of the urban heat island effect, and a healing sanctuary that boosts our immune system and enhances our physical and mental health.

Why I started the petition

It is thanks to HDB’s invitation to the public to provide feedback on the EIA report from 19 June to 16 July 2020 that I came to know about the housing development plan in BBHP area. A friend of mine directed me to a post by Mr Karl Png of Singapore Youth Voices for Biodiversity (SYVB), who invited friends of Nature to contribute feedback. I decided to contribute my feedback via SYVB, and I have also sent my feedback directly to HDB and attached my blog link for the full details, which is meant to raise awareness of the environmental issues.

I feel that it is indeed a good move to sound out members of the public and Nature community on the housing development plan because we can offer broader perspectives based on our actual lived experiences, such as feeling a sense of loss for something that means a lot to us and acknowledging the role of the forests in contributing to our health and well-being, and thereby our quality of life.

As a resident of Bukit Batok myself, I can vouch for how many of the other residents feel about the implications of the development plan on the forests. One main reason I moved from Toa Payoh to Bukit Batok about six years ago is that there is much dense greenery around here. The highly urbanised environment in Toa Payoh and the demanding nature of my full-time editorial work in educational publishing had taken a toll on my health after many years; hence, I sought refuge in this town where the nature parks provide a much-needed respite from the heat and stress. I have since been working as a freelance writer and editor, as well as a part-time food delivery cyclist.

Unfortunately, the planned development of BBHP area, as well as the ongoing deforestation in other parts of Singapore, such as Lentor-Tagore forest, Bidadari forest and Tengah forest (despite concerns raised by Nature groups), would invariably result in rising urban heat island effect, loss of biodiversity, increased risk of flash floods, mosquito-borne diseases and other adverse consequences. Though mitigation measures were proposed by the authorities, I feel that they are often too human-centric rather than eco-centric and are insufficient to address the adverse consequences. 

Annual mean temperatures in Singapore from 1948 to 2019. According to, “the higher trend over Singapore may have been due to the urbanisation, and could also be influenced by regional variations in the man-made global warming effect. Eight of the ten warmest years on record in Singapore have occurred in the 21st century and all the ten warmest years are since 1997”. Hence, we need as many dense forests as possible, including BBHP forests, to ameliorate the warming climate in Singapore.

These consequences will negatively impact those who are most vulnerable to climate change, including the very young, older people, the homeless, the disabled or less abled people, people in poor health, people with poor mobility and access, and those of us who work outdoors with exposure to the weather elements in our hot, humid and wet equatorial climate.

This petition, which was started by me in August 2020 based on a suggestion from a member of Nature Society (Singapore) Facebook group, has over 10,000 signatures to date and includes comments from other residents staying in Bukit Batok, such as the following:

The anger and anguish in response to the rapid deforestation in the neighbourhood and in our country are not only felt by residents of Bukit Batok, but also residents in other parts of Singapore, such as Dover-Ulu Pandan area, Punggol and Pasir Ris. Some of the residents, including myself, have chosen to buy a new or resale flat and move to these areas in order to be close to Nature, while others have lived here all their lives. Since we have enjoyed the quiet space, the cool fresh air, and the presence of the intriguing wildlife in the nearby forests, it is saddening to see such blissful sanctuaries-cum-natural habitats and the biodiversity they support being taken away from our neighbourhood in the name of development. 

I learnt that such emotional responses need to be acknowledged, even if one might seek to justify the need for urban development and economic growth at the expense of our natural environment. These emotional responses may be termed “ecological grief”, defined by Nature Climate Change article as “the grief felt in relation to experienced or anticipated ecological losses, including the loss of species, ecosystems, and meaningful landscapes due to acute or chronic environmental change”. It is believed that ecological grief “is a natural, though overlooked, response to ecological loss, and one that is likely to affect more of us into the future”. If you have been to a forest or nature paradise and are moved by its tranquil beauty, or are inspired to express your creativity like painting or writing poetry, or experience its profound healing or therapeutic benefits, wouldn’t you mourn for its loss too? 

In case this petition might be seen as “anti-development”, I wish to add that it is important for us to have safe spaces for having conversations on conservation and expressing ecological grief without fear of being “cancelled”. For example, when someone in Nature Society (Singapore) Facebook Group lamented about the destruction of the forest for development these days, invariably some others would jump in to defend the need for housing development and dissuade them from airing their grievances. It is a common misconception that people who openly express their concerns about continual deforestation and the state of our environment are anti-development. On the contrary, it is because we love the living environment of Singapore that we are saddened to see the rapid pace at which we are losing our natural heritage. Many of us are questioning ourselves whether we can still afford to pay the price of development at the expense of our remaining forests and biodiversity, and ultimately, at the expense of our health, well-being and long-term survival. We are not against development per se, but rather we are concerned about unsustainable development. 

Throughout the 55 years of our journey of national development since independence, we have been witnessing our landscapes becoming more grey than green. We have come to a point where our collective grief over ecological loss is more than mere nostalgia for a kampong lifestyle or sentimentalism about a rustic landscape. Much as we are grateful for having a roof over our heads and no longer struggling for survival like we did as a young nation back in the 1960s, we are also becoming more aware of our complicity in destroying our flora and fauna in the process of relentless urbanisation. Unlike indigenous people who have a proven track record of managing their tropical rainforests sustainably over countless generations for thousands of years, we seem to be heading towards eventual self-destruction through continual destruction of our own precious rainforests.

One may wonder if we are just being alarmist or overly emotional. If so, let us look at evidence-based research for a reality check. Studies have shown that more than 95% of our original forest cover has been lost to agriculture and urban development. A scientific study/report on deforestation causing extinctions acknowledged by the government shows that we have lost nearly 73% of our plants and animals over the last 200 years, including as many as 4,866 plants, 627 butterflies, 234 fish, 111 reptiles and 91 mammals. As our remaining secondary rainforests become more and more fragmented, it is reasonable to be concerned that we may reach a tipping point or a threshold of deforestation, like in the case of the Amazon rainforests in South America and other tropical rainforests elsewhere, beyond which our ecosystems can no longer function in such a way that can sustain all of us in the long run, in terms of our health, safety and well-being.


Vegetation map of Singapore in 1819 and 2007. (Source: NParks) Although the vegetation cover is said to have increased from 37% in the 1980s to 56% today, there was mass deforestation and construction going on back then. Despite an apparent increase in green cover in the last 40 years, the replanted greenery that replaced the trees that have been cut down for development actually has much less biomass and biodiversity (and possibly less functionality in the ecosystems too) than the original rainforests. As the secondary rainforest in BBHP area has been recovering for decades, it contains much biomass and biodiversity worth preserving fully. 

Percentage of species extinction in Singapore (Source: NParks) We do not want to risk any further extinctions of species, including the critically endangered straw-headed bulbuls found in BBHP area.

Already, we are facing a zoonotic virus pandemic due to increasing encroachment of wildlife habitats around the world, resulting in loss of health, lives and/or livelihoods for many people, including those in Singapore. I also believe that the numerous roadkills involving pangolins, sambar deer, wild boars, etc (especially in Mandai and Lentor areas where development is taking place) and the recent wild boar attacks on humans in Punggol and Pasir Ris (which occurred near deforested areas) are signs that our ecosystem may be buckling under the strain of unmitigated deforestation. These evidences strongly suggest that deforestation is mainly responsible for causing displacement and homelessness of our native species, and consequently road accidents and human-wildlife conflicts, in which both wildlife and humans end up being injured or killed. Such incidental health, social and environmental costs, which are likely to run up to millions of dollars or even more (and surely the value of one’s health or one’s very life alone is beyond measure too), need to be acknowledged and duly addressed.

In view of the extensive damage done to our environment (and to some extent, our health and well-being) and the ecological grief experienced by many of us, it is hoped that this petition will help us to:

  • let HDB (and other relevant authorities) know that we are concerned about ensuring a sustainable future for ourselves and our future generations.
  • create awareness for more people about the need to conserve our fast-dwindling forested areas, which serve as a home for our flora and fauna, which we are all interdependent on
  • ensure that we will not let another natural habitat disappear under our nose, and hopefully prevent future cases of deforestation and their negative consequences from happening
  • advocate the need for creative solutions, such as considering brownfield sites and underutilised lands (such as golf courses, abandoned buildings awaiting redevelopment, etc), as alternatives for housing development instead of sacrificing our endangered natural habitats.

BBHP area has the highest percentage of native plant diversity in Bukit Batok. It may also contain nests of rare bird species, such as eagles, on the tree canopy, which may have been missed during the fauna survey in the EIA.

The newly designated Bukit Batok Hillside Nature Park (BBHNP) and its limitations

Having read the local news on 7 December 2020 about the designation of two new nature parks in Singapore; namely, Bukit Batok Hillside Nature Park (BBHNP) and Bukit Batok Central Nature Park, I feel that they are good reports overall, but there is still much to be done for nature conservation and sustainable development. Upon examining the map in Today’s news article, I realised that nothing has changed much for the Bukit Batok Hillside Park (BBHP) area, which will occupy 8.9 ha, after it includes one of the streams and the small catchment area, as a designated nature park.

The new Bukit Batok Hillside Nature Park and Bukit Batok Central Nature Park are meant to increase ecological connectivity between the Central Nature Park Network and the future Tengah Forest Corridor in the west of Singapore. (Map: National Parks Board)

From my understanding, HDB is still planning to develop 2 plots of land for housing, which will occupy almost half of the 17-ha forested area, where the EIA was carried out, and HDB is also planning to launch the first batch of BTO flats in this area in February 2021.

As mentioned in the petition, it is much better to build these BTO flats on brownfield sites or redeveloped sites elsewhere than to destroy parts of the maturing secondary rainforest and its rich biodiversity in BBHP area.

As you have acknowledged in 2018:

“Similar to many mature cities, as we become built up over time we will be left with more brownfield rather than greenfield sites. This requires us to shift progressively into an ‘urban redevelopment/regeneration’ mode. For an island city-state limited by our territorial waters, available land for new development will come mainly from ‘recycling’ existing land and properties.”

(Source: How We Can Better Chart Singapore’s Urban Future)

In 2019, you have rightly reiterated our need to recycle brownfield fields for future development.

“As more developments use up land space, it is inevitable that future development would come from recycling what urban planners call brownfield sites. We will soon transit into a redevelopment mode where existing land and properties is `recycled’ for new use and new forms of developments. In fact, our leasehold land system is essential for us to achieve a virtual cycle of land recovery, continually rejuvenating our city and housing estates for future generations.”

(Source: From Grid to Green: The Plans that Shape Our City State)

Indeed, we are already in the process of redeveloping or rejuvenating some of our housing estates through engaging residents in the “remaking our heartland” programme and so on. Having previously lived in Toa Payoh, I have seen for myself a number of blocks of old flats being demolished to make way for new, taller blocks of flats, such as in Toa Payoh Apex. I have also seen existing used lands of Bukit Batok being redeveloped to build BTO flats, such as those behind Keming Primary School. Moreover, I am aware that some golf courses, such as Keppel Club and golf course, will make way for housing development in the next few years. 

I think these housing redevelopment projects are commendable and should be practised more widely instead of removing our few remaining secondary forests. If we take into account the massive health, social and environmental costs of deforestation as mentioned earlier, it should be more economically viable and environmentally sustainable to recycle brownfield sites than sacrificing our remaining greenfield sites and destroying our biodiversity (and our health) further. If anything, the COVID-19 pandemic can be seen as a reminder for us to go back to Nature for healing and inspiration, as well as a gentle nudge for us to step into a new paradigm of doing things that work in harmony with Nature, as the old way of doing things is no longer serving our highest good.

The mist above the forests in BBHP and its neighbouring hill is a good sign that the mass transpiration from the densely growing trees is cooling the surrounding air, thus alleviating urban heat island effect significantly and helping to save aircon electricity bills and relieving stress for residents living nearby. They also already provide Nature ways and ecological connectivity along the roads without cost. It is crucial to retain both BBHP area and its neighbouring forest for their cooling ability especially since Singapore is heating up twice as fast as the planet.

In addition, I am very concerned that the area of 8.9 ha designated as a nature park is insufficient for preserving biodiversity in BBHP area, which is recorded to support at least 81 fauna species and 74 plant species. Considering the fact that the 17-ha EIA study site consists of a forest that is already fragmented, any further fragmentation of the forest will only serve to worsen the edge effects, such as direct exposure to light and drying effects of the wind, which may adversely affect trees in the forest interior. This is worrying because BBHP area has the highest percentage of native plant diversity in Bukit Batok, according to a study done by National University of Singapore in 2013.

BBHP forests have thick leaf litter supporting microorganisms that decompose organic material for fertilising trees and other plants. The trees in the forest interior are protected from edge effects such as windthrow as long as the forest remains intact. 

As noted by conservation biologist Dr Thomas Lovejoy:

“Fragments lose up to 30 percent of their biomass essentially forever because of the vulnerability of big trees to windthrow [when trees are toppled or broken by wind]… Fragment size is a really critical factor. Small fragments (those under 10 hectares in size) are really hammered by edge effects and lose much of their biodiversity. They’re sort of like biological deserts, and very seriously distorted ecologically – just a caricature of intact forest.”

(“Lessons from the world’s longest study of rainforest fragments”)

Last but not least, during my surveys of the BBHP area, I was fortunate to hear the unmistakable melodious songs of the critically endangered straw-headed bulbuls (which are not recorded in the EIA report) on two occasions. I managed to record a short video of its song during a visit to the forest on 16 November 2020. Given that these highly sought-after song birds were brought to the brink of extinction, we should spare no effort to conserve every one of their natural habitats, including the entire BBHP area and its neighbouring forested hill. We should also keep in mind that other native species, such as bats, Sunda colugos and Sunda pangolins, may be present at BBHP area, even though they were not observed during the 9-day fauna survey done in 2018, as noted in the EIA report.

BBHP area deserves to be fully protected as a natural habitat for the critically endangered straw-headed bulbuls. Other threatened biodiversity will also benefit from the conservation actions. Excerpt from Nature Watch (July-September 2019) by Nature Society (Singapore). 

Proposal to preserve the entire BBHP forested areas for educational, recreational and conservation purposes

In view of the limitations of the newly designated BBHNP as discussed earlier, this petition will continue to press for the conservation of the entire forested areas in this vicinity (i.e. both 17-ha BBHP area and the forested hill next to it, which is around the same size) for the sake of our biodiversity (including endangered flora and fauna that depend on the forests for survival), our battle against adverse climate change, and our health and well-being, etc.


As stated in my petition update on 10 December 2020, we need to preserve the original ridge that comprises both BBHP area and the forested hill next to it, in order to ensure a coherent ecological corridor that truly safeguards the safety, well-being and long-term survival of our native wildlife species. (Source of base map: URA Master Plan 2019)

Lest anyone think it is too much to ask for the entire ecological corridor along BBHP and its neighbouring forested hill to be retained, let us recall MP Desmond Lee’s observation recorded in the Straits Times article dated 7 December 2020, in which he said the designated nature parks “act as key stepping stones within the existing network of green spaces between the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Tengah, which provide food and shelter for our native flora and fauna to thrive”. In addition, he cited “the appearance of the Malayan colugo, a gliding animal, in Bukit Batok Nature Park as an example of how existing park connectors and nature ways between Bukit Batok and the Central Catchment have enhanced connectivity for native species”. Thus, we need the same enhanced connectivity for the native animals in the entire BBHP area and its neighbouring forested hill.

In addition, since everything is interconnected, we need to align the Tengah forest corridor in such a way to ensure that the existing wildlife are able to have sufficient living spaces for eating, resting, mating and moving with minimal noise pollution and human disturbance. The map above shows my proposed Tengah forest corridor, which will ensure that ground-moving creatures, such as squirrels, wild boars, Sunda pangolins, and civet cats, are able to move to and from Tengah and BBHP as well as other natural habitats freely and safely. This can also help them in the work of pollination and seed dispersal for a healthy functioning ecosystem.

As shown in the map above and the photo below, the lower elevation in the south side of BBHP area is most suited for ground-moving animals to transit between BBHP area and Tengah forest in the northwest. Besides, it is safer and easier for visitors to hike along the trails on gentle slopes on the south side than the steep slopes on the north side. (Source of map: EIA)

Moreover, since BBHP area and its neighbouring forest are located near Bukit Batok Polyclinic, Bukit Batok Home for the Aged, and the upcoming senior-friendly assisted-living HDB flats, we could integrate an eco-friendly therapeutic Nature sanctuary within the park premises where there is even ground with ease of access for patients and elderly folks to enjoy the health benefits of forest bathing (aka shinrin-yoku) without having to travel too far. It will ensure that the park area can be well utilised not only by able-bodied residents, but also residents who are less able or less mobile. 

Furthermore, the above-mentioned forested area can serve as a research, education and conservation centre to groom young scientists, botanists and ecologists. This initiative would be in line with NParks’ goal to nurture our next generation to take care of our forest ecology. According to the Conservation Sentiments Survey done by Wildlife Reserves Singapore earlier this year, “Generation Z respondents aged between 16 and 24 years old are nearly twice as inclined to support wildlife conservation, compared to Singaporeans above 45 years old”. Our younger generations are also particularly concerned about their future in the context of global warming and other pressing environmental issues, hence the proposed research centre can train and empower them to study forest biodynamics, monitor our flora and fauna in our ecological corridors, and help contribute to nature conservation and ensure environmental sustainability. We could also collaborate with the Forest School Singapore for such educational programmes, for example. (See Addendum below)


One may wonder if we were to conserve the entire BBHP area and its neighbouring forested hill, where else can we build the BTO flats that were meant to be built on the aforementioned 2 plots of land? I do not profess to have the perfect answers, but I do have some suggestions for HDB to consider. As shown in the map on the right, the possible alternative sites include:

  1. the empty plot of land beside the Buddhist temple along Bukit Batok West Ave 8, 
  2. the empty plot of land beside Dulwich College along Bukit Batok West Ave 8, and
  3. the land occupied by Yusof Ishak Secondary School (which will be relocated to Punggol in 2021) along Bukit Batok Street 25.

These proposed alternative sites have very low biodiversity (thus will result in minimal loss of biodiversity) and share the same infrastructure and amenities as the existing blocks of flats nearby. Even if my suggestions are found to be infeasible by HDB, I choose to make the suggestions partly to save BBHP area from housing development and partly to demonstrate that we nature enthusiasts are not against development per se, but rather are concerned about how the development may affect our biodiversity, climate, and health and well-being to the extent that it becomes unsustainable.

You may agree that the concerns and suggestions raised in this petition letter are by no means exhaustive, as environmental issues are complex and intersectional. There are some questions we all need to ask ourselves and one another so that we can fill in the gaps of knowledge and understanding, in order to provide better feedback and suggestions and work together for truly sustainable solutions that benefit ourselves, our animal friends and our environment. These questions include:

  • How can we, individually and collectively, address our human nature or unconscious desire that causes us to want more and more things (thus resulting in over-exploitation of resources and environmental destruction, and ultimately our self-destruction) but is impossible to satisfy?
  • Given the fact that deforestation creates habitats for mosquito vectors, how can we avoid or minimise deforestation henceforth, in order to effectively combat dengue virus outbreak at the very root, instead of only treating the symptoms of the problem and relying mainly on costly chemical fumigation and pesticides that can harm benign creatures and mosquito predators, such as dragonflies, geckos and spiders, and upset the ecosystem further?
Primary rainforests and maturing secondary rainforests such as BBHP forests usually do not breed dengue-carrying mosquitoes because of the cool dark interior and presence of natural predators such as frogs, dragonflies and so on. Once a forest is cleared, the stagnant water collected in muddy pools and tree stumps etc is exposed to direct sunlight. The increased warmth of the water and the loss of natural predators favour aggressive dengue-carrying mosquito breeding. Hence, to stop deforestation and stop the killing of the natural predators of mosquitoes due to chemical fogging (or lawn mowing) is to curb dengue virus outbreak at its root. 
  • Although the 1-million tree planting project is laudable, even if we can replace 1 million trees lost to deforestation for development by replanting 1 million young trees by 2030, how can we account for the loss of flora and fauna (including our endangered species), together with the biomass and biodiversity they constitute and the functionality they contribute to our ecosystems, which have taken decades to grow, mature and flourish?
  • Since Singapore has one of the world’s lowest birth rates, and our population is declining this year, and it is also reported that “given recent trends, Singapore’s total population is likely to be significantly below 6.9 million by 2030”, how urgently do we really need to build more housing to the extent of having to destroy part of the forest in BBHP area? We need more transparency on such information in order for us to give better informed feedback and suggestions. Moreover, even if we do need to build substantially more housing in the next 10 years, have we really explored all the options and given top priority to redeveloping brownfield sites before deciding to sacrifice our few remaining secondary forests that support sizeable biodiversity as the last resort, including Dover Forest, Clementi Forest etc, which are marked for development according to URA Master Plan 2019? In view of the emerging ecological crisis mentioned earlier, can we move towards zero deforestation and focus on redevelopment of brownfield sites? If we can recycle our used water and innovate NEWater, surely we can also recycle our used built-up lands and innovate new eco-friendly housing development without having to lose our forests further.
  • Last but not least, considering the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic that has caused major disruptions to our lifestyles and businesses locally and globally, how prepared are we to deal with another zoonotic virus pandemic if it will happen in future, especially when we humans continue to encroach on wildlife habitats, such as our tropical rainforests? Earlier this year during the circuit breaker, many people avoided shopping malls and flocked to Nature places like forests and beaches to exercise, get fresh air, and build their immune system. If we continue to destroy our remaining secondary forests that serve as buffers to prevent our fragile nature reserves from being affected by having too many visitors, wouldn’t the destruction of our forests endanger ourselves even further?

BBHP area and its neighbouring forested hill can serve as important buffers to protect our fragile nature reserves from being affected by the increasing number of hikers, many of whom are seeking refuge from urban stress and crowded malls to escape the risk of COVID-19 virus infection. 

Finally, on behalf of the supporters of this petition and everyone else who has contributed to the conversation, I would like to thank you for your attention and for the opportunity to provide our feedback on the EIA done on BBHP area. I wish you all the best in your endeavours to work with the agencies and stakeholders with regard to BBHP area, which I consider to be a poster child for advocating the conservation of all of our few remaining secondary forests. Hopefully, the best possible outcome will happen for all of us, including our animal friends.

Yours sincerely,

Jimmy Tan San Tek

jimmytst at

Creator of the petition “Support conservation of Bukit Batok Hillside Park to ensure a sustainable future for us


P.S. To sign the petition to save Bukit Batok Hillside Park area, click here.

To sign the petition to save Tengah forest, click here.

Bukit Batok Hillside Park area: waterfall, tour and forest clean-up

On Sunday, 10 January 2021, it was raining cats and dogs, thanks to the northeast monsoon surge.

Our planned morning group tour at Bukit Batok Hillside Park (BBHP) area had to be postponed.

I decided to do my lunch shift, and then dropped by at BBHP in the early afternoon for a solo hike, before doing the dinner shift.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that a waterfall had formed on the stone staircase – it was an amazing sight to behold.

A week later, on Sunday 17 January, a number of enthusiastic hikers and I embarked on a morning tour and an afternoon tour at BBHP area.

This time, we took the opportunity to clean up the debris left behind by previous visitors in the area along the way.

From the worn-out appearance of many discarded plastic bottles around the run-down gazebos, the litter must have been discarded many years ago, probably around the early 2000s before the park was abandoned mysteriously.

As BBHP area becomes more prominent after the petition to save the forests in the entire ecological corridor from housing development has gained more awareness, let us all remember to respect the environment when we visit the area.

Bukit Batok Hillside Park area: First forest tour of the new year 2021 and notes on nature conservation

View of Bukit Batok Hillside Park area from Bukit Gombak

The year 2021 is off to a cool start, as we are currently experiencing the northeast monsoon season and La Nina effect, which have been bringing intense storms in the Southeast Asian region.

Due to the prolonged monsoon rains during the first couple of days of the new year, the temperature in Singapore dropped to as low as 21.2 degrees Celsius on Saturday, 2 January 2021.

The rain abated by Sunday morning, 3 January, thankfully, as about 20 participants and I were able to embark on our first forest tour of the year at Bukit Batok Hillside Park (BBHP) area.

As we are now in Phase 3 of COVID-19 circuit breaker, we divided ourselves into smaller groups for safe distancing during the tour.

Approximate route taken by the tour groups. We saw a huge fig tree near the stream. Considering that there are a number of fairly mature trees providing ecosystem services in the lower elevation parts of the forest, Bukit Batok Hillside Park area is worth conserving in its entirety, instead of having parts of the area destroyed and developed for housing.
Little forest creatures, such as slugs and butterflies, were seen in the hillside park area.
An immersive hiking experience in the cool interior of the surreal forest in our backyard, which is reminiscent of the mossy forest in Cameron Highlands, Peninsular Malaysia
(Photo by Shawal Yeo)
View of the surroundings from the lookout point atop the hill. We could see the destruction of Tengah forest for housing development going on behind the new Build-To-Order (BTO) flats under construction.
Grey or green environment? The kind of future we want to create is in the hands of our current and future generations.
(Photo by Shawal Yeo)
Hiking in the forest is good for our physical and mental health. Exposure to the phytoncides given off by trees and other plants boosts our immune system. We need to preserve the lower elevation parts of the forest as well, for ease of access for both native wildlife and hikers from all walks of life.
(Photo by Shawal Yeo)
Our forest is the lungs of the Earth. While it is good to replant trees for enhanced greenery, the trees in our dense forests purify the air and cool our surroundings much more effectively than fragmented parks, manicured gardens and roadside trees.
(Source: vegantipster on Instagram)
The refreshing natural stream cascading down the forested slope is a rare sight in urbanised Singapore. Given the fragile nature of the water catchment area, if construction were to take place in the vicinity, it could adversely affect the water quality and liveability of the ecosystem for our native flora and fauna, such as forest-dependent birds and amphibians (e.g. greater racket-tailed drongos and copper-cheeked frogs).
Different kinds of mushrooms are found growing in the forest, which is Nature’s pharmacy. We need to conserve our forests and train young botanists and ecologists who can identify medicinal plants for our healthcare needs.
(Photo by Shawal Yeo)
The objective of the tour in Bukit Batok Hillside Park area is to experience the forest for ourselves and share our experience with others. Our flora and fauna cannot speak for themselves, so we are their eyes, ears and voice, by which we can help raise awareness about the need to conserve this entire ecological corridor between Tengah forest and Bukit Batok central nature park.
(Photo by Shawal Yeo)

Conversation on nature conservation and sustainable development

Meanwhile, let’s have a conversation on nature conservation and sustainable development to answer some questions anticipated from critics of environmentalism.

Q: Is it true that we are experiencing global warming, now that we are experiencing cool rainy weather? Do we really need to be concerned about deforestation?

A: Global warming is a long-term climatic trend, not subject to daily or seasonal changes.

Though we may be experiencing cool temperatures of 22-24 degrees Celsius during the rainy northeast monsoon season, we may also experience hot dry intermonsoon seasons at other times of the year.

It is projected that Singapore will experience an increase of as much as 4.6 degrees Celsius by the year 2100.

That means the maximum daily temperature may reach as high as 39.6 degrees in 80 years’ time.

Such hot weather conditions can be detrimental to our health and well-being, especially those vulnerable to climate change, such as the very young, the elderly, the disabled and the sick.

Hence, the time to stop deforestation and focus on redevelopment of brownfield sites is now.

Sizeable dense forests (of 10 ha or bigger) can cool the surrounding air in a built-up urban area more effectively than small parks and gardens.

For example, Bukit Batok is generally 1.5 degrees Celsius cooler than Toa Payoh because Bukit Batok is surrounded by dense forests, whereas Toa Payoh has only roadside trees, and its mainly open-spaced town park has limited cooling ability.

Q: Is our ecosystem really experiencing a crisis? We seem to be getting on fine even after losing more than 95% of our original rainforests and at least 50% of our original flora and fauna in the past 200 years.

A: Let’s consider this analogy.

If you have been eating unhealthy food regularly, such as fast food, for a number of years, you may look healthy outwardly, but inwardly, your blood vessels are clogging with saturated fats.

Occasionally, you may fall sick, or even experience some organ disease and seek treatment.

As you continue to eat unhealthy foods regularly for another 20 to 30 years, you may have to become dependent on medication just to stay alive and prevent yourself from getting a stroke or heart attack.

Would you say that you are still healthy, or are you experiencing a health crisis?

Similarly, if we continue to destroy our remaining secondary forests, even though we seem to be able to go on our daily lives as usual, we are actually spending millions of our public funds to mitigate the negative consequences, such as flood prevention, dengue fever control, heat mitigation, etc.

“The incidence of dengue, caused by viruses spread by the Aedes mosquito, has increased 30-fold in the past 50 years…. Increased urbanisation, travel and migration, the pressures of globalisation, and global warming are likely to maintain dengue transmission at high levels and continue to result in major outbreaks in affected countries.”

(Source: “Act against dengue now with tools that exist“, 24 July 2015)

Suppose we stop spending on all these damage control measures, can we still say we can live as per normal (as compared to, say, indigenous peoples who have been living in tropical rainforests for thousands of years in a simple, sensible and sustainable manner)?

Can we survive the next extreme storm without any expensive flood control technology?

Can we survive the dengue fever outbreak caused by deforestation without any expensive vector control measures of mosquito-frequented urbanised areas?

Can we survive the worsening urban heat island effect without having to spend millions of dollars on mass airconditioning, designing and constructing “green” buildings, etc?

Until we acknowledge the problems and have honest conversations on nature conservation and stop further deforestation (and instead choose to redevelop brownfield sites), we and our future generations will continue to bear the massive costs of environmental degradation and unsustainable development.

P.S. Click here to support the petition to save the forests in the entire Bukit Batok Hillside Park area from housing development.