Dover Forest East walk, 22 October 2022

Thanks to environmental educator Tan Hang Chong for briefing us on the natural and cultural heritage of Dover Forest, to Andrew Tay for co-leading the hike, and to everyone for being part of the nature appreciation experience.

Though Dover Forest is a regenerating secondary forest with a history of rural settlements and agricultural practices, it is also part of the former Pandan forest reserve and – going further back in time – the original primary rainforests.

Hence, the forest retains the rugged appearance of wild nature, with naturalised streams and forest-dependent wildlife such as lineated barbets, hill mynahs and raptors, which aren’t found in the usual parks and gardens.

I realised the sounds are made by a hill mynah. Incidentally, hill mynahs are one of the key indicator species, according to NParks’ Ecological Profiling Exercise. Hence, by right, Dover Forest East ought to be recognised as an important ecological corridor, instead of being dismissed for supposedly “having less biodiversity than Dover Forest West”.

We felt the coolness of the forest interior amidst the densely growing trees and their evapotranspiration effect.

We breathed in the immune-boosting phytoncides released by the lush evergreen natural vegetation, which provides an immersive forest therapy experience.

Some of the iconic trees in Dover Forest East

We enjoyed the spontaneous discoveries of rare or unusual flora and fauna, which cannot be replicated in manicured parks and gardens where cultivated plants look orderly and predictable.

Critters of Dover Forest East

We appreciated the usefulness of the deep loamy soil and plant roots that absorb rainwater and help prevent floods and landslides along Ulu Pandan river, even as we are experiencing more inclement weather brought about by human-induced climate change.

All in all, it is a memorable experience with invaluable lessons from Mother Nature, who is sovereign over us all, despite the self-proclaimed sovereignty of an island-state that endeavours to be a City in Nature.


Plant rescue at Dover Forest East

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

Dover-Ulu Pandan Forest: Exploration of the western and eastern patches

On 25 September 2021, my hiking buddies and I explored some trails to take stock of some notable plant species while the eastern patch of the forest is still intact. The photograph of ficus virens was taken by Sheryl Leong. Some of the fig tree species have been identified with the help of Chua Chin Tat.

Somewhere in the middle of the eastern patch of Dover forest, small dry animal poop was spotted, which resembles that of a common palm civet. Old discarded litter, such as drink cans and water bottles, were also seen along the way. Mosquitoes were encountered near the forest fringe where vegetation has been disturbed, but not in the forest interior where there are more natural pest predators, such as spiders and dragonflies.

Channel 8 News: Increase in number of hikers visiting Dover Forest has resulted in more litter and more mature trees being damaged

English translation of the Channel 8 News Chinese article (partly paraphrased in my own words)


“The recent debates about the planned development and the need for conservation of Dover-Ulu Pandan forest has attracted much public interest, resulting in more hikers exploring the forest out of curiosity.

There is an increase in littering, and some mature trees have also become favourite subjects of photography, to the extent that tree climbing for the sake of photoshooting might invariably result in damaging the trees.”

Conservationist Chua Chin Tat: “Having witnessed how some people have taken turns to climb such large trees of significance, I am concerned that these actions may cause the tree branches to become weakened and broken over time, or their bark to become damaged.”

Commentator: “People have also noticed that Dover forest has various kinds of litter, such as empty containers, drink bottles, etc, which mar its natural beauty. Last month, freelance writer Chen Zande (Jimmy Tan) has called his friends to do weekly clean-up of the forest.”

Freelance writer Jimmy: “I have a WhatsApp group, which has about 100 plus members. So, I told them, “ok let’s go and pick up the litter (in the forest) this Sunday…. For safe distancing, we would form 2 groups of 8 people each”, and many members signed up.”

Commentator: “Within an hour, the volunteers filled up about 20 bags of trash that they have picked up.”

Video by Channel 8 News, 21 March 2021

Reported by Lee Zhengyi

My feedback to HDB on the environmental baseline findings of Dover-Ulu Pandan Forest

With a high biodiversity of (at least) 158 fauna species and 120 flora species, including critically endangered species, as well as having a rich heritage of former kampongs, farms and plantations, Dover Forest has the potential of attaining a UNESCO World Heritage status. In fact, its potential status may equal or even exceed that of Singapore Botanic Gardens. After all, Dover Forest is more local than colonial and is also more wild than cultivated or manicured.
According to the Environmental Baseline Study, the Dover/Ulu Pandan study area is “not located near to any Singapore Nature Reserve”. However, it is actually closely connected to Clementi Forest (which leads to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve) and Green Corridor via Ulu Pandan PCN (which runs towards Southern Ridges). Thus, Dover Forest should be considered an ecologically sensitive area instead of vacant vegetated land.

I am a resident of Bukit Batok, and I work as a freelance writer, editor, photographer and videographer. I have worked with the Ministry of Education on Geography textbook projects for secondary schools, and I am also the author of the open petition letter in support of the conservation of Bukit Batok Hillside Park area to ensure a sustainable future for us.

Although I don’t live near Dover-Ulu Pandan Forest (aka Dover Forest), I occasionally cycle around the vicinity, due to my shifts in Clementi zone or Bukit Timah zone as a part-time food delivery cyclist. I can vouch for the fact that the air there often feels cooler and fresher, especially along the Ulu Pandan Park Connector Network (PCN), thanks to the presence of Dover Forest next to it.

Does Dover forest have no economic value? Well, it actually has immeasurable worth in terms of its ecosystem services, such as cooling the surroundings, purifying the air, preventing flash floods, providing food and shelter to support forest-dependent wildlife (including pollinators and seed dispersers), and so on.

In fact, it is found that a single healthy tree can have the cooling power of more than 10 air-conditioning units, and trees can filter air pollution, “improving our health and that of the planet”, according to Ms Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). She also said:

one of the best technologies for tackling overheating cities was invented long before humans appeared: trees” 

Dover Forest: Don’t sacrifice trees for space” (Straits times forum, 18 February 2021)

Does that mean we can replace Dover Forest with residential buildings, so long as we incorporate some greenery by planting trees around the new Build-To-Order (BTO) flats to cool the air?

No, I don’t think that is advisable in view of the climate change facing us. Instead, I strongly suggest that we should conserve Dover Forest entirely as a nature park-cum-public park (as also proposed by Nature Society), rather than destroy the forest partially or wholly for housing development.

How Dover Forest helps to deal with climate change: Size and density matter

Climate change is an existential threat caused by increased greenhouse gas emissions due to rapid deforestation, urbanisation and industrialisation in Singapore and around the world. Every day, automobiles and factories running on fossil fuels emit tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and there are fewer and fewer trees available to serve as carbon sinks.

Annual mean temperature in Singapore from 1948 to 2019. (Source: Singapore is heating up twice as fast as the rest of the world – with maximum daily temperatures predicted to reach 35-37 degrees Celsius by year 2100.

In view of the climate change, we need every sizeable forest (of at least 10 ha), such as Dover Forest, in order to mitigate the negative effects of climate change, such as global warming, more frequent extreme weather changes resulting in flash floods or droughts, as well as increased danger to food security and biodiversity.

We must not forget that Singapore is located at 1 degree north of the Equator and experiences a hot, humid and wet climate. Hence, all the negative effects of climate change pose a significant threat to our safety, health and well-being, as well as quality of life, and ultimately our very survival as a human species in the long-term.

As Singapore is located just above the Equator, it receives the direct impact of the Sun’s rays during daytime. By default, our tropical island is blessed with tropical rainforests and mangrove forests that help cushion the full intensity of the Sun’s heat. Now that we have lost about 95% of our original rainforests, we are much more vulnerable to the suffocating heat of the sun and global warming than the rest of the world. Only about a third of the island is covered by trees today, which is insufficient for our optimal living and functioning in our daily lives since the trees exist mostly in fragmented areas.

On 1 February 2021, the Singapore Parliament rightfully stated:

“That this House acknowledges that climate change is a global emergency and a threat to mankind and calls on the Government, in partnership with the private sector, civil society and the people of Singapore, to deepen and accelerate efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change, and to embrace sustainability in the development of Singapore.”

Parliament declares climate change a global emergency (Straits Times, 1 February 2021)

Although the Singapore Green Plan 2030 has called for 1,000 hectares to be set aside for green spaces and one more million more trees to be planted across our island, it fails to include our responsibility to conserve our remaining dense secondary forests and redevelop brownfield sites instead of sacrificing our forests.

Studies have shown that sizeable forests that are at least 10 ha in area are more effective in cooling the surroundings than fragmented green spaces (such as many of our small parks and gardens).

For example, a research article reveals that:

“The results of the present study illustrate that the highest cooling effect distance and cooling effect intensity are for large urban parks with an area of more than 10 ha; however, in addition to the area, the natural elements and qualities of the urban green spaces, as well as climate characteristics, highly inform the urban green space cooling effect.”

Urban green space cooling effect in cities, Heliyon, Volume 5, Issue 4, April 2019, e01339

With an area of more than 30 ha of mainly densely growing trees (except for the small patch of grassland in the middle), Dover forest is considered sizeable enough for providing a significant cooling effect on the surroundings, which is more effective than that provided by our smaller parks and gardens, or roadside trees for that matter.

The mist above Dover Forest in the morning is a clear testimony of how the evapotranspiration from the densely growing trees has helped to cool the surrounding air significantly. We would be hard pressed to see such mist in our small, sparsely vegetated parks and gardens.

[to be continued as it takes time to put together the latest data]

Four main reasons why Dover forest is so important for conservation

Lush interior of the recovering secondary forest, supporting a rich biodiversity

1. The size of Dover forest is significant enough to combat climate change on a micro level.

Despite its relatively small size, Dover forest is sizeable enough to cool the urban heat island effect significantly, compared to small parks or gardens.

At 33 hectares in size, Dover forest has densely growing trees that can lower the temperature of the surrounding air more effectively than fragmented parks, small gardens or roadside trees.

“The results of the present study illustrate that the highest cooling effect distance and cooling effect intensity are for large urban parks with an area of more than 10 ha; however, in addition to the area, the natural elements and qualities of the urban green spaces, as well as climate characteristics, highly inform the urban green space cooling effect.”

Source: “Urban green space cooling effect in cities

It is especially crucial in the context of climate change and global warming we are experiencing today, due to rapid deforestation, urbanisation and emission of greenhouse gases.

How replacing Dover forest with concrete buildings will exacerbate the urban heat island effect in the region

2. Dover forest has rich biodiversity and ecosystem service benefits that are worth at least millions of dollars in economic value.

The biodiversity of Dover forest is pretty impressive, according to the environmental baseline survey report released by HDB and studies done by Nature Society (Singapore).

The ecosystem service benefits that Dover forest provides, such as food, shelter, nutrient recycling, preventing flash floods, and so on, would be worth at least million of dollars in economic value.

While replanting trees around the island is necessary, why should we have to destroy the lush forest and then spend many more millions of dollars to replant trees and implement environmental damage control measures that take years to take effect when we can enjoy the benefits that Dover forest already provides freely, abundantly and immediately?

3. Dover forest enhances our physical and mental health, while serving as a natural green buffer for our nature reserves.

Dover forest can meet the growing demands and needs of people for natural wild green spaces to relieve stress, build immunity and enhance mental health.

The forest serves as a green buffer to prevent our nature reserves from being negatively impacted by overcrowding.

4. Dover MRT station is a gateway for the general public to access the forest for recreation and outdoor education conveniently.

Its proximity to Dover MRT station means that residents can visit Dover forest easily and do not need to travel all the way to the nature reserves.

Just like Kranji MRT station is a gateway to Sungei Buloh wetland reserves and Kranji countryside, Dover MRT station is a gateway to Singapore Polytechnic, Holland private housing estate and Dover forest.

Aerial view of Dover forest, which has the potential of a world-class nature park that is easily accessible via public transport

Let’s make sustainable development a living reality.

For us to truly practise sustainable development, we urgently need to choose redevelopment of underutilised lands over deforestation, especially when climate emergency affects all of us locally and globally.

How would you envision sustainable development through conserving secondary rainforests and redeveloping brownfield sites?

P.S. To sign the petition to save Dover forest, click here.