Best of our wild blogs: 27 May 12

Great start to the Festival of Biodiversity!
from Festival of Biodiversity 2012

Laced Woodpecker foraging on the ground
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Butterfly of the Month - May 2012
from Butterflies of Singapore

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Can we cope with 8 million on the island?

Much depends on how we plan - and provide - services to meet growing needs
Warren Fernandez Straits Times 27 May 12;

Xenophobia is alive and well around the world, including in some corners of this island.

Just look at the vitriol being spewed on the Internet against foreigners in the wake of the tragic accident on Rochor Road involving a speed demon from Sichuan.

A foreign observer might be forgiven for concluding that Singapore is not far off from spawning a nationalist party, whose rallying cry might be the mantra now being spouted by politicians of every stripe: 'Singaporeans first.'

This seems ironic in a nation where most people are second- or third-generation offspring of immigrants themselves. How has it come to this? What explains the visceral reactions to those who have arrived here more recently?

Sure, some new immigrants may be arrogant and uncouth. But when I hear venom being heaped collectively on 'foreigners', I can't help but wonder if those speaking realise that our forefathers too hailed from similar sources, probably spoke little English and had social graces that might not sit so comfortably in modern Singapore. They were probably looked down on, discriminated against, perhaps even abused, by their colonial masters.

Have we forgotten?

More importantly, what are the implications if Singapore turns inwards and spurns new additions to its ranks? Can a small city-state, ageing more rapidly than most other societies, really afford for immigration to become politically toxic?

Immigration and integration look set to dominate discussion, with several think-tanks and policy units releasing population projections and scenarios on dependency ratios recently. The Government also has a White Paper on the subject due later this year.

The anxiety in official circles is warranted, given that on current trends, there will be far fewer young people to support the elderly in future. The burden - financial, social, emotional - will be heavy. In response, many have begun asking what more might be done to boost Singaporeans' productivity, not just in the boardrooms but also the bedrooms.

But this debate begs wider questions - just how many people do we need, or want, on this island? How many can we cope with? The answers are crucial, for on them turn how we plan and prepare for the immigrants we allow in.

The trouble, though, is that because the issue is so highly charged, it is one that has often been sidestepped.

For a long time, Singaporeans were told that there might be 6.5 million people on the island 'by Year X'. But few seemed to know, or were willing to say, just when Year X was.

When asked, policymakers would hum, haw and assert that this was 'not a target' but a 'planning parameter' - whatever that meant. Presumably, it was believed that greater clarity would make it harder to achieve a happy outcome, socially and politically.

One day, however, Singaporeans awoke to read in The Straits Times that Singapore had close to five million citizens and residents. Year X was suddenly closer than we imagined.

We all know the result. Crowding, complaints, costs rising, as well as a mounting sense that things had gone too far, too fast, culminating in the voter backlash last May.

Given the time needed to ramp up infrastructure projects, it will be some years before the situation can be put right and social tensions are eased.

With immigration now an even more 'sensitive subject', my concern is that we might make the same mistake and seek to sugarcoat any discussion about just how many people this island can accommodate, physically, socially, and yes, politically.

Yet, there is just no running away from it. Going by population projections from the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), even if Singapore has as many as one foreigner for every two residents in the next 40 years, the population will continue to age and the labour force growth rate will decline.

The result: The number of working-age people to take care of each elderly person will keep shrinking.

The IPS study shows that with the most aggressive intake of foreigners, when one-third of the people are non-residents, Singapore's total population is likely to grow to 7.3 million by 2050. If the intake is lowered to one-quarter or one-fifth, we might have 6.1 million people on the island.

How many people can Singapore cope with: 6.1 million? 7.3 million? 8 million?

Many will baulk at these numbers. Urban planners are already sounding the alarm that more open spaces might have to be converted to high-density housing. They point to congestion on MRT trains, on the road, in malls and our housing estates.

Veteran statistician Paul Cheung sees it differently. He argues that the MRT network is overcrowded because it was not designed for today's population. So, Singapore should plan and build for 8 million in the future, he says.

In other words, it is not the lack of space or facilities that is the main constraint on future population growth as much as the failure to plan - and deliver - the infrastructure required.

Clearly, any discussion on an optimal population cannot be conducted in isolation, but in tandem with plans for housing, hospitals, schools, jobs, transport and leisure options for more people. Otherwise, present realities will constrain thinking about the future.

So, for example, more details are needed on development plans for areas such as Dempsey, the old Turf Club, the waterfront areas and former KTM railway land around Tanjong Pagar, as well as Bukit Brown and Bidadari, or even offshore islands like Tekong. How will these be built up, and when?

Such reviews are done periodically when urban planners unveil the long-term master plans for the island. The next review is due next year. But that might be a year too late.

Without putting the population debate into this wider context, it will be difficult to get minds around the idea of boosting the population to 6 million, let alone 8 million, while keeping the doors open to immigrants.

Ironically, rather than physical limitations, politics might then prove the ultimate constraint to population growth.

This could do Singapore a grave disservice. After all, experience in recent years has shown the benefits of a larger population - not only has it helped boost economic growth, it has also led to a wider range of lifestyle options, from museums to music events, restaurants and retail outlets.

Most Singaporeans are not mean-spirited or xenophobic. In my view, the present angst and anxiety stem from a sense that the provision of essential services has not kept up with the population boom, and fears that this unhappy state of affairs will continue, and perhaps worsen, in future.

So when it comes to population planning, I say better to spell it out. Yes, it will mean more debate, perhaps more political heat, and even some controversy.

But the alternative is worse: A lack of a clear consensus on the way forward could give rise to divisive, perhaps unstoppable, political pressures that could turn us inwards, and ultimately, downwards.

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Bringing nature closer to residents

In the pipeline: 80ha park, viewing towers, 30km cycling loop at central catchment area
Amelia Tan Straits Times 27 May 12;

Nature buffs will have greater access to flora and fauna in Singapore with a 30km cycling loop to be completed by 2018.

The circuit will go around the Central Catchment Nature Reserve which covers the Upper Seletar, Upper and Lower Peirce, and MacRitchie reservoirs.

It will be formed by joining 10.5km of existing park connectors and biking trails that go around the northern and western borders of Central Catchment Nature Reserve to a new 19.5kmpark connector. This connector will encircle the reserve's southern and eastern borders.

The new cycling loop was announced yesterday by Minister of State for National Development and Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin at the launch of the Festival of Biodiversity at the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

He also announced that the Government will be developing a new 80ha park, named the Chestnut Nature Park, just outside of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

The park, which will be ready by 2015, will have forest trails, shelters and educational signs.

Two seven-storey towers will also be built to allow nature lovers to enjoy panoramic views of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

One tower will be located in the Chestnut Nature Park and the other will be built by 2018 in MacRitchie Reservoir Park.

Mr Tan said the developments are part of the Government's objective of bringing people closer to nature and noted that almost half of Singapore land's surface is covered by greenery.

He said: 'Our parks are easily accessed by residents, with most homes within a short walking distance of a park. That is something that we'll work towards.'

He said the Government will continue to engage Singaporeans on new ideas about adding diversity to the urban environment.

He added: 'There will be areas where we can't always agree on, but there is also so much more space that you have found that we can work on together.'

Commenting on the new developments, National Parks Board director of conservation Wong Tuan Wah said: 'Some people say they have no time to enjoy the outdoors. Since you have no time, we will bring the outdoors to you. And if you have more time, we can help you to learn more with things like signages at the parks.'

The cost of the new developments is not confirmed.

Nature groups and the public welcomed the new plans.

Dr Shawn Lum, president of the Nature Society (Singapore), said: 'The Chestnut area is rich in biodiversity but is currently visited mostly by scientists or serious nature buffs. I think more people will be encouraged to visit the area in the future because of the park; it makes it more accessible.'

Teacher Germaine Foo, 46, said: 'I will consider getting my children to use the cycling loop in the future during their school holidays because part of it is near our home in Yio Chu Kang.'

Yesterday was the start of the two-day Festival of Biodiversity. The event, held at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, features exhibitions, workshops and guided tours for the public.

President Tony Tan Keng Yam launched the festival yesterday.


Video cameras are to be installed to give people at home a glimpse of the animals and birds that live in the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.

Four of them will be placed in the wild by the National Parks Board, and will stream live videos of wildlife to its website.

The videos can be watched from the middle of September by clicking on the link:

Animals that can be viewed include otters and migratory birds which feed at the wetlands.

Amelia Tan

Nature reserves made more accessible to public
Alvina Soh Channel NewsAsia 26 May 12;

SINGAPORE: Members of the public can look forward to several new amenities at the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

Minister of State for National Development and Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin says these developments aim to make nature more accessible to Singaporeans.

Chestnut Nature Park, an 80-hectare park, is ideal for hiking and mountain biking.

The park features two seven-storey observation towers, offering scenic views, and a 30-kilometre cycling loop allowing residents to cycle from the heartlands to the nature reserves by 2018.

The loop will be built around the perimeters of the forests to safeguard the biodiversity cores of the reserve.

NParks says these new features aim to make nature reserves more accessible.

Wong Tuan Wah, Conservation Director of NParks, said: "The intention is to bring nature closer to people and people closer to nature. Very often, people say they have no time to see nature, so these initiatives allow people the opportunity to experience nature at their homes."

These developments, NParks says, are part of Singapore's transformation into a City in a Garden. They are also aim at enriching biodiversity.

Dr Shawn Lum, President of Nature Society of Singapore, said: "So what do we have in Singapore? We have eating, shopping, it's world-class. We have nature which is equally world-class and it just takes getting to know it a little bit better. There's just so much variety but the difficult part is that it's sometimes inaccessible."

And for those who rather appreciate nature from the comforts of their own home, there's good news.

NParks plans to install four cameras around the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve from mid-September.

Viewers can catch "live" footage of otters frolicking in a pond via their computers or mobile phones.

The park will be completed by early 2015, while both the towers and cycling loop are expected to be completed by 2018.

- CNA/de

New trail around Singapore's green heart
Today Online 27 May 12;

SINGAPORE - Come 2018, nature lovers, joggers and cyclists will have a verdant new trail to explore in the green heart of Singapore.

The 30km loop around the Central Catchment Nature Reserve will be linked to the Western Adventure Park Connector Loop and other park connectors, and join up with the Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park and the Dairy Farm Nature Park, among other areas.

The loop will be built around the forest perimeters "to safeguard the high biodiversity cores of the reserve", said the National Parks Board (NParks).

The plan was one of several announced by Minister of State (National Development and Manpower) Tan Chuan-Jin yesterday to bring Singaporeans closer to nature - and vice versa.

Speaking at the inaugural Festival of Biodiversity, Mr Tan also revealed that an 80ha plot outside the Central Catchment Nature Reserve will be developed into Chestnut Nature Park.

The new park will feature amenities for nature walks, hiking and mountain biking. It hosts a rich biodiversity of wildlife, including the mousedeer, pangolin, monitor lizard and birds. There will be panoramic views of the nature reserve to be enjoyed at a new seven-storey tower - which will also facilitate research on animals that live among the tree canopies.

The development of the park - due to be finished by early 2015 - will involve the community in planting native plants and trees.

Another seven-storey tower will be built at MacRitchie Reservoir Park by 2018, to offer visitors more scenic views.

NParks will also work with nature groups to infuse more biodiversity into the urban landscape.

Noting the success of efforts to re-introduce the Oriental Pied Hornbill - which was locally extinct for more than 100 years, until artificial nesting boxes were set up in recent years - Mr Tan said NParks aims next to attract more species such as the Crimson Sunbird, Common Birdwing Butterfly and Lesser Whistling Duck into Singapore's urban green spaces.

"In 10 years' time, perhaps Singaporeans can have pleasant encounters with biodiversity on a daily basis," he said. "This is where I have to encourage all of you who are happy to see the birdlife returning back to Singapore, to encourage your neighbours and friends, who may sometimes complain about the birds' droppings ... It's a happy problem to have."

The Festival of Biodiversity is also on today at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. There are free activities for the public, such as exhibitions, workshops and guided walks.

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PUB has regular patrols around wetland bridge

Straits Times 27 May 12;

The PUB shares Mr Michael Low's concerns that cyclists may pose a danger to pedestrians if they do not dismount from their bicycles when crossing the bridge at Lorong Halus ('Wetland reserve needs wardens on the walkway'; last Sunday).

In addition to the 'Dismount And Push' signboards at both ends of the bridge, PUB officers conduct regular patrols in the area and will advise cyclists to dismount when crossing the bridge.

We have considered Mr Low's suggestion to demarcate lanes for pedestrians and cyclists, but found that it is not practical to do so as the bridge is too narrow, and pedestrians often stop on either side to view the scenery. Despite this, the PUB is working with community partners to drive awareness of how members of the public could work with us to enhance public safety.

The Lorong Halus Wetland is a recreational venue. It is important that visitors exercise consideration while using this community space.

Tan Nguan Sen
Director, Catchment and Waterways PUB

Wetland reserve needs wardens on the walkway
Straits Times 20 May 12;

Two incidents marred my enjoyment of the beautiful scenery during my walk at the Lorong Halus Wetland in Punggol recently.

First, a group of cyclists rode across the wooden bridge, which clearly had the signs 'Dismount And Push' at both ends. They blatantly disregarded pedestrians on the bridge and were oblivious to the dangers they posed to themselves and others. A woman cyclist also fell off her bike and hurt her hand.

Then, while I was on the way back, a cyclist whizzed past me and scolded me for hogging the road.

To prevent ugly confrontations, signs should be drawn on the roads to indicate lanes for walkers and cyclists.

There should also be roving wardens to enforce the rules, especially during peak periods like early mornings and evenings, and especially on weekends.

Disputes and accidents are bound to happen as the walkway becomes more popular.

Michael Low

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