Eco-Link at Mandai to be ready by 2019

Lee Li Ying Channel NewsAsia 26 Jul 17;

SINGAPORE: Come 2019, local wildlife in the Mandai precinct can travel between two sections of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve using a dedicated bridge, Mandai Park Holdings (MPH) announced on Wednesday (Jul 26).

Construction of the Eco-Link, which will span the width of Mandai Lake Road, started in June. It forms part of efforts to allow habitat connectivity as the area transforms into a mega-nature attraction. Mandai Park's rejuvenation project will see the relocation of Jurong Bird Park and the development of a new Rainforest Park in the same area as the Singapore Zoo, Night Safari and River Safari.

The wildlife crossing will be located within a 50-metre forested strip set aside as buffer and will measure 44m wide and 110m long. While the Eco-Link is being constructed, artificial crossing aids will be put up along Mandai Lake Road to help arboreal and gliding animals such as colugos and squirrels move across more easily, MPH said.

It added that curated tree and shrub species will be planted to attract and cater to the needs of different species. Fencing around the precinct will also guide animals to the bridge and act as a barrier to the road. Animals expected to use the bridge include colugos, squirrels, pangolins, lesser mousedeer and lizards.

Said Mike Barclay, CEO of MPH: “Our existing wildlife parks at Mandai are already sanctuaries for local wildlife in the area, as indicated in our regular biodiversity surveys conducted in the parks. It is our vision for the future precinct to continue providing conducive habitat corridors for local wildlife to find shelter in our parks and to connect with the adjacent nature reserve.”

OTHER CONSERVATION EFFORTS

Development work for the Mandai project started in February this year and an “extensive range” of measures are being taken alongside it to ensure the process is sensitive to the surroundings, said the developer.

An example is the effort being made to preserve trees of conservation value. Arborists will survey and tag trees based on their species, health, size and conservation status. Selected trees could be incorporated into the park design where possible or transplanted to other parts of the development. Trees to be retained will have a protection zone erected around it during the construction period to minimise any damage.

Other measures include shepherding wildlife to safe areas before work starts at each part of the site, inspecting trees for active bird nests, tree hollows or burrows before any transplanting or removal is done, and conducting biodiversity awareness training to workers at the sites.

“Our priority is to ensure that the project is developed sensitively and in careful considering of the neighbouring nature reserve and local wildlife in the area … We take this role very seriously and will continually refine and enhance our measures as the project progresses,” said MPH senior vice-president Philip Yim.

Mandai makeover: Eco-bridge, biodiversity classes for contractors among measures to protect wildlife in area
Audrey Tan Straits Times 26 Jul 17;

SINGAPORE - To reduce impact on native wildlife found in natural forests surrounding an upcoming eco-tourism hub in Mandai, a new wildlife bridge crossing 9m above ground will be built by end-2019.

Mandai Eco-Link, which will be 110m long and 44m wide, will have native trees that would provide food and cover for wildlife crossing Mandai Lake Road.

Developer Mandai Park Holdings will also provide biodiversity awareness training sessions for contractors in a bid to reduce impact on native wildlife.

Contractors will learn more about animals that roam the forests of Singapore, like the straw-headed bulbul, king cobra, and lesser mousedeer, and what to do if they were to encounter one during the course of their work.

MPH released details of these measures during a press conference on Wednesday (July 26). Preparatory work in the area is currently underway with Mandai Lake Road now lined with bright yellow hoarding.

The plan is to build a new Rainforest Park and relocate the Bird Park from Jurong to join the existing trio of attractions there - the Singapore Zoo, Night Safari and River Safari by 2023.

Mr Philip Yim, senior vice-president and project lead at Mandai Park Development, said on Wednesday that a wildlife shepherding plan will also be implemented to gradually funnel wildlife away from work sites - similar to what the Urban Redevelopment Authority did in 2016 for a forested area in Lentor that had to make way for a private housing project.

The Mandai area is rich in wildlife as it sits right next to the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

The land on which the Rainforest Park and Bird Park will be built is on state land but secondary forest has over the past few decades regenerated, resulting in a rich landscape of wildlife that workers could encounter.

The training sessions aim to teach them more about the denizens of Singapore's forests, such as their conservation status, or whether an animal is endangered in the wild.

They are also taught how to respond to these sightings. If a rare animal is sighted, a response protocol is in place for wildlife specialists to be activated to handle the animal professionally and safely.

Mr Yim also gave details on the wildlife bridge that it had last year said it would build, to provide safe passage for animals crossing between fragments of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve on both sides of Mandai Lake Road.

Similar to the Eco-Link spanning the Bukit Timah Expressway, the Mandai bridge will have native trees that would provide food and cover for native animals using the crossing.

While work on the Eco-Link is underway, artificial crossing aids, such as poles and rope ladders, will be put across Mandai Lake Road to help arboreal and gliding animals, like the Malayan colugo and the slender squirrel, get across safely.

MPH said such aids will also be deployed around the nature precinct to aid wildlife connectivity, which is important to ensure that animals can move around to feed and breed, and not get isolated.

Since plans for the area were announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in 2014, environmental groups have expressed concern that development work in the area, noise from visitors, and the possibility of escapee species from the parks, would threaten native wildlife in the neighbouring nature reserve.

MPH said it conducted an environmental impact assessment and has been engaging with the green groups since 2012, well before plans were firmed up.

The Eco-Link was one suggestion set out in an Environmental Impact Assessment report released last July (2016), detailing environmental protection measures including creating buffer zones around work sites.

Another recommendation from the report, which MPH has done, was to swop the locations of the new Rainforest Park and Bird Park, such that existing trees do not have to be cleared.

Nature guide Ivan Kwan welcomed the new measures MPH said it will implement.

"The eco-link, and plans to rejuvenate the habitats, sound good. But they appear to be effective only after the development is complete," he said.

"However, I'm curious to see what other interim steps will be taken during construction. Rope ladders can benefit arboreal animals but aren't useful for terrestrial species. Especially with the expected increase in road traffic, native animals from the nature reserve could end up as roadkill."

Primate researcher Andie Ang, who studies the critically endangered Raffles' banded langur in Singapore, said it is good that the developer has committed to installing rope ladders to help arboreal animals cross Mandai Lake Road.

Dr Ang urged them to do so quickly, especially now that work has started. Rope ladders have to be carefully designed so larger animals, such as monkeys, could use them too. The langur, for example, has been spotted in the area.

Bird scientist David Tan from the National University of Singapore said there has to be strong science backing the eco-link. For example, when the National Parks Board built the BKE eco-link, it did biodiversity studies, camera trapping work and bird surveys on both sides of the bridge before, after and during construction.

"However, there is no indication that there will be pre- and post-monitoring schemes in place in the Mandai Eco-Link. It's currently being taken on faith that the bridge will work," he noted.

When asked, MPH said biodiversity studies on both sides of the proposed eco-link are ongoing, and that long-term monitoring will be done.

They also said the rope ladders design is still being worked out.


Zones to protect trees in Mandai to be set up, with steps taken to ensure their health
Audrey Tan Straits Times 26 Jul 17;

SINGAPORE - The secondary forests on both sides of Mandai Lake Road will soon make way for two wildlife parks - the Bird Park, which will move from Jurong, and the new Rainforest Park. But developer Mandai Park Holdings is taking steps to preserve some of the decades-old trees growing on both plots, by engaging an arborist - a tree expert - to do an assessment.

"We determine which trees to preserve based on a number of factors, including their size and species, based on the species status set out in the Singapore Red Data Book," said arborist Derek Yap, who was engaged by Mandai Park Holdings for the job. The Singapore Red Data Book lists species which are endangered in the Republic.

The trees will be preserved in a way that will ensure they remain healthy for years to come, Mr Yap told The Straits Times on the sidelines of an event organised by Mandai Park Holdings on Wednesday (July 26) to brief the media on its environmental protection strategies.

"The development plans set out tree protection zones that are more than the bare minimum. We also don't just preserve individual trees. As this is a forested context, we keep trees in clusters, and there will be a buffer around each cluster to ensure work doesn't encroach into these tree-protection zones," said Mr Yap, who runs a private consultancy for trees and had previously been with the National Parks Board for a decade.

A tree-protection zone is essentially about giving a tree room to grow, so its health is not impaired and its roots do not become unstable.

His assurance comes after a 270-year-old tembusu tree fell in the Singapore Botanic Gardens in February, killing a woman.

Evidence presented earlier this month (July) during a coroner's inquiry had shown that the tree was decaying from the inside, although signs of the rot had not been visible to inspectors, making it hard to predict that it would topple. Mr Yap, the tree expert who took the stand in the Botanic Gardens case, told the court that rot could have started with the roots, and raised the possibility that this could have set in as far back as 1859, when the roots were last cut. That was the year the Botanic Gardens was founded.

On Wednesday, he noted that there have been significant advances in arboriculture, the management and study of trees, over the years.

Mr Yap said: "The good thing is that the industry is learning fast... Many people understand now that there is a need for arboriculture.

"What we do is that we will screen the construction processes, to ensure works would not result in a predictable failure of trees. Whenever an arborist determines that works would result in a predictable failure of a tree, there has to be a dialogue between the parties involved. Either the works are moved elsewhere, or the tree is removed.

It is important to work with the contractor and designers - everyone has to come on board with the right mindset."


Mandai Eco-Link: Will animals use the wildlife bridge?
Audrey Tan Straits Times 27 Jul 27;

SINGAPORE - Native animals living in the forests of Mandai will be able to use an overhead bridge of their own by the end of 2019.

The bridge is among efforts by Mandai Park Holdings (MPH) - which is developing a nature precinct of five wildlife parks in the area - to minimise the impact on wildlife as the hub is being built.

The hub is expected to be ready by 2023. It will contain a new rainforest park and the bird park, which will be relocated from Jurong, and will be built on two plots in the area.

The two plots are on state-owned land, but are now overrun by regenerated secondary forests. The plots are located just outside the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, and are part a rich ecological vein of flora and fauna in the area.

MPH provided details of the bridge at a briefing on Thursday (July 26).

The elevated wildlife crossing, which will not be open to members of the public, will be 44m wide and span the length of Mandai Lake Road. It will provide a safe passage for animals crossing between parts of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, which straddles both sides of the road.

For years, there have been reports of animals - such as the critically endangered Sunda pangolin - crossing Mandai Lake Road and getting run over by cars.

The Mandai Eco-Link will be similar to an existing wildlife crossing - built by National Parks Board (NParks) - that runs across the Bukit Timah Expressway (BKE).

Here are some interesting facts about the Mandai Eco-Link:

1. WILDLIFE BRIDGES: HOW DO THEY WORK?

The bridges help animals safely get from one part of the forest to another, across roads and expressways.

For instance, the 62m-long Eco-Link@BKE, which opened in 2013, connects the Bukit Timah and Central Catchment nature reserves. When the BKE was built in 1986, it cut a line through the reserve area, splitting it into two.

The Mandai Eco-Link will link the central and northern swathes of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve that are now separated by Mandai Lake Road.

The ability to move between one forest area to another is important for animals, especially in Singapore. This is because the island's nature areas are fragmented by urban development, unlike in countries that have rolling acres of forests.

Being able to move from forest to forest will help animals feed and breed without becoming isolated.

2. WILL ANIMALS USE THE BRIDGE?

Animals cannot be forced to use the bridge. However, ecological studies suggest that there are several ways to encourage them to use wildlife crossings.

Using native plants on the bridge will be a key strategy.
Native plants found in Singapore's forests provide food and shelter for animals in the wild. Ensuring that they can be found on the bridge will make sure there is an unbroken landscape of vegetation the animals are familiar with.

Tree species being used on the Eco-Link@Mandai include Archidendron jiringa, Sterculia parviflora, Shorea leprosula and Ilex cymosa, MPH said. The saplings will be transplanted from other parts of the forested area that is being developed, or bought.

Ensuring that there are suitable "layers" of vegetation
In natural forests, there are several such layers - the understorey, which refers to vegetation near the floor, the midstorey, and the top-most layer, the canopy.

Different animals use the different layers to find food and shelter. Nectar bushes and shrubs, for instance, are frequently patronised by butterflies. Some insects live on the forest floor, as do land-dwelling mammals such as the pangolin and mouse deer.

Birds like the greater racket-tailed drongo and straw-headed bulbul tend to find food in the mid-storey.

There are also arboreal animals that are found in the forest canopies. These include the Malayan colugo, which glides from tree to tree.

Making sure animals can find their way to the bridge
These strategies will not work if animals cannot locate the bridge in the first place.

That is why biodiversity surveys and data on road kill hot spots, for example, are important.

For the Eco-Link@BKE, NParks conducted studies on the types of biodiversity that can be found on both sides of the bridge by, for instance, setting up camera traps. There are ongoing studies monitoring the wildlife in the area.

Efforts to monitor animals on both sides of the Mandai Eco-Link started in November 2016, and include camera trapping surveys and transact surveys.

In transact surveys, scientists record the wildlife they find on walks along a specific route in the forest. MPH said such efforts will continue during the construction of the Eco-Link.

An MPH spokesman said: "After the completion of the Eco-Link, the monitoring programme will be extended to the bridge itself, to understand wildlife utilisation of the bridge."

3. WHICH ANIMALS ARE LIKELY TO USE THE BRIDGE?

- The Sunda pangolin, which is critically endangered in Singapore.

There have been reports of pangolins ending up as roadkill in Mandai Lake Road.

- Lesser mouse deer, another endangered mammal in Singapore.

It is 45cm long, 20cm tall at the shoulders, and weighs just 2kg. It is the smallest of all hoofed mammals anywhere in the world. It is unclear if these shy animals will use the bridge, as they usually dwell deep in the forest interior.

- Straw-headed bulbul, a bird widely hunted in South-east Asia for its melodious song.

It is listed as endangered in the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List. In December 2016, a Straits Times report said Singapore is thought to have at least 200 straw-headed bulbuls. Non-governmental organisation Traffic, which monitors the wildlife trade, said Singapore was "one of the few remaining strongholds for the species".

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