Loss of ecological connectivity along Bukit Batok Nature Corridor is a serious concern, in view of Singapore’s commitment to sustainable development

Sustainable development should prioritise climate resilience, biodiversity protection and people’s well-being, not just having more housing or wider roads

Over the past decades, Singapore has witnessed a number of negative environmental impacts of rapid deforestation and urbanisation, such as floods, landslides, animal roadkill, human-wildlife conflicts and disease outbreaks – many of which are unprecedented.

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.

The doughnut economics conceptual model. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

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.

After all, a growing GDP doesn’t necessarily equate to a successful society when the rich become richer and the poor become poorer, or when environmental degradation affects our well-being, quality of life and survival.

Those of us who are less well-off are also more vulnerable to the negative consequences of human-induced climate change, due to lack of or inadequate access to air cooling and/or healthcare services.

To date, six of the nine planetary boundaries, including climate change and biodiversity loss, have already been crossed, according to researchers from the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Disruption of ecological connectivity between Bukit Batok nature park and Toh Tuck forest (Photo by Jimmy Tan)

Part of wildlife corridor in Bukit Batok being cleared for roadworks is regrettable

In the light of the aforementioned environmental impacts, I am deeply concerned about the clearance of a patch of secondary forest in Bukit Batok during the ongoing road-widening works, which was done without any Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

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.

Notably, the loss of about 1 ha of the forest in this area is equivalent to 483 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions (or the equivalent of the annual emissions of over 150 cars), if we consider the fact that Singapore has lost 201 ha of tree cover, equivalent to 97,200,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, last year.

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.

As a resident of Bukit Batok, my own observations show that the roads around Bukit Batok nature park have light traffic most of the time, and the peak hour traffic in the morning and evening seldom builds up beyond each cycle of traffic light changes at the road junction (see below videos for reference).

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.

The lack of space in the Right Turn storage lane results in a gap in the middle lane of Bukit Batok East Ave 6 when vehicles are waiting for the traffic lights to turn green. Extending the storage lane can significantly ease traffic congestion during peak hours without having to widen this road. (Photo by Jimmy Tan)
The Left Turn slip road along Bukit Batok East Avenue 2 can accommodate one more lane to ease the short traffic jams during peak hours (which usually happen only on weekdays), so the trees along the edge of Toh Tuck Forest on the opposite side of the road junction need not be removed for road widening. (Photo by Jimmy Tan)

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)?

Also, although Singapore’s population growth rate has risen from 1.3% in 2016 to 3.4% in 2022, most of the growth comes from PRs and non-citizens, including wealthy foreign investors who tend to make bulk purchases of private properties, and many investors may buy the properties to rent or sell them for quick profits instead of staying there long-term.

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.

As noted by National University of Singapore (NUS) biology lecturer N. Sivasothi, “the affected forest patches are located near the intersection of the Bukit Batok and the Clementi nature corridors, which might impact on the wildlife moving between western catchment forests to the central nature reserves.”

“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?

Both Bukit Batok hillside park Hill 1 and 2 (which include new HDB BTO sites) are part of Bukit Batok nature corridor, as identified by NParks’ Ecological Profiling Exercise.

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?

The collage of photos show soil erosion and loss of ecological connectivity in Bukit Batok nature corridor over the past couple of years. The landslide at Bukit Batok nature park in September 2021 may be seen as a consequence of our planetary boundaries, such as climate change and biodiversity loss, having been exceeded. (Photos by Jimmy Tan)

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?

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.


Inter-University Environmental Conference (IUEC) 2022 – Conversations for change beyond SGP2030 (Perspectives on Energy Reset & City in Nature)

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 2-day conference features 5 panel dialogues with representatives from 5 ministries, academics, and youth leaders to advance conversations about SG Green Plan 2030. (Picture credit: IUEC2022 Partnerships Team)

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:

How will Singapore decarbonize the economy that’s so reliant on $ from fossil fuels while we’re shifting away from using them ourselves?

how can singapore take accountability for the emissions it facilitates but isnt directly responsible for (e.g. refineries, airport)?

Nuclear power has become exponentially more safe and, in the near future, can become more compact. Does/should it have a future in Singapore?

Cross Island Line will be built under Central Water Catchment? Thoughts?

Singapore is considering nuclear energy. Do you think the market will consider nuclear energy as an alternative to fossil fuels (which are cheaper)?

is there any way we can pursue electrification without increasing demand for extractive, harmful mining practices around cobalt, lithium etc?

Is there room for nuclear power in singapore?

Has Singapore figure a solution for recycling solar panels that are implemented in the solarnova project

Why is nuclear fusion not currently used in the electrical energy generation industry ?

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?

How is the research and development for fusion reactors in Singapore?

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?

Are there solid plans for Singapore to de-emphasize car-based transport infrastructurally?

What needs to be done to mine lesser minerals to prevent exploitaton of Least Developed Countries by Developed Countries to achieve their climate goals?

Are there enough actions to incorporate solar into our electricity mix (XT’s not-pofma slide showed 3%), and what more can we do?

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?

German policy of $9 a month for trains feasible for SG?

Will hydropower be used in Singapore?

If dont import energy then get from where hah

Apart from taking public transport, how can individuals make a difference?

Is there any other alternative to making electric batteries? Since it does have negative impacts on the environment too (ocean pollution)

What are some of the strategies for demand reduction of energy?

How is SG handling the waste generated from the lithium batteries of EVs?

Why dont we dig up landfills to extract materials

Should reduction of energy (on industrial levels especially) have a bigger role in this conversation?

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

How can the government push for industries to reduce their energy use since they contribute the most? (edited)

Do you think investing in asteroid mining for resources would be a good alternative to mining for resources?

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?

What are some ways the public transportation sector can increase efficiency and lower emissions in SG?

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

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?

how do we change social paradigms that value and encourage private car ownership?

How will we prioritise forest conservation since extracting minerals for making electric vehicles etc via mining has environmental and human rights concerns?

are there any corporate governing bodies that could set net zero targets for shipping or energy usage?

Another environmental impact of EVS is the battery recycling. Does Singapore have a plan for that?

What can MOT do to encourage cycling as a mode of transport, like in some European countries?

What Singapore have done in energy reset? what can the youth do to make It better way for Singapore

What about tidal energy?

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.

“City in Nature – The Orang Pulau Perspective” shared by indigenous islander Mr Syazwan Majid, Wan’s Ubin Journal

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:

what are the various panelists’ opinions on otters and what actions should we take in response to the increasing prevalence of otters related interactions?

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?

How do you negotiate between building new green spaces (e.g. the parks you mentioned) and keeping existing spaces (e.g. Dover Forest)?

How can cultural preservation work hand-in-hand with the city in nature movement?

Biophillia is great but what about making this functional i.e. biodiversity value of the space, ecosystem service valuation?

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 ?

Hello! Do you think that planting multi-tier roadside verges will increase the chances of roadkill/wildlife-vehicle collisions?

what are consequences of focusing too much on tangible benefits of nature and ecosystem services? good for humans =/= good for wildlife

Is there space for indigenous people in Singapore?

Why don’t we talk about indigenous practises more in mainstream narratives of sustainability and living harmoniously with nature

How is “nature” being defined in City of Nature?

What can urban designers/ planners learn from indigenous ecological knowledge?

Are strips of park connectors, high-rise bound urban parks, and limited ecological complexity suffice in the greater plan of ecological connectivity?

What’s the definition of a park? Some “parks” are just one tree one bench one path

Is de-urbanization possible? Why look for nature based solutions instead of stopping the problem…

how can we bring singaporean to be more appreciate /self awareness more nature around us.

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?

What is your definition of nature? (edited)

will history/social studies in school change to teach young sgeans abt our indigenous roots?

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?

what plans are there for older buildings to integrate into nature (not just new-build ones to have green walls)?

Is there more or less native species in Singapore over the years?

Why not instead of greenery only, we can include farms ?

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?

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.

Otter populations will self regulate, pls otter-proof your house if you want to keep koi or other fishes

This building is an example of so much Aircon. Are we making any progress in this regard?

How can we encourage biophilia and expand parks while developing and our remaining secondary forests? How can we negotiate this tension?

Can we relocate beehive instead of exterminate by releasing toxic chemicals? How can we manage wild bees in a more sustainable way?

Will we consider reduced or negative economic growth to reduce the land use pressures?

Is there a possibility of mandating private developers and HDB to educate potential buyers of possible wildlife conflict in the area?

Are there any plans for food forests?

beyond gardens and parks, what interactions w nature will singaporeans have in the future?

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

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

Is there any available effort for sustainable fishing and harvesting practices?

Why do we need to exterminate bees when we can humanely rehoming them? They are important to our ecosystem?

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?

How do you prepare people to live in our city in nature, including certain lifestyle adjustments they may have to make.

Does Singapore can achieve 100% greenery country in earth?

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

what can sg’s current aquaculture R&D efforts learn from orang laut/other indigenous fishing practices?

Why is the EMMP tossed out the window when the development phase reaches landscapers and architects?

Other than ecosystem services, can we shift to value the biodiversity in a less-human centric manner?

As we become a city in nature, there will be many more encounters with wildlife. How can we manage potential human wildlife conflicts? (edited)

Why we cannot stick to nature rather than investing new technologies? By reducing, we can rather not use the technologies like before.

Would you consider more co-living typologies to reduce the need to develop land for residential buildings?

Is there any recent examples of Singapore heritage construction techniques embedded in modern real estate projects?

how do Singapore implement more VIA project or activities to spreading awareness of importance of city in nature

But bringng about green takes a lot of time. Eg, to grow trees. Is there anything that can be done?

By 2023 will there be more planting over the HDB flats? What can we expect by 2023 for City of Nature?

how to Singapore bring closer to children to let them know what’s is the important of greenery country.

With more natural green spaces, can there be more danger posed to people passing through, especially at night?

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?

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.

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

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

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

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

“Vibrant” means full of energy and life.

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

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

Crowds in a train station on a typical weekday in 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Is that a sign of human progress or regress?

I suppose it depends on how one sees it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our disappearing forests: From Nature appreciation to Nature conservation

Aerial view of Bukit Batok Hillside Park area on 26 January 2021
Aerial view of Bukit Batok Hillside Park area, after part of the forest was cleared to make way for BTO flats on 6 April 2021

In view of our disappearing forests, I am learning to move beyond mere Nature appreciation to Nature conservation.

A plant observation or animal sighting becomes less of an academic exercise and more of an emergency exercise, in order for us to document as many species as possible, so as to (hopefully) protect them from being destroyed in the name of unrelenting development.

After all, undocumented flora and fauna species are like undocumented humans, who will stay invisible and marginalised and fall through the cracks of a discriminatory and dysfunctional dystopian regime.

As long as they are unnamed and unaccounted for, they remain unacknowledged, in spite of the intrinsic value they hold in the natural ecosystem.

Although they may be indigenous on this tropical island, they have become refugees in their own homelands, having been displaced by human migrants, no thanks to imperial colonialism in the 1800s and capitalistic nationalism since the 1960s.

Crass consumerism has resulted in certain “cute” wildlife and certain manicured gardens gaining celebrity status and being commodified for wealth and status, while other wildlife and unmanaged vegetation (such as in Tengah forest and Lentor forest) fall by the wayside.

It is an ongoing struggle for emancipation, as we seek to restore biodiversity in a holistic and sustainable manner, such that no one will be left behind.

Wild reflections on the nature of forests

Aerial view of Bukit Batok nature park, which is sandwiched between Upper Bukit Timah Road, Old Jurong Road, Hillview condos and Bukit Batok East housing estate.

As I wandered deep into the forest after finishing my shift and catching up on rest, I found myself wondering what Mother Nature could be telling me.

I am learning to keep my senses open and attuned to the quiet mysterious voice of Nature, allowing Her to be my teacher.

While I was sitting on a park bench and typing this post a while ago under the dimming evening sky, a beetle suddenly landed on my phone screen.

It gave me a startle, and I dropped the phone on my lap, and away flew the beetle.

Such an unpredictable encounter underscores the very nature of Nature – that there is always something new and/or unexpected to be revealed during a nature outing.

Perhaps the allure of the wilderness is not that we will eventually figure everything out, but rather that we will learn to embrace the unknown and accept the mystery.

After all, the whole forest is greater than the sum of its parts – it is much more than simply a certain area of the forest having an X number of species, or absorbing Y amount of carbon dioxide, or cooling the surroundings by Z degrees Celsius.

Instead, there is a certain X factor about wild Nature, which we cannot quite put our finger on but know intuitively that is important, if not indispensable, to our existence.

It is such that no high resolution photograph or video can fully encapsulate the experience of being in a wild forest – the sights and sounds in a nature documentary cannot capture the indescribable thrill of being there.

Unlike a garden that is arranged by human hands, a forest has no apparent order.

At the most, we can describe a forest by its structure, age, size, biodiversity, and so on, but is that all there is to it?

Research suggests that the seemingly random sights and sounds of a forest calm the nerves and inspire creativity.

It is almost as if the forest has a way of unlocking the untapped potential and hidden primal memories from ages past, buried deep in our soul, which we would not have known had we stayed entrenched in a programmed modern society.

In other words, the forest may well be a mirror of who we really are, independent of the social identities and societal expectations imposed on us by the system.

Bukit Batok Hillside Park area and Tengah forest connectivity

This month marks the one-year anniversary of Bukit Batok Hillside Park area recce

Last July, I made a maiden trip to the forest in Bukit Batok Hillside Park area.

I wanted to recce the forest and see for myself the flora and fauna in order to provide feedback to HDB regarding the EIS report.

I learnt that Bukit Batok Hillside Park area is an important ecological corridor connecting Tengah forest to Bukit Batok central nature park, Bukit Gombak and Bukit Timah nature reserve.

Yesterday, I visited part of the park area again after a few months’ hiatus, and it felt like homecoming.

May I invite you to support my petition to save the entire Bukit Batok Hillside Park area from housing development?

You are invited to sign and share the petition to conserve Tengah forest too.

How important is Tengah forest for dealing with climate emergency and biodiversity loss as well as improving our quality of life?

The much publicised “Tengah Forest Town” development that is planned to clear 90% or more of the original forest has become a controversy. For a start, Tengah forest (aka Bulim forest) has a very impressive record of 262 fauna species, of which 60 are regarded as forest-dependent wildlife species and at least 44 species are nationally threatened, according to HDB’s baseline report dated 2017. The forest also has at least 33 species of plant life with “conservation significance”, as well as 159 significant large trees, of which 90% belong to the fig family (Moraceae). (Photos by Jimmy Tan)

This diagrammatic map illustrates that Tengah forest is a vital conduit and habitat supporting biodiversity and ecological connectivity between Western catchment area and Central catchment area, which are Singapore’s main terrestrial “green lungs”. They provide essential ecosystem services, including removing pollutants, purifying the air, absorbing carbon emissions, cleaning the soil, preventing flash floods, cooling the urban heat island effect, and providing food and shelter for living organisms. Thus, they potentially save billions of dollars’ worth of social, health and environmental costs that would be incurred if the forests were removed or reduced. (Satellite image dated May 2021 by Akihiko Hoshide)

It has been about two years since Housing and Development Board (HDB) has started development works in the 700-ha Tengah forest in early 2019 after fencing up its perimeter. It has resulted in the clearance of about 30% or more (or 210 ha or more) of the forest so far, in a bid to build a “forest town” in Singapore, which would be about the same size of Bishan housing estate.

To date, HDB has launched thousands of new BTO (Build-To-Order) apartment flats in parts of Tengah area in November 2018, May 2019, November 2019, August 2020, November 2020 and February 2021. In May 2021, another 782 HDB BTO flat residential units were launched in Tengah.

However, although an environmental baseline study (EBS) was done in Tengah forest in 2017, we urgently need to reconsider the ramifications of Tengah forest town development because concerns about rapid deforestation and urbanisation in Singapore have been raised by Nature groups and members of the public, especially in recent years.

Since the early 2010s, more and more people in Singapore have been voicing their concerns about the loss of wild green spaces and biodiversity resulting from the destruction of regenerating secondary rainforests, such as Lentor-Tagore forest, Bidadari forest, Tengah forest, Pasir Ris forest, Kranji woodlands, Jurong Eco Garden nature trails, and Bukit Batok Hillside Park area forest. These forests have been sacrificed to varying degrees for development, despite comprehensive descriptions of wildlife sightings having been recorded (and alternative sites for development having been proposed in the cases of Tengah forest and Bukit Batok Hillside Park area).

More recently, three petitions for conserving Bukit Batok Hillside Park area, Clementi forest and Dover-Ulu Pandan forest have been started in Singapore since last year, garnering over 13,000 signatures, 19,000 signatures and 50,000 signatures respectively as of May 2021.

These petitions have highlighted various negative consequences of continual deforestation, such as increased urban heat island effect contributing to climate change, endangerment of forest-dependent species and biodiversity loss, and threat to our physical and mental well-being as well as our very existence.

As the fate of Tengah forest is still hanging in the balance, this blog post serves to provide examples of its rich biodiversity and its indispensable function as an important ecological corridor connecting Western catchment area and Central catchment area. It also aims to highlight the fact that Tengah forest in its current state is crucial for dealing with climate emergency and biodiversity loss as well as improving our quality of life.

In view of the importance of Tengah forest (which we will read about below), we urgently need to preserve the rest of its remaining area as much as possible, or at least 30 to 50 percent of its original 700-ha size (or 210 to 350 ha). In order to do so, we need to:

  1. heed Covid-19 pandemic (and resurgence of community cases) and other warning signs seriously and halt or minimise deforestation in Singapore, including in Tengah forest
  2. treat climate emergency as it really is because we are running against time to deal with its existential threat to our survival, and Tengah forest is big enough to have a significant impact on our microclimate
  3. protect our biodiversity in Tengah forest (and its connecting corridors and core nature areas) from further loss and endangerment of species
  4. establish sizeable wildlife corridors and core habitats areas in Tengah forest in order to maintain a healthy ecosystem that benefits humans, flora and fauna
  5. focus on redeveloping alternative sites or brownfield sites such as underutilised lands and abandoned schools etc in order to achieve a better and more sustainable future for ourselves and our future generations.

1. We need to heed Covid-19 pandemic (and resurgence of community cases) and other warning signs seriously and halt or minimise deforestation in Singapore, including in Tengah forest.

The urgency to protect our forests is compounded not only by worsening climate change but also increasing loss of forest habitats in Singapore. It has resulted in loss of biodiversity, increasing incidences (and recurrences) of flash floods, zoonotic virus pandemic (including COVID-19 virus variants), dengue fever and malaria cases, as well as animal roadkills (resulting in deaths of endangered Sambar deer, Sunda pangolins, palm civets, etc) and human-wildlife conflicts (including the unprovoked wild boar attacks on humans in urban areas that have encroached on their forest habitats).

One of the natural streams running through the verdant landscape of Tengah forest. If the forest is cleared, it may lead to a spike in infectious diseases. According to a study done by Harvard University, “cleared forests lead to ecological changes that increase the risk of disease outbreaks, particularly those carried by mosquitoes — and the mosquito populations that thrive in deforested areas tend to be more dangerous for humans.” Even if we rely on fogging or chemical fumigation, it is not very effective in controlling dengue-carrying mosquitoes’ populations because not only does it cause them to become more resistant but also it harms their natural predators such as frogs, spiders and dragonflies. Thus, it is better to curb deforestation and practise reforestation for dealing with dengue and other such diseases at the root, instead of merely treating the symptoms of the problem. (Photo by Jimmy Tan)

In particular, researchers around the world have been giving warnings about the destruction of tropical rainforests sparking pandemic diseases. Prominent naturalist Jane Goodall has blamed the emergence of Covid-19 on the over-exploitation of the natural world, which has seen forests cut down, species made extinct and natural habitats destroyed.

In view of the possibility that the coronavirus has made the jump from animals to humans in China since late 2019, the Covid-19 resurgence in local community cases in Singapore in late May this year is a cause of concern, especially in the wake of continual deforestation and urbanisation.

On 4 June 2021, scientists behind a new independent taskforce, which is hosted by Harvard University and will report to the coalition on Preventing Pandemics at the Source, said that ending the destruction of nature to stop outbreaks at their source is more effective and cheaper than responding to them.

“Recent research estimated the annual cost of preventing further pandemics over the next decade to be $26bn (£18bn), just 2% of the financial damage caused by Covid-19. The measures would include protecting forests, shutting down risky trade in wildlife, better protecting farm animals from infection and rapid disease detection in wildlife markets.”

World leaders ‘ignoring’ role of destruction of nature in causing pandemics” (4 June 2021)

Incidentally, earlier this year, we have been talking about adopting science-based approach and nature-based solutions in dealing with wildlife management and environmental issues. In the case of Tengah forest, National Development Minister Desmond Lee said:

“we recognised that the forests at the future Bukit Batok Hillside Nature Park and Bukit Batok Central Nature Park are important stepping stones between the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, and the future Tengah Forest Corridor. That is why we dedicated these nature parks as part of the Bukit Batok Nature Corridor – they will be kept lushly forested, so that they can strengthen not just the area’s green network, but also ecological connectivity between the Nature Reserve and Tengah.”

Speech by Minister Desmond Lee: A City in Nature, a Greener Urban Environment (4 March 2021)

While it is good that we are taking the science-based approach towards wildlife management and forest conservation, we will be ignoring the scientists’ warnings about pandemics and environmental destruction at our peril. In other words, the conservation of Tengah forest (and other secondary forests) is a non-negotiable measure that we must take in order to deal with the urgent public health and environmental crises facing us.

Aerial view of Tengah forest where deforestation has already begun since 2019. Scientists have asserted that forest conservation is a necessary antidote in dealing with the pandemic because natural prevention of zoonotic viruses is better and more cost-effective than vaccination and other measures. (Photo by Jimmy Tan, 10 November 2020)

2. We need to treat climate emergency as it really is because we are running against time to deal with its existential threat to our survival, and Tengah forest is big enough to have a significant impact on our microclimate.

On 1 February 2021, in response to the petitions and the questions raised by various Members of Parliaments (MPs) on behalf of concerned residents and citizens, the Singapore Parliament has rightly declared the issue of climate change a global emergency, recognising it as a “threat to mankind” that requires a concerted effort to “deepen and accelerate efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change, and to embrace sustainability in the development of Singapore”. 

However, when the SG Green Plan 2030 was launched on 10 February 2021, it did not mention about slowing down or stopping deforestation. This is worrying because land use change or deforestation is a significant cause of carbon emissions and contributor to climate change, resulting in debilitating consequences, such as more extreme weather changes, more frequent flash floods, and so on.

Singapore’s continuous temperature records since 1948 show that the island has warmed, notably in the mid-1970s when rapid urbanisation took place. The upward trend is approximately double the trend in global temperatures. 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. (Source: www.weather.gov.sg)

While the Green Plan includes the one-million tree planting programme, which is laudable, botanist Shawn Lum cautioned that “tree planting is beautifully complementary to, and not a substitute for, the care and protection of existing forest habitats.”

In fact, one of the most effective (and cost-effective) nature-based solutions to combat climate change, as also proposed by conservation scientist Professor Koh Lian Pin, is to “protect Singapore’s remaining forests and avoid further emissions from deforestation“.

Moreover, replanting trees, or reforestation, takes decades for the trees to grow and mature under the right conditions, and cannot replace our need for forest conservation, since planting trees does virtually nothing to protect the local biodiversity and ecosystems fully. Also, if we plant trees of similar species for aesthetic landscaping to create manicured parks and gardens, it is like developing monocultures that are incapable of recreating plant diversity as per their existence in the wild.

Although the SG Green Plan may envision Singapore becoming a metropolis like London or New York, we need to bear in mind that unlike these cities in cool temperate countries, Singapore is a small tropical island-state. Since we experience hot, wet and humid tropical climate at the Equator, we cannot keep removing our default natural vegetation, which includes tropical rainforests, freshwater swamp forests and mangrove forests, without facing dire consequences on our health, safety and well-being as well as our flora and fauna.

Being located at the Equator, Singapore receives the maximum intensity of direct sun rays and experiences high temperatures throughout the year. Humans, flora and fauna in this tropical island are much more vulnerable to the effect of climate change, such as heat stress and droughts, than those in cool temperate regions. (Source: National Geographic)

According to the Meteorological Service Singapore’s Centre for Climate Research Singapore, last year’s annual mean temperature of 28 degrees Celsius was half a degree higher than the long-term average, making 2020 the eighth warmest year on record. Singapore’s official meteorological agency also noted a recent sharp rise in temperatures and warned that maximum daily temperatures could reach 40 degrees Celsius by as early as 2045.

The urban heat island effect in Singapore at 2.00 am (April 2016) | Cooling Singapore, 2018. We can see that Tengah forest is cooler than highly built-up urban environments, such as Jurong town and Jurong industrial estate in the southwest. (Base map: coolingsingapore.sg)

Singaporean climate change scientist and professor Winston Chow attributed the rising temperatures to a phenomenon known as the “Urban Heat Island Effect,” which occurs when cities replace natural land cover with dense concentrations of concrete, pavement, buildings, and other surfaces that absorb and retain massive amounts of heat. He added:

“Singapore has definitely been getting hotter and every degree counts. The hot weather we’ve been experiencing recently is not only a clear indicator of climate change but also the effect of how rapidly urbanization alters local climates.”

Can Singapore Control Its ‘Diabolical’ Hot Weather?” (5 March 2021)

Now that Singapore is heating up twice as fast as the planet due to rapid deforestation and urbanisation, if we continue to remove our few remaining secondary rainforests, such as Tengah Forest, we may soon reach a tipping point at which heat stress affects both human health (through greater risks of dehydration, heat strokes, etc) and carbon dioxide uptake by trees (due to damage to leaf tissue and declining tree health).

For example, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency:

Climate change increases the risk of illness through increasing temperature, more frequent heavy rains and runoff, and the effects of storms. Health impacts may include gastrointestinal illness like diarrhea, effects on the body’s nervous and respiratory systems, or liver and kidney damage.”

In terms of economic and financial implications, it is likely that we will be spending billions of dollars improving healthcare infrastructure and access as well as covering increased medical bills when we see a rise in cases of heat waves affecting the human body and more severe storms and more frequent floods resulting in water-borne illnesses. There are also intangible costs, such as loss of reputation, lost recreation and the psychological impact on people, all of which feed back to the economy, as noted by Nanyang Technological University (NTU)’s head of economics, Euston Quah.

Similar concerns about climate change on the environment have also been raised by scientists around the world. For example, according to Professor Daniel Murdiyarso, principal scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), based in Bogor, Indonesia:

Deforestation or removal of rainforests has certainly reduced the landscape capacity to absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide. Combined with the effect of climate change, it has caused the ecosystem to be more vulnerable to extensive droughts and wildfires. Rainforests are very fragile. Large-scale disturbance like deforestation or fires will not give them the chance to renew themselves.”

“Forests are needed to absorb carbon, but the overheating planet might soon flip a critical switch” (CNA, updated 4 May 2021)

Already, scientists are concerned that as much as 40% of the Amazon rainforest, which is more than 3,000 times the size of Singapore, may reach a tipping point in 50 years’ time, whereby it may collapse and morph into arid savannahs as a result of climate change.

So we cannot guarantee that we will not be spared from such an ecological catastrophe too, especially since our protected nature reserves occupy less than 5% of our total land area, while we continue to lose our spontaneous vegetation, which includes secondary forests, shrublands and scrublands, and which occupies only about 20% of our total land area.

(In contrast, Mauritius, also a tropical island like Singapore with a high human development index, has 47% of its total area occupied by forests. So, it may very well be a myth that we must keep on sacrificing our forests for economic development in order to enjoy a high standard of living and good quality of life.)

Thus, it is imperative for us to treat climate change as a real emergency and re-emphasise the importance of Tengah forest (as well as other secondary forests) for dealing with climate emergency and biodiversity loss as well as improving our quality of life.

We need dense rainforests, such as Tengah forest, to cool the urban heat island effect through mass transpiration. They function like natural air conditioners of the environment. Imagine how much cost Singapore can save by conserving forests and using less artificial air-conditioning for homes, offices, shopping malls and so on. Studies have shown that mature trees in dense forests have greater cooling power and sequester more carbon than young trees in fragmented parks and gardens too. (Photo taken by Jimmy Tan on 16 June 2021, which shows mist in the morning due to evapotranspiration from the dense trees and natural streams in Tengah forest)

3. We need to protect our biodiversity in Tengah forest (and its connecting corridors and core nature areas) in order to prevent further loss and endangerment of species.

Firstly, an environmental baseline study (EBS) had been initially done for Tengah forest by HDB. Given the findings of this baseline study, the vice-president of the Nature Society (Singapore) (NSS), Dr Ho Hua Chew has pointed out that Tengah forest harbours a rich biodiversity.

An academic paper on updating the classification system for secondary forests in Singapore has noted that rare, threatened or endangered species may be found in regenerating forests. Hence, nature groups and members of the public should be consulted as early as possible on urban planning before any environmental impact assessment (EIA) is carried out and before any developer is awarded a construction project contract tender for any forest patch.

Like Dr Andie Ang from the Wildlife Reserves Singapore Conservation Fund also noted, even if delays were to occur, it is better off to consult green groups and residents at the review stages of the URA Master plan. This is so that we can “ensure a higher quality of urban planning, which can minimise the impact on the environment and improve the overall quality of life for residents. Feedback at an early stage would also help planners to understand what residents want and to build accordingly”.

As it were, the general public were apparently not consulted in advance to gauge if there was a significant demand for housing in Tengah forest before HDB conducted EIA in the forest several years ago. Notably in February 2021, one day after the latest batch of BTO flats were launched in Toa Payoh/Bidadari, Whampoa/Kallang, Tengah and Bukit Batok, the latter two appeared to be not quite popular for home buyers. As the Straits Times noted:

“Those who wish to live in the non-mature estates of Bukit Batok and Tengah may have better luck as application rates were relatively low yesterday evening.”

Thus, in view of the rich biodiversity in Tengah forest and the relatively low initial demand for housing in Tengah, we need to seriously reconsider the need to develop the rest of Tengah forest as originally planned. We should also focus on redeveloping brownfield sites within reasonable distance from existing town amenities and infrastructure, such as vacant lands, underutilised lands, abandoned schools, etc, as well as building taller apartment blocks where possible in order to make up for any shortfall of planned flat units.

Secondly, according to a Straits Times article dated 23 February 2021, National Development Minister Desmond Lee said that “a more comprehensive picture of Singapore’s nature areas and how they connect to one another will be developed. The idea is to map out the islandwide ecosystem and connectivity to better consider how specific sites connect to nature areas, buffers and corridors.”

Indeed, we do need to take into account the big picture of biodiversity on a national scale instead of treating the development of Tengah Forest Town merely as a localised or discrete project. Hence, we need to acknowledge that in view of the rich biodiversity in the regenerating secondary forests between the Western catchment area and Central catchment area (which include Tengah forest, Bukit Batok Hillside Park ridges, Bukit Gombak forest (aka Little Guilin or Bukit Batok Town Park), Bukit Batok Nature Park and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, etc), it is paramount to preserve the remaining parts of Tengah forest as much as possible (which in fact is one of the largest contiguous patches of green space in Singapore, bigger than even the 163-ha Bukit Timah Nature Reserve).

The big picture: How Tengah forest ecosystem connects with other nature areas, buffers and corridors, such as Green Rail Corridor, Gombak forest, Bukit Batok Hillside Park area, Bukit Timah nature reserve, and so on. According to NParks, these corridors facilitate the movement of native wildlife (including insects, birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals) and exchange of genetic material between Western catchment area and Central catchment area, leading to healthier populations.

This will ensure that the native wildlife, such as Sunda pangolins, Sunda colugos (or flying lemurs), palm civets, Malayan box turtles, green crested lizards and greater bamboo bats, have sufficient space to live, move, feed, reproduce and carry out pollination and seed dispersal, without ending up as animal roadkills or getting into conflicts with humans in residential areas, which may lead to injuries or even deaths.

During my recces in Tengah forest in 2017-2019, I was fortunate to see a number of resident animals such as a smooth-coated otter, a grey-headed fish eagle, baya weavers and wild boars. It is saddening to see that the forest is losing important habitat niches for these native wildlife species due to forest clearance and human disturbances from the ongoing construction works.

As a testament to the rich biodiversity in Tengah forest, at least a dozen baya weavers’ nests have been found in the northeastern part of Tengah forest. This sighting, together with other wildlife sightings mentioned in this blog, suggests that there is abundant natural food supply and complex food webs of interconnected flora and fauna that already exist in the ecosystem.

From my understanding, HDB is currently doing a new Environmental Impact Study (EIS) in the north of Tengah, including the baya weavers’ nesting area that I have highlighted to them via OneService app. I was told that their EIS consultant will take into consideration my feedback when assessing the potential impacts from the development plans with mitigating measures to be recommended and implemented by the future contractor.

(It must be noted that the new EIS is being done in a smaller area within the original Tengah forest, which is already cleared in some parts. Hence, the results of the EIS may reflect lower biodiversity than before any construction work began in 2019, due to disturbances being caused to the flora and fauna by edge effects, light pollution, noise pollution, etc as a result of the forest clearances. In other words, this new EIS is unlikely to capture the full conservation value of the original Tengah forest, hence our review of the EIS report must take this reality into consideration.)
The baya weaver nests are located at the edge of a scrubland surrounded by the lush forests near the track leading to Jalan Lam Sam. It is about half an hour’s walk from the canal near Brickland Road in the northeast part of Tengah forest. The photos shown in the map were taken in April 2019 when the forest wasn’t fenced up (Source: Google Maps; photos by Jimmy Tan)

As for the beautiful flat yellow butterfly, it is described as rare in the forested plains of Singapore and Malaya, with only a few sightings in parts of Singapore, including Tengah forest. Moreover, according to Delvinder Kaur, junior animal care officer, Zoology, Wildlife Reserves Singapore, “insects are responsible for approximately 80% of the pollination out there. Pollination is needed for our crops, and that gives us food security”. Given Tengah forest’s close proximity to Kranji countryside where farms are plentiful in Lim Chu Kang and Neo Tiew areas, the proliferation of insects, such as bees and butterflies, in Tengah forest is crucial for pollination of crops in the nearby farms to ensure food security for us. This also means that we shouldn’t just focus on protecting rare, endangered and/or endemic species (as crucial as they are), but we should also seek to accommodate common species because they also contribute uniquely to functional diversity, and both rare and common species are all interrelated and interdependent in the ecosystem.

A critically endangered Sunda pangolin was found dead by the roadside along Dunearn Road near Bukit Timah nature reserve in July 2015. It is likely a victim of a road accident. Conservation of rainforest habitats, including a substantial portion of Tengah forest, is necessary for preventing such endangered wildlife from becoming extinct because every individual pangolin’s life matters and counts towards the collective success of their conservation. (Photo by Jimmy Tan)

Both Sunda pangolins and straw-headed bulbuls are globally critically endangered, and their populations are also threatened by poachers for illegal wildlife pet trade. NSS has reported that the confirmed presence of the Sunda pangolin with a young in Tengah forest “reveals that Tengah forest is not just a foraging ground for the species but most notably a breeding ground as well”.

As for the straw-headed bulbuls, they have become extinct in Thailand and parts of Indonesia and are facing a decline in Malaysia. It is estimated that at least 202 individual straw-headed bulbuls are distributed over multiple forest patches, including Tengah forest, in Singapore, which has become a crucial global stronghold for preventing them from becoming extinct in the wild. It would be tragic if such critically endangered species were to disappear altogether in the wild right under our nose due to our neglect to take care of ecological connectivity (just like how the large forest gecko and cream-coloured giant squirrel became extinct after Bukit Timah expressway (BKE) was built in the 1980s) when we have the knowledge and the means to protect them and their natural habitats.

This video has recorded the songs of the critically endangered straw-headed bulbuls in the eastern part of Tengah forest next to Brickland Road. It also shows a baya weavers’ nesting tree next to a trail within the vicinity.

Notably, the presence of eagles (also known as raptors or birds of prey), which are apex predators at the top of a food chain, indicates a healthy, thriving ecosystem in Tengah forest, where there exists a complex food web consisting of plant producers, microorganisms, herbivores, carnivores and omnivores. Also, the endangered changeable hawk-eagles, near-threatened grey-headed fish eagles and near-threatened long-tailed parakeets are forest-dependent native wildlife, hence their populations may be adversely affected if we continue to destroy our secondary rainforests, such as Tengah forest, and replace their natural feeding and breeding grounds with parks, gardens and roadside trees around concrete buildings.

Like Mr Lim Liang Jim, Group Director of National Biodiversity Centre who oversees NParks’ Nature Conservation Masterplan, said:

“We really don’t know at this point in time how species interrelate. So, it could even be a butterfly effect. If you lose one small species, you will never know what it will result in the long term to the health of the forestry.”

(“It’s In Our Nature: Saving Our Wildlife“, Channel News Asia Documentary Episode 2)
(Note: The aforementioned insects, birds and mammals are just some examples of the numerous important native wildlife in Tengah forest. Do refer to Nature Society Singapore (NSS)’s Position Paper on HDB’s Tengah Forest Plan here for more details on its flora and fauna.)

4. We need sizeable wildlife corridors and core habitat areas in Tengah forest in order to maintain a healthy ecosystem that benefits humans, flora and fauna.

As of early May 2021, about 30% or more of Tengah forest (or about 210 ha or more) is estimated to have been cleared so far. It is hoped that at least 30% to 50% of the original forest will be preserved for its indispensable ecosystem services. (Source: Global Forest Watch)

Firstly, while it is somewhat encouraging that the town planners have set aside 50 ha out of 700 ha to create a wildlife corridor of 100 m wide in the Tengah forest town development plan to facilitate animals’ movements as a connector, NSS feels that its effectiveness in helping the wildlife adapt to the change with this corridor is questionable.

According to NSS, the 100 m width will not be enough to mitigate disturbances for wildlife because 50 m is the standard buffer for a forest habitat on all flanks and there will not be any interior space. This will be tragic for the rich wildlife currently inhabiting the area.

Secondly, it is worrying that under the HDB’s plan, only up to 10% of Tengah’s original forest is retained. This means that half of the species there could be wiped out, based on an ecological rule of thumb, the NSS said. Even though HDB said that some 20% of the land in Tengah will be set aside for “green spaces”, the replanted young trees and crops in man-made parks and community gardens and farms cannot substitute the regenerating secondary forest in terms of ecosystem services and biodiversity support.

Based on current estimates, Bukit Batok is rightfully Singapore’s unofficial “forest town”, with the largest percentage of forest cover at 17%. While it is an admirable goal for Tengah to become Singapore’s first smart and sustainable town, it is not appropriate to project Tengah as Singapore’s first “forest town” when only 50 ha out of 700 ha (or a mere 7%) forest cover will be preserved, which is much less than the forest cover in Bukit Batok. (Base map: NParks)

Thirdly, if we were to consider the percentage of forest cover found in housing estates in Singapore, Bukit Batok actually tops the list. It is estimated that Bukit Batok has 17% forest cover, because about 190 ha out of a total area of 1,113 ha is occupied by the forests in Bukit Batok Town Park (77 ha), Bukit Batok Nature Park (36 ha), Bukit Batok Hillside Park area Hill 1 and Hill 2 (30 ha), Bukit Batok East Forest (30 ha) and Bukit Batok Central Nature Park (17 ha).

Thus, it would be incongruous to proclaim Tengah as Singapore’s first “forest town” when its planned forest cover of a paltry 50 ha pales in comparison to that of its neighbouring town Bukit Batok. At this point, credit must be given to the town planners for having set aside 190 ha of the total area of Bukit Batok for the forests. Bukit Batok is a role model for other towns to emulate for its wild green spaces that provide essential ecosystem services and support biodiversity. It is also hoped that no further deforestation should be carried out in Bukit Batok after the unfortunate clearing of part of Bukit Batok Hillside Park area in February 2021 for housing development because the forests there are vital for ecological connectivity.

At the same time, we need to ask ourselves: “Will the word “forest” in the name “Tengah forest town” be merely used as a form of tokenism? Or will it be prioritised to honour the native species whose previous generations have existed and used the forest as a habitat and ecological corridor long before our forefathers arrived on this island?” If it is the latter, then we need to ensure that Tengah “forest town” lives up to its billing by preserving at least 30% to 50% of the original forest cover. May we refer to the map showing the two core areas for wildlife as proposed by NSS below?

Tengah Forest core habitat areas with eco-links for optimal connectivity between Western catchment area and Central catchment area, as proposed by NSS. The approximate locations of some native wildlife sightings from around 2017 onwards are based on various sources such as NParks, NSS, Saniroz and Jimmy. Altogether, the core areas and Tengah Nature Way should take up at least 200 to 300+ ha of the total area of 700 ha, in order for Tengah forest to continue to provide optimal ecosystem services and support biodiversity for ourselves and our future generations. (Base map: Nature Society (Singapore), Photo of pangolin is from Wikimedia, all other photos by Jimmy Tan)

As proposed by NSS’s position paper on Tengah Forest, “the eco-links/bridges that should be created as the essential part of the Tengah Nature Way (TNW) need to be set up first — prior to the further clearing of the forest after Phase 1. This will at least allow the wildlife to disperse to whatever available green refuges outside the Tengah development zone. Otherwise, the problem of wildlife roadkills will be re-enacted as in the tourism development at the Mandai Lake Road recently. Most importantly, some core areas must be designated and left untouched for the future survival of the wildlife within the Tengah Forest itself — so that some, if not all, of the forest-affiliated species recorded there will still have a home for their long-term survival”.

“The Tengah Nature Way is the culmination of the first ever large-scale scheme to promote ecological connectivity, guided with ecological principles, in our town planning processes and we are certainly heartened by this bold plan, but given the rich biodiversity that exists at Tengah Forest, more should be done in terms of biodiversity protection for both resident and migratory species through the setting aside of some parts of the forest as core habitats.”

Nature Society’s Feedback on HDB’s Tengah Baseline Review” (June 2020)

5. We need to focus on redeveloping alternative sites or brownfield sites such as underutilised lands and abandoned schools etc, in order to achieve a better and more sustainable future for ourselves and our future generations

As mentioned earlier, we should also focus on redeveloping brownfield sites within reasonable distance from existing town amenities and infrastructure, such as vacant lands (such as mowed lawns in Bukit Batok, Jurong, Choa Chu Kang, etc), underutilised lands (such as open carparks), abandoned schools (such as the now defunct Jurong Junior College), etc, as well as building taller apartment blocks (within the vicinity and/or elsewhere in Singapore) where possible in order to make up for any shortfall of planned flat units.

Instead of clearing the remaining parts of Tengah forest, we should focus on redeveloping underutilised lands in other parts of Singapore. The graph shows an overview of the utilisation rate of State land in aggregate form. (Source: data.gov.sg)

Just as the SG Green Plan 2030 advocates that “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle” will become a norm for citizens and businesses, with a national strategy to address e-waste, packaging waste and food waste, we should apply the same 3R principle for recycling our existing built-up lands in order to conserve Tengah forest (and other secondary forests such as Clementi forest, Dover-Ulu Pandan forest, Bukit Brown forest, Pang Sua woodlands, Kranji forest, Sembawang woods, etc) as much as possible. This will ensure that sustainable development will be a living reality for us all. In fact, the following statement released by the Ministry of National Development also supports the move to recycle existing built-up lands.

“In the past, we could build new homes on swathes of undeveloped open land. Now, after 55 years of building and development, there are far fewer of these, and it has become more challenging to balance competing uses for land. In order to continue providing good homes for Singaporeans, we will have to recycle previously developed land.”

Indranee Rajah, Second Minister for National Development, “Striking a balance in building HDB flats in prime locations” (10 June 2021)
Besides abandoned schools and other underutilised lands around the vicinity, alternative sites for development may include the mowed lawns (or vacant cleared lands) along Pan-Island Expressway west of Tengah forest, the mowed lawns along Brickland Road east of Tengah forest, as well as the empty plots of land opposite Bukit Batok Hillside Park area. The empty plot of land between Dulwich College and a cluster of BTO flats along Bukit Batok Road may also be considered as an alternative site. NSS has also suggested in their position paper on Tengah forest to consider the area that will be made available at Paya Lebar Air Base for development in about a decade’s time. Granted that some of these plots of land might have been reserved for other uses such as schools, commercial work spaces and places of worship, the post-Covid era, in which school mergers (amid falling birth rates), home-based learning, online shopping, remote working and live-streaming religious services, classes, prayers and festivals have become the new normal, may render such traditional land uses redundant, or at least, less important. (Map by Global Forest Watch; photos by Jimmy Tan)

Last but not least, it appears that the upcoming Tengah forest town is designed not so much to accommodate genuine home buyers who may be facing prospects of homelessness, but rather to appeal to property investors. The article “Residential hotspots: Districts shaping up to be interesting investment bets” (1 April 2021) reveals such intent with key words like “investors”, “home upgrading”, “property market”, etc. For example, it states “Home-owners in Tengah are likely to look towards the nearest growth centre, JLD (Jurong Lake District), for home upgrading opportunities after serving out their minimum occupation periods (MOPs). While there are no current launches in the JLD, projects such as Parc Clematis and Clavon have seen positive reception from the market as investors buy into the growth potential of the JLD.”

This trend of home upgrading and property investment shows that public housing today is a far cry from what it used to be in the 1960s when many people had lacked safe housing with proper sanitation. Hence, is it justifiable that we continue to sacrifice our few remaining secondary forests to build more BTO flats instead of redeveloping underutilised lands? We are talking about existential threats to our native flora and fauna because it is a matter of life and death for them, whereas for many of us, it is just a matter of material comfort and convenience rather than basic survival or a real housing crisis.

In other words, the proposed development of Tengah forest town seems to be a case of “induced demand” for public housing. There seems to be a growing trend that many people buy BTO flats not because they have no place to live or have a genuine need to move out of existing homes, but rather because more supply of flats invites people to buy property for upgrading and investment.

In the context of climate emergency and biodiversity loss, even if there are people who have a genuine need for new housing or if they want to upgrade and invest in property, it should be better for them to consider resale flats, private property, etc, or at the very least, choose locations where BTO flats are built on existing built-up lands such as mature housing estates, rather than our precious few remaining greenfield sites, such as secondary forests like Tengah forest, Dover forest, etc.


In view of the sheer importance of Tengah forest for dealing with climate emergency and biodiversity loss as well as improving our quality of life, it would be very much appreciated if the authorities could:

  1. preserve the rest of Tengah forest as much as possible, or at least 30 to 50 percent of its original 700-ha size (or 210 to 350 ha) for purifying the air, cleaning the soil, removing pollutants, cooling the urban heat island effect, supporting biodiversity, preventing/mitigating the risk of floods, zoonotic viruses, dengue diseases, saving electricity usage for air-conditioning, enhancing our physical and mental health etc, thereby potentially saving billions of dollars of public funds and personal/household expenses, in terms of healthcare, socioeconomic and environmental costs.
  2. allocate the aforementioned two core habitat areas within Tengah forest to serve as essential resting/feeding/breeding spaces for wildlife, as proposed by NSS
  3. designate eco-links in both the western and eastern parts of Tengah forest to facilitate safer and easier movement of wildlife along the ecological corridors and nature areas between Western catchment areas and Central catchment areas
  4. ensure that the wildlife moving along the long, narrow Tengah Nature Way are protected from traffic noise from the expressway and potential human disturbances from the surrounding new/upcoming residential areas as much as possible
  5. release the latest EIS report on the north of Tengah to Nature groups and members of the public for our feedback and review when it is ready for early engagement in the planning and development process, before any further development work starts and before any developer is awarded the tender for any construction project done in Tengah forest.

The last point is in line with the key changes made to the existing environmental impact assessment (EIA) framework in 2020, which include the following:

“The third change to the framework will see the planning process – and not just the development work itself – become more sensitive to Singapore’s natural environment. This will be done through earlier engagement with nature groups in the planning and development process, and through the introduction of a course on basic ecology and the EIA process for planners from development agencies.”

“Development works in Singapore to be more sensitive to wildlife under changes to EIA framework” (25 October 2020)
It is noteworthy that fig trees make up 90% of the 159 significant large trees recorded in Tengah forest. They are nutritious food sources for humans and animals, and they are also known to restore forests and biodiversity. It is worth reiterating that planting trees in place of a destroyed forest is not the same and will not achieve the same results. The root fungal network that a forest has is ecologically important for natural regeneration, according to researchers such as forest ecologist Suzanne Simard. (Photo by Jimmy Tan)

“We have to look at forests as a whole and not in compartments. You cannot talk about intact forests without talking about the wildlife that lives in the forest. So even if you preserve a green corridor or a strip of greenery, but if it’s an inadequate space for wildlife to really thrive in, that’s not fully protecting our biodiversity.” 

Dr Andie Ang, a Mandai Nature Research Scientist and President of the Jane Goodall Institute (Singapore), “After Dover, Will Clementi Forest Be Next On The Chopping Board?” (5 June 2021)

P.S. May I invite you to click on the petition link here to support the preservation of at least 30 to 50 percent of Tengah forest for protecting our biodiversity and tackling climate emergency?

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: weather.gov.sg) 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]

Deforestation and flash floods: How they are all connected

Deforestation in Bidadari and Lorong Ah Soo may have contributed to the flash floods in the surroundings during an intense storm on 2 November 2020.

It is believed that due to climate change, more extreme weather changes can be expected.

Yesterday, flash floods occurred in several places in Singapore during such a heavy downpour.

Although floods aren’t new occurrences in low-lying countries like Singapore, they may be exacerbated by ongoing deforestation.

According to TODAY’s article dated 2 Nov 2020:

“In photos shared on social media, murky brown water can be seen inundating parts of a road along Hougang Ave 3 near the Singapore Girls’ Home.


In a Facebook post at around 3.15pm, PUB said that flash floods had occurred along Upper Paya Lebar Road, Lorong Gambir near Bartley as well as Mount Vernon Road.”

Murky water flooding Hougang Avenue 3 on 2 Nov 2020 (Photo by SG Road Vigilante Facebook Group)

It is interesting to note that these places are also the locations where deforestation is taking place.

Deforestation is underway in Bidadari (around 90 ha) to build a new housing estate.

Deforestation for housing development in Bidadari (Photo taken on 2 Jan 2020)

Likewise, deforestation is taking place south of Lorong Ah Soo.

Is it any wonder why flash foods are happening all of a sudden during a heavy downpour in the vicinity?

It is a clear sign that we have reached a point we can no longer ignore the negative consequences of destroying our few remaining dense forests in Singapore to our own detriment.

But when concerned citizens and nature lovers decry the ongoing deforestation, they get labelled as “negative” and “complaining”.

Have any of us remembered our Geography lessons in school where we learn that replacing the porous soil of the forest with impermeable concrete and asphalt surfaces will result in greater surface runoff?

How deforestation contributes to flooding (Source: https://www.deviantart.com/trivto/journal/Deforestation-and-Disasters-from-W3-364091970)

It isn’t sufficient to simply apply superficial band-aid solutions by building artificial rain gardens and so on.

We need deep ecological solutions to deal with the root cause of the problem of flash floods, increased urban heat island effect and so on.

We need to seriously consider redeveloping brownfield sites such as golf courses and other underutlitised or unused existing built-up lands, instead of sacrificing our few remaining dense forests such as Bukit Batok Hillside Park, Clementi Forest, and so on.

To sign the petition to conserve Bukit Batok Hillside Park, click here.

To sign the petition to conserve Clementi Forest, click here.

Environmental Impact Study for Proposed Housing Development at Bukit Batok Hillside Park Area: EIS Report for Bukit Batok Hillside Park Area

The following is an excerpt about the terrestrial fauna survey from the EIS report for Bukit Batok Hillside Park area (HDB BB EIS Report Final_rev13), dated 1 June 2020, prepared for Housing and Development Board (HDB) of Singapore.

“Many of the species recorded during these surveys are considered to be widespread and common in secondary vegetation and parkland across Singapore. However, the presence of some forest-dependent species, such as the Malay Tailed Judy (Abisara savitri savitri), Copper-cheeked Frog (Chalcorana labialis), Common Treeshrew (Tupaia glis), and Slender Squirrel (Sundasciurus tenuis) shows that the survey area may serve as a refugium for some of these species.

Due to the ongoing construction work taking place at the edges of the survey area, patches of grassland and small pools have been created. All of the damselfly and dragonfly species are typical of open areas, as are quite a number of butterflies. Among the amphibians, the Field Frog (Fejervarya limnocharis) was only found at the periphery of the construction sites, and was absent at the pond at the forest edge.

The number of Wild Boar (Sus scrofa) present in Bukit Batok Hillside Park area is unknown. The two camera traps that documented the presence of Wild Boar were placed at different areas of the site; one was located along the stream, while the other was near the top of the ridge, in close proximity to an old wallow. Each camera captured a single individual, a lone adult male. Based on the general scarcity of signs of Wild Boar activity during the surveys, and the territorial behaviour of the adult male Wild Boar, it is likely that there is only one resident individual in this forest patch, although the possibility of more individuals wandering from other nearby forest patches cannot be ruled out.

Other species that have been recorded from similar secondary forest habitats such as Bukit Batok Nature Park, may be present within the survey area but were not documented during the surveys. These include the more uncommon animals such as the Sunda Colugo (Galeopterus variegatus), Sunda Pangolin (Manis javanica), Horsfield’s Flying Squirrel (Iomys horsfieldii), and Lowland Freshwater Crab (Parathelphusa maculata). These species are rarely observed outside of Singapore’s central nature reserves and Bukit Batok Nature Park, but are often difficult to detect, with some being nocturnal or arboreal. Therefore, while they were not observed during the surveys, we cannot discount the possibility that some of these species may still be present at Bukit Batok Hillside Park. The non-native East Asian Ornate Chorus Frog (Microhyla fissipes) was not previously recorded in Bukit Batok; this may represent a new locality record for this species in Singapore.

It is also important to note that these surveys took place outside of the migratory season for birds; surveys conducted when various passage migrants and winter visitors may be found in Singapore would likely yield very different results.

Although the survey area is a small, isolated patch of secondary forest with relatively few species of conservation importance, its potential role in maintaining connectivity for birds and other animal species cannot be discounted. With the ongoing development of the Tengah area as a new housing estate, it is likely that some animals may move to the Bukit Batok Hillside Park area, and then disperse to other forest patches in Bukit Batok, possibly reaching Bukit Timah Nature Reserve via Bukit Batok Nature Park.”