The Singapore Green Plan and "Areas of Natural Scenic Beauty"

Not part of the plan
Home to several endangered species, but this green spot at Lorong Halus is itself in danger of being wiped out
Esther Ng Today Online 25 Dec 09;

SINGAPORE - The path leading to the ponds at Lorong Halus is a scenic sight of grasslands and wooded hills. If it is hard to imagine that this once housed a landfill and sewage works, it's probably even harder to recall that before it became a dumping ground, this was once an area full of mangroves, mudflats and ponds.

"Thousands of birds during their annual migration would swarm here like the globally-threatened Chinese Egret and Asian Dowitcher," said the deputy chairman of Nature Society Singapore's (NSS) conservation committee, Dr Ho Hua Chew.

Since the Lorong Halus landfill was closed in 1999, some green shoots with patches of woodlands and two small ponds have emerged here.

It is the only known site for the breeding of the Little Grebe, a critically-endangered bird, with only 10 such birds believed to be surviving in all of Singapore.

Yet while Lorong Halus and other green spots like Bukit Brown, the grassland at Simpang, Bidadari and Springleaf Woodlands are home to several endangered species such as the Straw-headed Bulbul, the rare Twin-barred Tree Snake and critically endangered orchid species like Dendrobium Lobii and Liparis ferruginea - they are not part of the Singapore Green Plan (SGP) - which is a sore point with the NSS.

The NSS believes these places should be designated "Areas of Natural Scenic Beauty" - and legislated protected areas - as is the practice in other countries like the United Kingdom, with potential for being turned into an educational and conservation asset.

"Being a small nation, our areas of natural scenic beauty are rather unspectacular but they have a charm of their own, if our sense of scenic beauty is not constricted by what we see overseas on our holidays and if we bother to explore our countryside," said Dr Ho.

According to a report from the National Parks Board (NParks) and the National University of Singapore's Centre for Remote Imaging, Sensing and Processing, Singapore's greenery grew from 36 per cent in 1986 to 47 per cent in 2007.

Out of the 47 per cent, 10 per cent has been set aside for nature reserves and parks, while the remaining green areas are open to future development.

NSS estimates that these green pockets are mostly undeveloped areas - patches of mangrove, scrublands, woodlands as well as remnant orchards and rubber plantations which have reverted to a wild state.

They also include areas once designated as Nature Areas in the 1992 SGP - Mandai Estuary, Sungei Khatib Bongsu and Pulau Semakau - which were de-listed from the URA's Master Plan in 2003. Six years on, the NSS is still calling for these areas to be re-listed as such.

Restoring de-listed nature areas into green plan

"These green areas have become a refuge for the remaining wildlife of Singapore, including many species that are thought by experts to be supposedly extinct or rare, as well as serving as harbours for migratory species," said Dr Ho.

"Given this scenario, the possibility of increasing our nature areas in the SGP should not be automatically ruled out in the name of land scarcity," he added.

When asked, NParks and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) told MediaCorp the Government has to take a balanced and pragmatic approach to land-use planning - and it may not always be possible to keep as much of the existing greenery or nature areas as it would like to.

But it gave the assurance "a process is in place to ensure that where possible, the necessary studies are done and mitigating measures taken to minimise the possible environmental impact whenever development projects are planned in or close to areas with significant biodiversity".

The URA and NParks told MediaCorp that some of the areas mentioned in the 1992 SGP were not included as nature areas in the Parks and Waterbodies Plan as they have been committed for "strategic and long-term development".

However, these areas will still be "retained for as long as they are not required for development".

As it stands now, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Central Catchment Nature Reserve, Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and Labrador Nature Reserve cover about 4.5 per cent of Singapore's land area and represent indigenous ecosystems, such as primary lowland forest, freshwater swamp forest and mangroves, said the agencies.

In addition, the 300-km Park Connector Network, when completed, will link up green spaces throughout the island, bringing the community closer to nature.

However, this does not go far enough for NSS. It wants all 47 per cent of Singapore's green spaces to be preserved as a "carbon sink" which can be traded for carbon credits.

In environment-speak, a carbon sink is a natural or man-made reservoir or area that accumulates and stores some carbon-containing chemical compound.

"Planting individual trees is less effective in creating a carbon sink than allowing woodlands to remain as they are.

"We're prone to protest about forest fires in Indonesia but our protests sound very hollow if we were to progressively wipe out our remaining greenery until what is left are nature reserves and public parks."