Bukit Brown: Consider the impact on biodiversty, says Nature Society

Straits Times Forum 29 Mar 12;

WE WISH to highlight a few points about the adverse impact on the biodiversity of the area where the Land Transport Authority (LTA) will be building a bridge as part of a road through the Bukit Brown Cemetery ('Bridge will help, say some experts'; last Friday).

The area is very rich in birdlife with 94 species recorded so far, including 15 of the 56 nationally threatened bird species listed in The Singapore Red Data Book (2008), making it a highly important wildlife habitat.

It also serves as a very important foraging ground and habitat for forest birdlife coming over from the Central Catchment Forest across Lornie Road.

The recent sighting here of a large flying fox, a bat species regarded as extinct in Singapore, promises ample opportunities for other equally exciting discoveries.

An environmental impact assessment for the whole area, and not only the transect zone, should be conducted.

The results and conclusions should be made public for comments and feedback.

The planned dual four-lane carriageway diagonally cuts across the only expansive and beautiful valley in the area. Most of the valley will be covered over by the proposed 670m-long bridge.

The thick woodland on both sides will be severely damaged if not completely wiped out. Creating a gap in the middle for sunlight to get through will cause wider destruction.

The woodland on both sides has a concentration of forest species, some endangered, such as the red-eyed bulbul and grey-headed fish eagle.

The damage or destruction of the woodland will adversely affect Bukit Brown as a foraging ground or extended habitat for the forest species.

The expressway, even with the bridge, will not be serving any residential area in the near future.

So, it is critical for the Government to justify to the public the need for this expressway and to clarify the rationale behind such a short timeline.

Dr Ho Hua Chew
Executive council member and vice-chairman
Conservation Committee
Nature Society (Singapore)

Bridge at Bukit Brown will help, say some experts
It will minimise disruption of ecosystem but more thought must be put into its design
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 29 Mar 12;

Some environment experts here believe a bridge that the Land Transport Authority (LTA) will be building as part of a road through the 200ha Bukit Brown Cemetery will help minimise disruption to the flora and fauna.

Preserving the environment would be better but since the LTA is going ahead with the road plan, more thought needs to be put into the design of this bridge.

Earlier this week, the LTA announced that a third of the planned road across the cemetery would be a bridge, to allow animals to pass under the road and preserve streams in the area. A 670m stretch of the road will climb up to 10m above ground.

Among the animals believed to be found in Bukit Brown are the sunda pangolin and monitor lizard.

The change comes after months of protests by civic groups, which have called for the whole area to be preserved for its heritage and biodiversity.

They argued that a road would disrupt animal migration patterns and vegetation in the area. After the Bukit Timah Expressway was built in 1986, slicing a vast wilderness tract in half, animals died trying to cross the road to search for food and mates. As animals have a role in pollinating plants and dispersing seeds, plant variety in the forest was also reduced.

The groups have called for a moratorium on all plans until discussions on possible alternatives have been exhausted.

Professor Peter Ng, 52, who co-edited the first encyclopaedia on Singapore's biodiversity, published last year, said that while traffic noise from the bridge may scare some animals away, others would adapt to the new situation.

Assistant Professor David Bickford, 43, from the Department of Biological Sciences at the National University of Singapore, added that in any case, many animals travel at dawn and dusk and in the night, when there is less traffic on the bridge.

But more information on the exact species in the area needs to be gathered first, they said, in order to understand the impact of the bridge on them.

The LTA had conducted a study on the road's environmental impact but declined to share the details of its report.

The Nature Society (Singapore) estimates that at least 91 bird species live in or frequent the area, including 14 species that are threatened.

'We need more data on the vegetation and other fauna such as mammals, reptiles and amphibians in the area,' said Dr Ho Hua Chew, the Nature Society's conservation committee vice-chairman.

But the bridge could cause other environmental problems in the area, said Dr Ho. The eight-lane bridge will cast a wide shadow, killing plants underneath, he said. 'The stretch will be bare and ugly over time, wiping out most of the species that are adapted to grassy or shrubby habitats,' he added.

Prof Bickford said if the linkway becomes barren, animals may not use it.

This could have further impact on the vegetation in the area. 'Some plants require animals to carry their seed,' said Dr Edward Webb at the NUS Department of Biological Sciences who specialises in plant ecology.

The experts suggested several measures to make sure the bridge serves its green purpose.

Thick vegetation on both sides of the bridge would insulate animals from the traffic noise and make the passageway more attractive to them, said Prof Ng, who is also with the NUS Department of Biological Sciences.

Prof Bickford suggested breaking up the expressway into two four-lane roads and making sure there is a sizeable gap between them.

'Let the gap be big enough to have substantial sunlight passing through. The light will hit different parts of the ground during the day and reduce the area that is in shadow all the time,' he said.

This would give vegetation a fighting chance and therefore make the linkway more attractive to animals, he explained.

The LTA said the road would have a gap but the exact blueprint has not been determined.

Cheaper way to solve congestion in Adam, Lornie roads
Straits Times Forum 29 Mar 12;

MANY questions have been raised about the road planned through Bukit Brown Cemetery ('Green path for new Bukit Brown road'; March 20).

But the most important one has not been asked: Is there a lower-cost solution to the traffic congestion along Adam and Lornie roads?

Unless the objective is to boost gross domestic product through increased spending, putting aside heritage and land-use issues, I fail to see the logic of building a new dual four-lane carriageway, and then reducing a wide, existing road to two lanes.

Would it not be better to widen the existing road only where necessary, and then allow Bukit Brown itself to become a park?

I used to travel frequently along that stretch and agree that the morning congestion in the direction of Farrer Road can be serious. The return journey was not as bad, except for one choke-point caused by the traffic light at Sime Road.

There are ways to solve these problems on the cheap. An additional lane can be added to Adam and Lornie roads in the direction of Farrer Road. The traffic light-controlled U-turn just after the MediaCorp headquarters should be removed.

If it is found that a significant number of drivers intend to get onto the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) towards Changi, one of the existing service roads inside Bukit Brown itself can be upgraded to siphon off such traffic.

In the opposite direction, the traffic light at Sime Road causes major congestion in the evenings as traffic entering from the PIE stops there, causing traffic coming from Farrer Road to build up.

My evening drive home was clear once I passed that point.

This traffic light, which is only for the convenience of Singapore Island Country Club members, should be eliminated.

For golfers wishing to go in the direction of Bukit Timah, an old road through the nature reserve, currently in disrepair, can be upgraded to allow them to exit onto the PIE.

Rather than aspiring to grand solutions, those who control the public purse should seek out what gives Singaporeans the best value for money.

Lee Chiu San