Thursday, May 2, 2013

Wild greenery makes S'pore a global eco-city

May 01, 2013

By Ho Hua Chew for The Straits Times

LOOKING at the Land-use Plan 2030 that came with the White Paper on population, it appears that almost everywhere outside the Tekong and Western Catchment military areas will be built up, leaving only about 9 per cent as parks and nature reserves.

The Government has made great strides on "brown issues" such as clean and recycled water and green buildings. And it has done well in "managed greenery", like public parks, golf courses and football fields. But a holistic and consistent commitment to environmental sustainability must not neglect the natural greenery - the remaining wild or "spontaneous" secondary forests, mangroves and scrublands, for example.

A recent satellite study found this natural greenery to still constitute 29 per cent of Singapore's total land area. The Land-use Plan's vision, unfortunately, regards this greenery largely as dispensable for development.

Much of this wild greenery is secondary forest. Of this, only about 5 per cent is protected as nature reserves. By 2030, going by the Land-use Plan, most of this unprotected greenery outside the military zone will be gone.

A sterile green facade

ROOF-TOP greenery, roadside trees, small neighbourhood gardens and public parks are no substitute for the massive loss of forested areas, with its rich biodiversity and free eco-system services; it will only mean a city in a sterile green facade.

The Punggol Masterplan is touted as the model of Singapore's green city vision. But how much of the wild greenery will be left after the entire Housing Board estate is set up? Looking at the display model, only the thin strip of trees along the old Punggol Road.

The mixed forest on the ridge in Punggol Avenue 17 will be sliced off by two new roads and what is left will be reduced to a public park. Also, the entire forest along the coast from Punggol Marina to Serangoon River will be wiped out. Coney Island will have half of its forest area planned for a housing estate. Punggol will then not be a green housing estate but a concrete jungle.

The Tengeh/Brickland area too seems slated for another massive HDB housing estate, leaving almost nothing of the extensive wild forest there intact.

A green plan needs to respect the natural environment. What is the point of controlling industrial and urban pollution if we then increase pollution and environmental degradation through destruction of our natural greenery?

We should make every effort not to add to global pollution by way of releasing more carbon dioxide (CO2) through the destruction of our existing greenery, especially the forests, which, because of the dominance and density of trees and hence plentiful woody structures, help to sequester CO2.

Forests are a vital help in greatly reducing ambient heat from the "urban-heat island effect" arising from massive use of concrete.

A report on a study by a National University of Singapore climatologist (The Straits Times, Nov 6, 2012) said that in the past 40 years, the difference in average night temperature between a rural area like Lim Chu Kang, which still has a lot of greenery, and the city area, had widened drastically - from 3 deg C to 7 deg C.

[Quick comment here: the first para makes an assertion. But the second SEEMS to provide evidence of it, but IT DOESN'T! If you want to say that that "Forest moderate urban heat island effect", you first need to explain what is the "urban heat island effect" and show two examples of two similar cities - one with a forest and one without, and show that there is a difference in temperature between the two cities. Maybe you cannot prove causation, but at the very least you can show correlation. But instead the example is a rural area compared to a city area. That proves nothing. All it proves is that rural areas are cooler than city area and most people instinctively or semi-consciously know or believe that. This is a flawed argument hung on the instinctual understanding of the nature of the world to make a point. 

Moreover if forests in the city could truly moderate the "urban heat island effect" my first question would be, "and how do you propose to incorporate a forest into a city?" Is any city planners going to be able to sell the idea of a forest in the city? A park, yes. A forest, are you serious?]

The demise of even more forests in Yishun, Brickland and Pasir Ris, and in the coming years in Tampines, Tengah, Punggol and Woodlands/Marsiling, will escalate this trend.

Forests are also critical to the long-term preservation of our national biodiversity. The Central Nature Reserves (Bukit Timah and Central Catchment Nature reserves) - our largest tract of forests - are increasingly surrounded by inhospitable concrete as more housing projects emerge around its borders, gradually turning this priceless biodiversity haven into a "habitat-island", with its wildlife locked up as in a fortress under siege.

Wildlife corridors needed

SUCH isolation leads over time to a decline in the genetic variability of species with small populations, leading to loss of resilience and even eventual extinction.

Hence, apart from the commendable creation of the Eco-link between the Bukit Timah and the Central Catchment Nature reserves, a wider and more comprehensive strategy to include "wildlife corridors" for the conservation of our biodiversity should be implemented nationwide.

The forest patches outside the central nature reserves serve as ecological corridors - a series of "stepping stones" for wildlife.

In the north, wildlife migrates from Johor to Singapore; in particular, forest species move into the Central Nature Reserves and rejuvenate its fauna. Stepping stones along the north-eastern coast comprise mainly the forested patches (including mangroves) of Pulau Ubin, the Pasir Ris Green Belt, Lorong Halus, Punggol and Khatib Bongsu.

For example, the oriental pied hornbill, thought to be extinct for decades but now seen in many forested areas of mainland Singapore, originates from Johor, but its dispersal can be said to be facilitated by the presence of this series of stepping stones.

There are also fragmented forest patches that become stepping stones, enabling forest wildlife to disperse from the central forest reserves to public parks like those along the Southern Ridges, for example, Mount Faber. Those along the railway corridor such as Clementi forest can also provide a link.

Moreover, forest patches close to the Central Nature Reserves, for example, Bukit Brown, can act as "extra habitat" or foraging ground for forest species, like the Malayan flying lemur and the chestnut-bellied malkoha.

With 29 per cent of our wild greenery still intact, the "garden city" or "city-in-a-garden" vision is not our only option. Why not have a global city that is not only a garden city but one with a lovely countryside and ample room for quiet recreation, making Singapore a global eco-city?

To achieve this, it is proposed that the 20 more new parks planned by the Urban Redevelopment Authority cover or accommodate these unprotected secondary forests, in particular the mature ones like Bukit Brown, Bidadari and Clementi, which are rich in biodiversity.

Before we decide how much population growth and its concomitant infrastructure development is required, we have to ask: How much of the remaining wild greenery should be left untouched? And this can be meaningfully sought only by a proper survey of Singaporeans' preferences.

The writer is a conservation activist and council member of the Nature Society. 

[I don't disagree with the general point of this article which is to ask that a little more importance be given to natural bio-diversity and spontaneous wildlife. I was rather disturbed by the knee-jerk reaction of Singaporeans when the driving instructor was killed by a falling tree that crushed the car he was in: they wanted roadside trees to be removed completely. So this argument for nature was soothing to me.

While this article does lament the loss or potential loss of secondary forests, it is also rather balanced in terms of acknowledging the efforts and progress that Singapore has made in accommodating the needs of biodiversity and nature. 

This article is basically asking for more.

But the writer is, like may persons passionate about a cause, rather divorced from reality.

If you ask a simple survey of Singaporeans "Do you want more secondary forests?" Of course you will have most people saying "yes". There is no cost. There is no trade-off. There is no issue. I am sure someone can carry out a survey to show that Singaporeans will support more bio-diversity and "wild" nature.

It's the same for Singaporeans supporting monkeys and wild boars and being against culling them. Unless they happen to have been attacked by a wild boar or their home has been invaded by foraging/scavenging monkeys.

Or if their son were killed when a tree fell on his car. 

Now if the Nature Society can show that wild forest trees left along the side of roads are less likely to fall in a rainstorm and crush and kill drivers, they would have a good case to get Singaporeans on their side. ]

No comments: