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.


Call to righteous action for sustainable development

Our forefathers who immigrated to Singapore to make a living since its modern founding in the 19th century didn’t really have the benefit of hindsight on the environmental impacts of deforestation.

Neither did the colonialists, whose efforts to exploit the natural resources and replace the forests with plantations and industries for trading have caused the indigenous Orang Laut and Orang Seletar peoples to be displaced from their territories in Singapore.

Without the indigenous people’s ancient wisdom on how to live in harmony with Nature and use resources responsibly, which have sustained them over many centuries, our economic activities have invariably caused much damage to the environment and resulted in reduced biodiversity considerably.

The few efforts made by the authorities to conserve Nature, such as establishing Botanic Gardens and nature reserves, are commendable, but they are insufficient to mitigate the environmental crises we are facing today.

Although we might attribute our material success to modern technology etc for building housing and industries, it comes at the heavy price of environmental degradation and climate change and their adverse impacts on our health and safety.

In a way, we are all complicit in our own self-destructive habits, consciously or unconsciously, in our pursuit of economic growth.

On one hand, we have benefited from living in public housing that occupies formerly forested lands.

On the other hand, we also have the benefit of hindsight to see the negative consequences of our actions.

Hence, we are at the crossroads where we have to change the way we do things, as what might have worked in the past is no longer working for us.

According to the philosopher Hegel, major events in history go through the cycle of thesis, antithesis and synthesis.

For example:

Thesis: Economic development at all costs
Antithesis: Environmental destruction to our peril
Synthesis: Sustainable development to restore ecological balance

Today, the responsibility falls on our shoulders to reconcile both the thesis and antithesis, in order to ensure sustainable development for our future generations.

“Sustainable development” should not be just a trendy buzzword but rather a living reality.

Even NParks has shifted their focus from making Singapore “City in a Garden” to “City in Nature”.

Singapore cannot sustain itself due to dwindling biodiversity and global warming, unless it restores our forests, instead of replacing natural forests with manicured gardens on a large scale.

While their “One million tree planting” campaign is laudable, I feel it is like a bird flying around in circles with only one wing.

The other wing must also be flapping in sync, so that the bird can fly straight and make progress.

That means we must also stop removing the remaining forests and instead consider brownfield sites and under-utilised land spaces (such as golf courses) for future development.

These remaining forests, such as Bukit Batok Hillside Park, Dover forest, Bukit Brown forest etc, must be retained for posterity.

Otherwise, we will continue to suffer from adverse effects such as the increased risk of zoonotic virus, flash floods, dengue fever, heat-related illnesses and mental health issues.

The Covid-19 pandemic, the recent rise in suicide cases, mental health cases and dengue outbreak cases, and so on are signs we cannot afford to ignore.

According to Channel News Asia article dated 11 October 2020:

Up to half of the wildlife species found in Singapore could disappear by the end of this century if nothing is done to mitigate the impact of climate change.”

The time to change our future for the better is now.

Each of us can continue to use our voice as checks and balances to hold our authorities accountable for the state of our natural environment.

May I invite you to sign the petition below to make your voice heard for the sake of yourself and your future generations?


Invasive species management at Dairy Farm Nature Park

Map of Dairy Farm Nature Park


Hairy clidemia (shrub, recognizable by its hairy leaves and stems)


Rubber (tree, recognizable by the milky sap in its stems)


Syngonium (climber, recognizable by its arrowhead leaves)


These invasive plants are removed before they can establish themselves permanently and upset the ecosystem balance in the tropical rainforest.





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