Best of our wild blogs: 27 Nov 11

The Hantu Blogger speaks!
from Compressed air junkie

Pulau Semakau (26 Nov 2011)
from teamseagrass

Pulau Semakau – holds more than our incinerated trash!
from Nature rambles and encounters with nature and wild shores of singapore

The need to document plants associated with birds
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Nothing concrete in earlier plans for Bukit Brown

Straits Times 27 Nov 11;

Last Sunday's article, 'Bukit Brown road project 'can't wait'', reported that 'strangely, the URA said, no one raised a ruckus when plans highlighting the area's intended future use were displayed for feedback' in 1991 and 2001, when the Concept Plans were released.

This argument is being used to refute current public opinion against the transport and housing developments in Bukit Brown cemetery.

In 1991 and 2001, there were no concrete announcements on the intrusion of physical infrastructure like the road. If there had been a public outcry then, the Government would have replied, understandably, that such an outcry was premature as nothing concrete had yet been planned.

More importantly, we were a different country two decades ago. Thanks to nation-building efforts by the Government, Singaporeans today are more conscious of their national identity and are thus sensitive to any loss of heritage.

With a bigger population now, Singaporeans are hungry for more open spaces and recreational areas, of which Bukit Brown is one.

We also now have new know-ledge of just how rich a historical and ecological resource Bukit Brown is.

Arguments for the conservation of the area were put forth by the Nature Society (Singapore) in its Feedback for the Inter-Ministerial Committee Project on Sustainable Singapore: Lively and Liveable City in 2009, and by the Singapore Heritage Society in the book, Spaces Of The Dead: A Case For The Living, published in May this year.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority Concept Plan is intended for long-term planning and its zones are broad and flexible.

For example, Pulau Ubin was also zoned for residential use in 1991 but it was later re-zoned as 'open space and reserve land' in the 2001 Concept Plan.

To imply that present-day concerns are invalidated by not having been raised 10 or 20 years ago is a flawed premise that leads to sub-optimal decision-making based on outdated information and analysis.

It also denies the possibility for any generation to determine its own immediate future and those of its children.

Chua Ai Lin

Terence Chong

Executive Committee Members

Singapore Heritage Society

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No walk in the park for heritage status

NParks team surveyed Bukit Timah Nature Reserve for 3 months to help it win accolade
Kezia Toh Straits Times 27 Nov 11;

Years spent in marathon training came in handy, fitness-wise, for Mr James Gan when he had to navigate the hilly terrain of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.

He spent three months - at least thrice a week - carefully surveying the reserve, home to Singapore's highest hill.

That experience proved to be more than just a walk in the park for Mr Gan, 41, the National Parks Board's (NParks) assistant director of its Central Nature Reserve division, but it was fulfilling.

He was in the five-member team that helped cement the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve's status as an Asean Heritage Park, announced last month.

As a result, Singapore is now home to two Asean Heritage Parks, the other being the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, which earned the accolade in 2003.

Mr Gan was also part of the 2003 survey team.

But clinching this recognition for the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve was more challenging, at least physically.

Mr Gan explained: 'All of us have become fitter on this job. Bukit Timah has higher terrain and the hill itself is the highest in Singapore - at 163m - so it is more challenging when going up and down while surveying the entire place.'

Bukit Timah Nature Reserve spans 163ha.

Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, known for its extensive mangroves, is a smaller 130ha.

Being able to deal with the hilly terrain helps Mr Gan focus on his surroundings.

'It takes an eye for detail to spot wildlife, such as a pangolin on the forest floor keeping very still and quiet,' he said.

'If I were not fit, I'd be huffing and puffing, and will not notice such things.'

The team also adapted well to navigating the forest at night, and observing and monitoring the nocturnal animals.

Their tasks included setting up mist nets to catch about 20 birds daily, and harp traps to catch about 30 bats in the night.

'Animals don't just keep to a nine-to-five schedule, but come out in the evening, which is the best time to be there,' explained Mr Gan.

The team's night forest jaunts usually took place between 7pm and 11pm.

The captured animals would be ringed, after noting details like sex, wing length and whether they were breeding. They would then be released and caught again later to observe any changes over time.

Clearly, traipsing around a pitch-black forest, albeit with a powerful torchlight, takes some skill.

For example, the team practised 'light discipline' - not waving the torch too much, to avoid scaring away wildlife.

And as the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve hosts about 40 per cent of the nation's native flora and fauna, the sheer volume of flora and fauna to observe and record became overwhelming at times.

Mr Gan said: 'While we knew what we had, we also knew there was so much more we did not know.'

The team had to keep their eyes peeled for native species such as the plantain squirrel and the Asian fairy bluebird - a first-time sighting for the team, as the bright blue-crested bird normally dwells in the upper levels of the canopy.

Help from the National Biodiversity Centre and Central Nature Reserve division, both under NParks, also came in handy.

The collated data, said NParks, may be used in future publications and educational material for schools and the public.

To win listing as an Asean Heritage Park, criteria such as ecological completeness and high conservation importance had to be met.

There are now 30 heritage parks across Asean, including the Lorentz National Park in Indonesia and the Taman Negara National Park in Malaysia.

A country with such a heritage site accepts the responsibility to ensure that the best possible level of protection is accorded to the site.

But successfully clinching the accolade is just icing on the cake, Mr Gan said.

'We don't work for it per se, but it is about raising awareness of biodiversity and nature reserves, and highlighting them to our fellow citizens to go discover all these by themselves,' he explained.

Of course, such an honour means immediate publicity for the reserve, which helps draw more people to visit it.

'So getting the accolade is just one aspect that will help us achieve that,' Mr Gan said.



This flagship species is a valuable timber tree, stretching high overhead with its leaves and branches forming a canopy for shade.

Its bark forms boat-shape cracks on the tree trunk, with a greyish tinge to the leaves in the tree canopy.


This is a nationally endangered palm, with only scattered tiny populations in the Bukit Timah and Central Catchment nature reserves.

Its small size and neatly arranged leaflets make it an attractive plant, with potential as an indoor palm.

Plantain squirrel

This native species has a dark brown back, a pale brown belly and a very fluffy dark brown tail.

It lives in gardens and forests, and eats fruit, seeds, flowers and plant shoots, with the occasional centipede and spider too.

Striped Tit Babbler

This species has a distinctive yellowish brow and a tawny reddish crown. Its throat is yellowish with brown streaks. This bird forages in small flocks, breeds in the pre-monsoon season from February to July, and builds a loose ball-shaped nest made from grass and leaves.

Asian Fairy Bluebird

This brilliant blue-crested bird has a clear bell-like call. It has velvety black wings and inhabits only rainforests, and is commonly found only on the canopy's upper levels.

It feeds on the fruit of forest trees, and insects such as termites.

Greater Racket-tailed Drongo

This native black bird is found deep in forested areas. In 2002, it was on the shortlist of a poll carried out by the Nature Society of Singapore's bird group to crown Singapore's national bird.

It then lost out to the crimson sunbird - a handsome bird with a high-pitched trill which flits from flower to flower.

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Work on Downtown Line stage 3 kicks off on Monday

Hetty Musfirah Channel NewsAsia 26 Nov 11;

"One of the challenges of building the Botanic Gardens station is the need to take care of the environmental impact."

SINGAPORE: Construction of the Downtown Line (DTL) will go full swing when work on the third phase kicks off on Monday.

The 42-kilometre Downtown Line is being constructed in three phases - DTL 1, DTL 2 and DTL 3.

The first two stages are progressing well.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) told Channel NewsAsia that DTL 1 is now 85 percent complete while DTL 2 is 40 percent done.

The DTL, Singapore's fifth MRT line, will boost connectivity from the northwest to the central-eastern areas.

Work on 12 stations on DTL 2, which runs along the Bukit Timah corridor towards the city, is on track for completion in 2015.

It will provide commuters living in Bukit Panjang and Bukit Timah better access to the rest of the island.

Excavation work has begun at Cashew, Beauty World, Botanic Gardens, Stevens, Newton and Little India stations.

At the Botanic Gardens station, three of the seven levels have been excavated.

LTA's senior project manager for Botanic Gardens station, Lim Bock Ho, said: "Below the fourth level, that's when we will encounter rock and that's when we have to do blasting."

He said one of the challenges of building the Botanic Gardens station is the need to take care of the environmental impact.

Behind the station is an eco-lake, so "we don't want to spoil the biodiversity of this area. Our aim is to not to have contaminated the water going into the eco-lake, otherwise the flora and fauna will be dead," said Mr Lim.

"The other challenge is because we are located beside the existing Circle Line station, our job is to make sure that we don't disrupt the operation of the existing station," added Mr Lim.

A 100-metre linkway will provide commuters easy access between the Botanic Gardens Downtown Line station and the Circle Line station.

Work on DTL 1, which runs through some busy corridors like Bugis and Chinatown, is almost complete.

The basic structure of all six stations is up while electrical and mechanical works are underway.

DTL 1, which is due for completion in 2013, is a loop connected to DTL 3, which runs to eastern towns like Bedok and Tampines.

So travelling from Chinatown to Bedok Reservoir will take 35 minutes instead of 50 minutes currently.

All 34 DTL stations will be fully operational in 2017. They will serve about half-a-million commuters daily.

- CNA/ir

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Indonesia: Two rafflesia flowers in bloom in Bengkulu

Antara 26 Nov 11;

Some parts of the forest area have been converted into coffee plantation.

Bengkulu, Sumatra (ANTARA News) - Two Rafflesia arnoldi flowers are in bloom at the Taba Penanjung natural sanctuary in Central Bengkulu District, Bengkulu Province.

The two flowers, located only 15 meters from each other, bloomed at the same time , Anggi, a local resident, said here.

"We found three flowers within a radius of 20 meters, but one has withered, and two are now in full bloom," he said.

The giant flowers were found in an area located around 100 meters from a road connecting Bengkulu city and Kepahiang district.

Last week, a Rafflesia flower was in bloom in the Bukit Daun protected forest, Kepahiang District.

Coordinator of Tebat Monok Rare Flower Lovers Holidin said 13 Rafflesia arnoldii flowers had been found this year.

Six flower buds are currently waiting to bloom.

"We predict one flower bud will bloom this week," he said.

Holidin said the Bukit Daun protected forest and the Taba Penanjung I and Taba Penanjung II natural sanctuaries were the habitats of Rafflesia arnoldii.

However, some parts of the forest area have been converted into coffee plantation.

He urged the government to protect the forest area in order to preserve the habitat of Rafflesia arnoldii.

Rafflesia is the largest, heaviest, rarest and one of the most smelly flowers in the world. In full bloom , its crown can reach a diameter of 1 meter and weigh about 10 kgs.

Interestingly, Rafflesia is a parasitic plant without any leaves, stems and roots.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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Caviar back on the menu – in an ethical way

Sales are rising thanks to the discovery of a kinder – and sustainable – method of harvesting the fish roe
Genevieve Roberts The Independent 27 Nov 11;

Once the preserve of Russian tsars and British royalty, caviar was described by the great Renaissance writer Fran├žois Rabelais as the finest titbit in the world. But recently it has been disappearing from dinner menus, amid concerns that traditional methods of harvesting the roe involve killing the majestic sturgeon that produce it.

Now, however, ethical caviar, produced without harm to the fish, has made the luxury permissible once more. Mottra Caviar, based near Riga in Latvia, has 50,000 sturgeon on its farm. Its director, Sergei Reviakin, said he has seen a 40 per cent increase in sales this year.

"After sturgeon became endangered, many chefs stopped using caviar," he said. "We are now teaching people about it."

He said the UK is one of his firm's biggest markets, along with Sweden, France, Poland, the Netherlands and Germany.

Unlike traditional caviar production, which kills the fish, the sturgeon are "milked" by human massage along their body to produce eggs. The fish are moved from warm to cold water for the three months before being milked, so the sturgeon feel by instinct that it is time to hatch, as the move to colder water mimics nature. In the 1980s, more than 1,000 tons of caviar were processed worldwide each year. Now, that figure is estimated to be about 120 tons for farmed caviar, Mr Reviakin said.

Selfridges has seen a double-digit growth increase in sales this year, while Ocado has extended deliveries from Christmas to include Valentine's Day to cope with increased demand. La Fromagerie on Marylebone High Street in central London and Harvey Nichols now offer the delicacy. L'Anima restaurant offers Mottra caviar with roe fish butter, while chef Mark Hix serves it with hot buttered toast and duck eggs. The Wright Brothers introduced ethical caviar at the Raw Bar in London early this month, and Gidleigh Park in Dorset has featured it on its menu.

Hix, who also serves the delicacy at his champagne and caviar bar in Selfridges, said: "The luxurious pastime of eating caviar has almost disappeared, partly because of the threat of extinction to the sturgeon but also because in hard times it's not exactly the most cost-effective thing to eat. We use Mottra, the only truly sustainable caviar in the world – it being sustainable means we can eat as much as our wallets can afford, without a guilty conscience."

A spokesman for Ocado said shoppers' caviar appetite is increasing. "We have ordered more this Christmas than ever before. Shoppers are more aware than ever about the provenance and sustainability of what they're eating."

Delicacy ethics: Guilty, and not-so-guilty, pleasures

Foie gras
An ethical version avoids the process known as la gavage, whereby geese are force-fed with a metal tube. The Spanish company Pateria de Sousa produces the ethical version called Ganso Iberico.

Ethical leaps have been made in the UK, with better diet, space and bedding for calves replacing the tiny veal crates.

Shark-fin soup
The fin is used to provide texture, rather than taste. But as producers have failed to find an ethical compromise, it is falling off menus.

Bluefin tuna
The Marine Conservation Society recommends we avoid eating bluefin tuna and choose line-caught yellowfin, skipjack or albacore tuna

Chickens, pigs, cattle
The RSPCA's Freedom Food scheme has grown rapidly in recent years, but still has only 4 per cent of the market.

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