Why nature is catching on as “the thing to do” these days

JOY FANG Today Online 9 Jul 16;

SINGAPORE — The phrase, “Let’s go for a walk” used to invoke images of a lazy saunter taken on by couples who are enjoying their golden years. These days, going for a walk brings about a humming vibe of excitement — it involves sojourns deep into nature, treks through rugged terrain, and most importantly, it is an activity increasingly enjoyed by younger Singaporeans.

Just take the popularity of places such as Coney Island, Kranji Marshes and The Green Corridor among the younger and trigger-happy set. These areas have been transformed by social media into the “Most Instagram-worthy Spots in Singapore” and see a constant stream of visitors. This increased lust for the outdoors is also something that has been noticed by those in the scene. And thankfully, the interest in nature goes beyond it functioning as mere photography backdrop.

Ben Lee, founder of nature conservation group Nature Trekker, cited a 15 to 25 per cent increase in participation numbers for its activities last year, compared to 2014. The group organises between 45 to 65 trips per year, and activities include outdoor trekking, nature photography tours, nature exploration in Chek Jawa, and more. The Chek Jawa trip is its most popular one, and it organises between eight to 
12 trips per month, attracting some 24 to 36 people each trip.

Lee said while there is a “cool factor” attached to nature activities these days, he also feels people are more interested now because of greater awareness of Singapore’s vulnerability due to land scarcity. “Over the years, there was so much media coverage…relating to the importance of nature conservation (and) preserving nature heritage as well as the creation of many new nature parts and nature corridors,” he pointed out.

This might have attracted youths to get involved with “more worthy” causes or projects, he said, adding that youths could be drawn to the fact that they can be part of a community which they can learn from.

Agreeing, a spokesperson from the Naked Hermit Crabs, which is a group made up of volunteer guides, said social media has helped in boosting outreach numbers. “Singaporeans are definitely getting more appreciative of their surroundings and the environment as the world becomes more eco-minded,” she said.

The group does 12 to 14 free guided walks in a year. Currently, it is focusing on Chek Jawa and the 
Pasir Ris mangrove.

The group used to attract 50 to 60 participants for its nature walks, but numbers have grown to around 80 in the last couple of years, according to the spokesperson. Tours also tend to be oversubscribed especially during the school holidays where the group would get 200 or more sign-ups for tours that can only take 80 to 100 people, she added.

Ria Tan, who runs the Wild Shores of Singapore blog and volunteers as a guide for Naked Hermit Crabs, said she has encountered many parents who want their children to learn more about nature and to experience rustic Pulau Ubin and Chek Jawa for themselves. “I think it’s good that Singaporeans want to learn more and experience their own natural heritage,” she said.

Wong Tuan Wah, Group Director, Conservation, from National Parks Board (NParks) said NParks organises approximately 200 tours this year, and response has been positive. Popular tours such as the Chek Jawa Guided Tour (incidentally one is running today, and allows a maximum of six groups of 15 pax per day) and the “What’s in my?” series of walks (which can take a maximum 20 pax each time, are often fully registered shortly after they are opened for booking — “indicating the public’s keen interest in nature”, said Wong.

“We are very encouraged by the enthusiastic response from members of the public. This is testimony of their interest in our rich biodiversity and support for our City in a Garden vision. We hope to create greater awareness in Singapore to encourage more people to help conserve our natural heritage and transform Singapore into a City in a Garden,” he added.

To cope with the strong public interest, Wong says NParks is working with the community to train more volunteer guides to share interesting information on the history, 
heritage, flora and fauna with groups they lead.

Another spokesman from NUS Toddycats, who are volunteers with the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum at National University of Singapore, said their walks are usually “maxed out” within 24 to 48 hours of opening up registration. The group runs a Love Our MacRitchie Forest Walk and it typically organises about 15 such free guided nature walks a year, with about 300 participants in total.

“We see concerned members of the public wanting to learn about conserving nature in the face of rapid development in Singapore,” said the spokesman.

“People in Singapore are generally interested and curious. As long as we provide the avenues for people to explore and make sure they know of it, they will respond,” she added.

Indeed, as Singapore becomes increasingly urbanised, it is only natural that one seeks out Mother Nature.

After all, according to the Naked Hermit Crabs, the standard of living in Singapore has gone up in the past decade or two, which gives people “time to move away from materialistic needs to reconnect with nature, as they realise that material goods can’t always buy 
you happiness”.

“More and more people seek experiences to rest and relax in our 
urban environment.”

3 best nature trails to see Singapore’s surprisingly diverse wildlife
SONIA YEO Today Online 9 Jul 16;


Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve not only has animals such as mudskippers and crabs living in the wetlands, it is also “home to thousands of migratory birds flocking into the reserve each year as a stopover, specifically those on the Australasia flyway route,” Lee said. Rare birds like the Asian dowitcher, black-winged stilt and Chinese egret stop in Singapore once a year during the bird migratory month from September to March. “I usually visit Sungei Buloh about 72 times a year and on one occasion, I got the chance to see the Asian dowitcher. It usually stays about seven days when it stops over at the reserve,” he said.

Those with a keen eye may be able to see the long-tailed macaque scampering through the reserve. At the mangrove swamp, you might even catch sight of a mangrove snake and a saltwater crocodile.


Situated along the edge of Lower Peirce Reservoir, the Lower Peirce Trail is the last remaining mature secondary forest in Singapore, and is home to an extensive wildlife with more than 250 animal species. You can encounter a wide range of them just along its 900m boardwalk.

At the forest layer of the forest lie the cyathea latebrosa, a type of tree fern. These ferns can be easily identified as they have a single tall stem and many can be found along the trail. Another interesting tree to point out to impress your friends is the distinct nibong palm, which sports thorns on its trunk.

As you continue on your trail, look around you and you might spot a lesser mousedeer. It feeds on leaves and shoots and is more active at night. Lee shared that squirrels can also be seen, such as the plantain squirrel and the slender squirrel. Look out too for a squirrel-lookalike called the common treeshrew. “The common treeshrew can usually be seen running across paths as they get from one tree to the other,” 
Lee said.

3. Prunus Trail at Macritchie Boardwalks

This trail, which starts near the entrance of MacRitchie Nature Trail, has its fair share of flora and fauna. The trail has some intriguing plants, such as the macaranga bancana, also known as the “ant plant” as ants reside in its hollow; the tembusu tree which has flowers that give off a strong scent when in bloom; and lianas, which climb and twine around the 
other plants.

Take slow and gentle steps, and you might see the clouded monitor lizard and oriental whip snake. Other native creatures include the pink-necked green pigeon and banded woodpecker. For bug enthusiasts, try to spot butterflies such as the common grass yellow and the banded imperial, which are found in the understory layer of the forest which receives very little sunlight.

Five spots to get in touch with nature (that are also Instagram-friendly)
JOY FANG Today Online 9 Jul 16;

Nestled within the Dairy Farm Nature Park, this trail allows visitors to learn about the park through the eyes of English naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace. Walk through a dense forested area which used to house a kampung community, and spot remnants from the past, such as the walls of houses and wells. Also try to catch sight of a Chempedak Tree, as well as fruit trees bearing durians, coconuts and green apples. If you’re a bird lover, keep your eyes peeled for the Crimson Sunbird, the Olive-winged Bulbul, and the Asian Glossy Starling. This 1km route will take you about 30 to 45 minutes to finish.

Northern Explorer Loop

Get in touch with the wild northern side of Singapore with this 11km route, which you can traverse either by walking or by cycling. The trail starts from Lower Seletar Reservoir Park and ends at Woodlands Waterfront. Along the way, you can catch stunning views of Upper Seletar Reservoir from the Mandai Park Connector, get a taste of rustic life at Ulu Sembawang Park Connector, spot flora and fauna in the 20ha nature area in Admiralty Park, or soak in a tranquil sea view at Woodlands Waterfront — a coastal park that has a 1.5km long promenade. It will take you about two to three hours
to complete.

Kranji Marsh

This 56.8-hectare freshwater marshland is home to unique biodiversity and is also one of the largest freshwater marshes in Singapore. Breathe in the full beauty of nature there with its freshwater marsh, woodland and grass habitats, and try to catch sight of the more than 170 species of birds, 54 species of butterflies and 33 species of dragonflies living in the area. If you pay attention, you might see a Changeable Hawk Eagle or White-bellied Sea Eagle perching on one of the tall trees. Visit one of the bird hides at the Marsh Station for a chance to observe shy marsh birds such as the Purple Swamphen and Common Moorhen. Cap the trip with a panoramic view of the Kranji Marshes and Kranji Reservoir from the top of the Raptor Tower.

Bukit Batok Nature Park

This 36ha park, which takes about one to two hours to explore, has several highlights: A World War II memorial site at the top of the hill and a awesome vantage view of a quarry pool from lookout points. Try to catch sight of the wide variety of fruit trees there, such as rambutan, breadfruit and mango trees. Wild animals such as monitor lizards, squirrels and monkeys are also present (if you look hard enough). Be warned that there are plenty of stairs in this trail, so it’s not for the faint-hearted. Fun fact: The war memorial, called the Syonan Chureito, was built by the Japanese to commemorate those who died during a fierce battle that took place there during World War II. It has since been destroyed. All that is left of the original shrine are the steps and two short pillars at the base.

The Southern Ridges

This 10km trail connects Mount Faber Park, Telok Blangah Hill Park, HortPark, Kent Ridge Park and Labrador Nature Reserve, and is one of the best spots for panoramic views of the city, harbour and the Southern Islands. Picture-perfect stops include Henderson Waves connecting Mount Faber Park to Telok Blangah Hill Park. It stands 36m above Henderson Road, making it the highest pedestrian bridge here. The Forest Walk and Canopy Walk — elevated walkways cutting through secondary forests — make for a lush respite to take some fresh air. Set aside around three to five hours for this route.

The Dos and Don’ts of Trekking
SONIA YEO SIJIA Today Online 9 Jul 16;

SINGAPORE — Do you know your little hike in, say, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve might cause more trouble than you realise? You could be destroying nature accidentally with every step. Here are some tips from Ben Lee, the founder of non-profit group Nature Trekker and seasoned hiker Chua Tien Seng to minimise 

STAY ON TRACK. As you start your hike, always stay on the pathways that are built for the trail. There are plants and flowers growing at the edge of the trail. Lee said that you should avoid stepping on them and also “avoid stepping onto muddy trails as it will create a deeper depression or erode the earth”, adding that it is better to step on the drier area of the trail 
if possible.

Never go into places with streams, canals or rivers. Walking through them would be destructive to the organisms living in it. In addition, do not “jungle bash”. That means do not force your way through a 
blocked path.

NO FEEDING OF ANIMALS. This may sound like a no-brainer, but there are still some out there who insist on feeding animals their crumbs or leftovers, thinking that it is okay. It isn’t. Lee pointed out that animals should always be left on their own. “This is so that they will not lose their killer instinct to find food on their own,” 
Lee said.

ENJOY THE GREENERY BY BEING GREEN. Avoid littering at all cost. Chua suggests to “always bring a trash bag to carry back whatever rubbish you have”. Bringing your own water bottle would also help decrease plastic waste. For those who drive, Chua suggests taking public transport for that day. He quipped: “It helps save the environment and sustains 
a healthy lifestyle, too.”

KEEP YOUR PETS AT HOME WHEN TREKKING. Many dog owners like to bring their furry friends as they run through the trails. While canines make good companions, they might bark when they see or sense other native animals living in the reserve. This might scare these creatures. Avoid bringing your dogs to Central Catchment Nature Reserve, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, trails in MacRitchie, Lower Peirce Trail and Labrador Nature Reserve.

RESPECT THE WILDLIFE. Keep your noise levels low and try not to play your music out loud while trekking as it might startle animals. Try to appreciate and enjoy the sounds of nature. Apart from that, do not use any gizmos such as remote-control flying devices as they might cause major damage to the flora 
and fauna. Sonia Yeo

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