Singapore Botanic Gardens opens conservation-focused Learning Forest

Loke Kok Fai Channel NewsAsia 31 Mar 17;

SINGAPORE: A new, conservation-focused section of the Singapore Botanic Gardens was opened by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Friday (Mar 31).

Located within the Tyersall-Gallop extension of the Gardens, the 10-hectare Learning Forest aims to restore the natural conditions of lowland forests and wetlands in the area, as well as bolster conservation efforts of local plant species.

Previously used for agricultural purposes in the 19th century, after which it was used for large residential estates, the site was carefully restored based on detailed site surveys and old maps.

The Learning Forest now forms part of the protective buffer zone around the UNESCO Heritage Site portions of the existing Botanic Gardens. It integrates with the Gardens' existing 6ha of primary rainforest - one of Singapore's last remaining tracts of such habitats.

The site features swamp orchids in their natural habitat, local plant species discovered and documented by several of Singapore’s pioneering botanists, a collection of wild variants of local fruits like lychees and mangosteens, as well as an elevated boardwalk among some of the tallest rainforest trees - several more than 100 years old.

It is also home to more than 600 plant species – many of them rare or endangered, as well as 200 species of wildlife including birds, mammals, reptiles and butterflies. It will serve as a reference for ongoing research work in the field of restoration ecology for the region.

VOLUNTEERS TO HELP MONITOR GARDENS’ ECOLOGICAL HEALTH

Speaking at the opening event, Mr Lee said the Learning Forest builds on the Botanic Gardens’ "legacy of conservation and improvement".

"Ultimately, our Botanic Gardens thrive not because of the interesting mix of plants, but because within it, there's life," he said.

"It's teeming with activity, it's loved and nurtured by the community, by all age groups."

He also announced that National Parks Board (NParks) will launch a new Citizen Science programme, where volunteers can help monitor the long-term ecological health of the Botanic Gardens. This includes submitting sightings of animals spotted in the Gardens using the SGBioAtlas mobile app.

"This is NParks' version of Pokemon GO, with a purpose," said Mr Lee. "Real animals which you capture on your smartphone. And the data which you collect will help NParks to monitor animal populations and improve conservation and biodiversity."

The Learning Forest can be accessed from Tyersall Avenue, near the Gardens' Swan Lake. Its opening hours are from 5am to midnight.

- CNA/cy


New Learning Forest opens at Singapore Botanic Gardens
SIAU MING EN Today Online 31 Mar 17;

SINGAPORE — From touching pieces of the white flaky bark from the Gelam tree, to strolling on a tree-canopy-level boardwalk, to wandering into the freshwater wetland habitats, visitors will get to experience these and more at the Singapore Botanic Gardens’ new Learning Forest.

Officially launched by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Friday (March 31), the 10ha secondary forest next to Tyersall Avenue houses more than 700 plant species and more than 200 species of fauna.

It is also linked to the main garden’s 6ha nature area — one of Singapore’s few remaining patches of primary rainforest — and contains some of the plant species found there.

Back in the 19th century, the forest site was used for cultivation and later, for large residential estates before it was set aside as part of the Singapore Botanic Gardens’ extension plans in 2009.

The National Parks Board (NParks) said that construction works for this secondary forest took slightly less than three years, and it involved restoring former habitats as well as regenerating certain species of flora.

Today, it features a lowland forest ecosystem at its southern end, and at its northern tip are a 1.8ha forest wetland, a collection of wild fruit trees, and a bamboo garden. The forest also forms part of the protective buffer zone against the urban development around the gardens, which is a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Visitors will be able to trek past giant trees that can grow up to 60m tall along an 8m-high, 260m-long elevated boardwalk. Lining the boardwalk are trees such as the Sea Apple tree, which used to be planted by the British as firebreaks near the highly flammable lalang wastelands.

Other plant species include the forest palms such as the Ibul, which has seeds toxic enough to kill an elephant. The Gelam tree, which gave heritage district Kampong Glam its name, has a unique white flaky bark and visitors can get to feel the bark’s spongy texture.

Further up north of the forest, NParks also restored the wetland ecosystem that was already there in the 1860s. It now includes more than 200 plant species. There, visitors will find a freshwater swamp habitat, Pulai Marsh, that eventually feeds into Swan Lake, a natural water source in the main garden. They may also see flora species such as Pulai Basong — fewer than 20 of its kind are left in Singapore. Fauna such as the Red-legged Crake and the Black Marsh Terrapin are some of the inhabitants in the marshland.

Located near the wetlands are the man-made Orchid Islands, where native orchids thrive. Some of the species include the yellow and red Deer Antlered Phalaenopsis, which was once extinct but has been reintroduced by NParks.

Over at the wild fruit tree arboretum, there are more than 50 species of trees. One is the bright yellow-orange Asam Gelugor, a critically endangered species that has fruit which can grow up to 10cm in diameter, and another is the Redan tree, where the fruit is a hairless relative of the rambutan.

Another learning area is the the bambusetum, which features more than 30 species of bamboo found in Asia. Of note is the Giant Bamboo, which can grow up to 10 storeys, and its stems are wide enough to be used as buckets when cut.

Speaking at the official opening of the forest, Mr Lee said the gardens' was successful in its Unesco bid because for more than 150 years, Singapore took special care of the gardens.

Now, the Learning Forest builds on this legacy of conservation and improvement, he said.

While takes decades to plant a garden or forest, Mr Lee added that in the fullness of time, the new forest will be able to enrich Singapore's natural heritage.

Admission to the Learning Forest is free, and it is open from 5am to midnight daily. The wetlands and the boardwalk will be closed from 7pm to 7am to keep a conducive environment for the wildlife.

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