Best of our wild blogs: 8 Jul 12

14 Jul (Sat): FREE Chek Jawa Boardwalk trip with the Naked Hermit Crabs from Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Slugs galore at Pulau Jong
from wonderful creation and wild shores of singapore and Peiyan.Photography

Close-up on Pulau Hantu
from Pulau Hantu

Oriental Pied Hornbill and Sterculia fruits
from Bird Ecology Study Group

salt licking mangrove squirrel @ berlayar creek - July 2012
from sgbeachbum

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Back to nature with a man-made wonder

Gardens by the Bay may change how we look at life here and grow the number of nature lovers
Zuraidah Ibrahim Straits Times 8 Jul 12;

Many years ago, a young minister accompanying Mr Lee Kuan Yew on a visit to South Africa confided, half in jest, that he hoped he would not be asked to accompany Mrs Lee on a scheduled tour of a garden. She would probably quiz him about the flora, and he dreaded betraying his ignorance.

It would be some years later that I would learn the depth of the Lees' interest in plants. In his memoirs, Mr Lee wrote of how his government sent botanical research teams on scouting missions around the world. Of some 8,000 varieties of plants they returned with, more than 2,000 were successfully transplanted here, adding to the diversity of Singapore's parks.

Later, in an interview for the book Hard Truths, Mr Lee revealed a social engineering agenda behind the garden city vision. He told us that parks would cultivate a 'sense of equalness' in society since everyone - rich or poor - benefits from the outdoors. The sons of those in smaller HDB flats would have no qualms defending the country if there were enough common spaces that were not enclaves of the wealthy, he felt.

Indeed, Singapore's parks are great equalisers. In housing, transport, education and recreation, the rich can carve out a private, privileged existence. Most public amenities - community centres, public swimming pools, public libraries, government polyclinics and so on - are avoided by the well-off.

However, if you want to enjoy a run through a majestic forest or walk along a scenic waterway, you have to leave your BMW and country club behind and foray into a public park, along with your office clerk practising qigong, or your favourite hawker walking with his grandson.

Over the decades, isolated pockets of parks and wayside trees have been transformed into a landscape interlaced with necklaces of green walkways and boardwalks, such that nobody is far away from a path to nature. I dare say that, for many Singaporeans, the park connector network has made a greater difference to their quality of life than the much-trumpeted 'iconic' new skyline downtown. The Gardens by the Bay, which opened last week, is the crowning glory of Singapore's 'city in a garden' vision.

It comes at a time when Singapore society is more fractured and combative, when any national project can count on loud boos as well as bouquets.

And it is easy to knock the Gardens. Critics say there are more urgent needs. The Gardens' centrepieces, the two domes, charge an admission fee that puts them out of the reach of the poor. And the 'supertrees' - towers of green-clad concrete and steel that light up at night - are an ironic symbol of how Singapore always seems to manufacture artificial clones after tearing down its authentic, organic heritage.

I should declare here that I am a board member of Gardens by the Bay. But I don't speak for the Gardens and don't need to defend it. However, as a citizen who has watched its progress over the past year, I have had a chance to reflect on why it is special.

Aside from the collection it contains, it is remarkable as a project that could have happened only because of what could be called a whole-of-nation approach. Clearly, it required the cooperation of multiple agencies in the public sector, or what officials call the 'whole-of- government' mode of problem solving.

It also needed multiple talents and skills, including most obviously the botanists and horticulturalists whose loving care is evident throughout. Their passion for plants - and I can think of no better champion than Gardens CEO Tan Wee Kiat, whose dreams I am convinced take place only in Eden - is contagious. There are also the engineers, who created the ingenious air-conditioning system powered by the park's own biowaste.

But what should not be forgotten is the role of the wider public. Since the Gardens is not a money-making exercise for the Government - consider how much the state coffers would have been enriched if just a portion of the area had been sold to a property developer - it would not have pushed this high-profile project if it felt that the public would not value such amenities.

One recalls how the 1980s proposal for a major arts centre was shelved for several years because it seemed profligate, before it finally blossomed into the Esplanade at the right time. Politically, the Government has always been aware, almost to a fault, that building for a more gracious society cannot move too far ahead of heartland aspirations.

Therefore, the Gardens project would probably not have got the go-ahead if not for the way Singaporeans have embraced the rollout of more and more expanses of green and blue. It seems that every new park immediately develops a dedicated fan base.

Nature groups such as the Nature Society of Singapore are another important part of our evolving whole-of-nation way. These champions of conservation have played a key role in securing the more than 15 per cent increase in nature reserve land over the last decade.

Of course, many such nature lovers would thumb their noses at the man-made Gardens by the Bay, insisting that the real battle lies in protecting patches of Bidadari or Bukit Brown. But perhaps it is not a case of either-or. In the arts, imported blockbuster musicals have probably helped to open many Singaporeans' eyes and ears to the performing arts in general, and thus helped to grow the audience for local theatre as well. Similarly, a hard-to- ignore, crowd-pleasing project like Gardens by the Bay will probably grow the constituency of Singaporeans who appreciate biodiversity and the place of plants on our planet.

In the past week, the Gardens has made it to the list of top 10 hits on online search engines; and every day on Facebook, someone is posting a photo of yet another unique view of this new playground. One attraction is, of course, the billion-dollar view of the city skyline that the Gardens provides. But it is not far-fetched to hope that many of the visitors will also discover there a more gracious way of looking at life in Singapore, and that gradually, they will also see the beauty of Sungei Buloh's mangroves, Chek Jawa's mud flats and the thickets of mature trees crying to be saved amid unceasing development.

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Community garden groups in full bloom

Goh Shi Ting Straits Times 8 Jul 12;

The number of community garden groups has doubled since 2008.

There are today 500 groups of residents who have got together to tend to garden plots near where they live under the Community in Bloom programme run by the National Parks Board (NParks), said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for National Development and for Defence Mohamad Maliki Osman yesterday.

He was speaking at the opening of the biennial Singapore Garden Festival organised by NParks, which opened to the public yesterday. The event runs until July 15 at the Suntec convention centre.

He gave out 11 top Community in Bloom Awards to community gardens. The Gardeners' Cup was also awarded to five gardens set up at the festival by groups of community gardeners. These five were top in their respective categories.

The overall winner of the Gardeners' Cup was the entry titled The House by the Mangroves, which depicts an early 19th century attap house, complete with cooking stove and fishing nets, amid 120 species of mangrove.

Recycled materials were used to make animal topiaries of crocodiles and birds.

Mr Zahir Taib of the Tampines Starlight Residents' Committee led six community groups such as the Seletar Hills East Neighbourhood Committee and the parent support group from Dunman Secondary School to come up with the garden in less than a year.

The 51-year-old taxi driver said: 'We want to take people back to that era and show them what it was like in Singapore before Sir Stamford Raffles came.

'It is hard to describe, but much easier to show today's kids what it used to look like.'

He added with a laugh that his son had said he 'wouldn't want to live in that kind of environment'.

Director of Singapore Botanic Gardens Nigel Taylor, 56, told The Sunday Times that the standard of community display gardens this year was a 'quantum leap' from the last festival two years ago.

'They are no longer just amateurs,' he said. 'There are still not enough professional horticulturists here, so my personal hope is that the community gardeners can turn professional to help build a city in the garden.'

Another highlight of the festival is the Singapore Orchid Show, with an Orchid Wonderland theme inspired by amusement parks.

A 6m-tall ferris wheel showcases unique orchids from around the world, while a 5m-tall carousel highlights winning plants from various competitions.

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Malaysia: Walks in the park no more?

WORRYING: Malaysians are running out of recreational areas fast, no thanks to disappearing parks, hills and forest reserves, all in the name of development, writes Arman Ahmad
New Straits Times 8 Jul 12;

VISIT Taman Tasik Titiwangsa on a weekend and you will realise just how congested it has become. Cars choke the roads circling the lake as people jostle about trying to jog, walk or just to have a picnic with their children.

Taman Metropolitan Kepong is much larger, but the place is crowded as well. The parking spaces are packed and cars spill out onto the highway for hundreds of metres.

With a population fast approaching two million, people in the Klang Valley are trying hard to find a place to spend their weekends.

And it's not just the city limits that are packed. In Semenyih, Broga Hill has become a favourite for hikers. Yet, it is congested, too.

There is a great demand for recreational space, said Liew Khooi Cheng, chairman of Friends of Bukit Kiara (FoBK), which was set up to save the green lung located in the city.

Urbanisation has eroded public places and now, there is hardly any space left for recreation.

What little green areas left are fervently protected by the people living nearby and their resident associations. But frequently, pressure from developers and businesses eventually result in these places being lost, or significantly reduced.

Bukit Kiara is a case in point. For 20 years, residents have been raising a hue and cry about development in the area.

Recently, the government had agreed to gazette 189ha as permanent green area. This, from the original 647ha which was part of the area between 40 and 50 years ago.

Originally, Bukit Kiara was designated as a public park, but over the years, its land area had diminished. Part of it has now become housing estates.

Following a meeting in May, the National Landscape Department has decided to fence up the area. According to Liew, the authorities said it would allow for better enforcement in the area.

With the fence up, cyclists, joggers and equestrian riders can enter only through a gate, which will be open from 7am to 7pm.

However, he said, nothing much could be done for the areas that had not been gazetted as a green lung.

He said efforts to save Bukti Kiara started with FoBK, which had lobbied for the preservation of the green lung more than 20 years ago. However, the petition to the authorities was submitted only in May 2007.

He said about 3,000 people visited Bukit Kiara on a weekday and the figure increased to 5,000 on weekends.

"People are looking for recreational areas. Now, they are even visiting the Ayer Hitam Forest Reserve and Taman Tun Dr Ismail. Demand is great for recreational areas."

But not everyone is pleased with what is going on in Bukit Kiara.

Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) president Prof Dr Maketab Mohamed has expressed disappointment at how the park is being developed into a "Taman Awam Berskala Besar" (a large-scale public park).

In an open letter on the Malaysian Nature Society Facebook page, Maketab said MNS was disappointed with the development in Bukit Kiara.

"We have observed large-scale tree felling in Bukit Kiara in order to set up a 3.5m security fence.

"Heavy machinery is now being used to clear a 30-foot wide access road through the park."

He said contractors engaged by the department had cleared up 4.7km of the area.

"This week, they will clear 2,000 square metres of hillside.

"In the end, an estimated 3,000 trees would have been destroyed to build a fence and road on 2.8ha of forest land."

To add insult to injury, the fence will block the movement of wildlife.

Maketab said the plans appeared not to have taken due consideration of the sensitive environment of the park. The road and fence had already led to massive earthworks that threatened the pristine water body in the heart of the park and all points downstream along Sungai Ulu Pencala.

He said other questionable aspects of the development plan included the proposal to set aside part of the park for the planting of high-value commercial crops, such as cinnamon, tongkat ali and agarwood trees. Part of the park had been zoned out to be planted with African and South American trees.

"It is hard to see the point of these initiatives which threaten to displace local indigenous species that are the natural and rightful flora and fauna of Bukit Kiara."

Despite the goings-on, Bukit Kiara residents have achieved some success in saving their green lung. The same cannot be said for residents elsewhere in the city.

Bukit Gasing, for one, is more unfortunate than Bukit Kiara. It stretches across the two city councils of Petaling Jaya and Kuala Lumpur. Whilst the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) has preserved most of Bukit Gasing on their side, the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) side has undergone much development.

"DBKL plans to gazette only about 45 per cent of Bukit Gasing that comes under its jurisdiction.

"A number of development projects approved by it has caused concern among residents because of their effects on the environment and congestion in the area," said Joint Action Group for Bukit Gasing committee member Gary Yeoh.

He said the KL side of Bukit Gasing was now in danger of being diminished as many areas had been developed for the construction of high-end bungalows.

On the fringes of the Klang Valley, Taman Melawati residents have managed to stave off construction on one of the green lungs in their area.

In May 2007, regulars who trekked up the hill in Phase III Taman Melawati were shocked to find a notice at the gate stating that a company had applied to develop the hill.

"This was one of the last green lungs left in Taman Melawati and the residents were horrified that this hill would be ravaged in the name of development, just like the other slopes near Taman Melawati that have been bulldozed and cleared," said Taman Melawati Resident's Association secretary Dr Faridah Jalil Safwan.

"The extensive development on hill slopes in the area over the last 20 years is alarming. What used to be beautiful green hills were stripped of all vegetation and levelled in some areas to build high- end homes. Many of the projects were given wholesale approval without giving residents the opportunity to voice their objections."

She said residents were concerned about the safety of such projects in view of the many incidents of landslides in the Hulu Klang area, such as Highland Towers and Bukit Antarabangsa.

Following several months of hearings at the Ampang Jaya Municipal Council and the Selangor Appeals Board, the council rejected the application to renew the planning permission.

This occurred after the massive landslide at Bukit Antarabangsa four years ago.

However, Dr Faridah said the hill was still not safe from new applications for development as a large portion of it was private land.

Another major threat to the hills and forest in the area is the KL Outer Ring Road project (KLORR).

"Although the latest proposed alignment is outside Taman Melawati, we are still very concerned because of the proposed tunnel under the Klang Gates Quartz Ridge as it will run across the many streams that feed into the Klang Gates reservoir. The road will also be on elevated land and traverse the Selangor State Park."

Poser over quartz ridge tunnels

IT is not just green lungs in residential estates that are threatened by development. Even gazetted state parks and geological monuments, worthy of being Unesco heritage sites, face the prospect of being cut through.

The proposed East Klang Valley Expressway (Kuala Lumpur Outer Ring Road Eastern Route or EKVE) involves the construction and operation of a tolled expressway linking the Kajang SILK Highway (E18) at the southern side to the Karak Expressway (E8) at the northern side of the expressway.

The proposed project has upset residents living within the vicinity of the expressway as the proposed alignment will cut through Taman Warisan Negeri Selangor (TWNS) and will see tunnels being built through the famous Klang Gates Quartz Ridge.

Christa Hashim, director of Treat Every Environment Special (TrEES), an environmental non-governmental organisation, said the project would create many environmental problems in the area.

The Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (DEIA) report states that the proposed alignment will traverse the Hulu Gombak, Ampang and Hulu Langat Forest Reserves over a length of 18.5km, affecting a 214.7ha area.

"However, when categorising the land use of the affected areas, the report makes no mention that the Hulu Gombak and Ampang Forest Reserves as well as the Klang Gates Quartz Ridge are part of TWNS.

"As a state park, TWNS is a protected area, classified as an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) Rank 1 under the National Physical Plan 2005 (NPP). According to this plan, the management of ESA Rank 1 follows the criteria that no development, agriculture or logging shall be permitted except for low-impact nature tourism, research and education."

Both the Hulu Gombak and Ampang Forest Reserves are also classified as water catchment forests under the National Forestry Act Selangor Enactment 2005 as well as the Lembaga Urus Air Selangor Enactment 1999.

The EKVE will cut across part of the Hulu Gombak Forest Reserve, upstream of the Klang Gates dam. This could affect the water quality in the reservoir, especially during the construction of the EKVE.

Water-catchment forests are meant to be kept pristine because of their importance. Given that the Klang Gates dam is a main source of water supply to Kuala Lumpur commercial districts, any disruption would be a major disaster.

The Klang Gates Quartz Ridge, which is purported to be the longest quartz in the word, is a key feature of Taman Warisan Negeri Selangor. The ridge has also been earmarked as a Unesco heritage site by the present state government.

Under the proposed project, two tunnels, 15m apart and about 200m in length, will be burrowed through the quartz ridge.

Christa questioned whether the ridge would qualify as a Unesco heritage site after the tunnels are built.

"The construction of the tunnels through the ridge will also be a new experience for engineers.

"Many questions are being asked about the construction of these tunnels and how they will be monitored," she said, adding that the construction of the tunnel could damage the ridge.

"The ridge is very steep at above 60 degrees and loose materials from it will be extremely dangerous to traffic. There is potential for fractures in the ridge which, if not contained properly, could lead to seepage/leaks potentially impacting the Klang Gate Dam integrity. This has to be investigated thoroughly as the consequences can be disastrous."

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Malaysia: Bald spots are evident where once green hills stood

Christina Chin, Andrea Filmer, Ian McIntyre and Kow Kwan Yee
The Star 8 Jul 12;

GEORGE TOWN: As the city celebrates its fourth anniversary as a Unesco World Heritage Site, Penangites are lamenting the continual loss of their natural heritage the state's lush, green hills.

As the streets came alive yesterday to mark the proud inscription of George Town's unique history and culture, the island's landscape continues to change drastically with rapid development encroaching into the hills and the coastline.

From an aerial view, “bald” spots are evident on what used to be the island's crowning glory such as Tanjung Bungah, Sungai Ara, Paya Terubong, Relau and Bukit Gambier.

From these bare patches, mega housing projects and high-rise developments are emerging, much to the ire of residents who claim that the existing green lungs in the state are quickly going extinct.

Penang Water Watch president Prof Dr Chan Ngai Weng warned of the negative effects of rampant hill land development and deforestation, saying that these could destroy precious water catchment areas, cause soil erosion, landslides, mudslides, downstream flooding, sediment pollution of rivers and climate change.

Penang, he pointed out, was hotter now compared to two decades ago. “This is especially so in George Town.

“We are now an urban heat island',” said the Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) School of Humanities lecturer.

He cautioned that things could get worse.

Rainfall, he said, was reduced now that there were fewer trees for evapotranspiration (a term describing the transport of water into the atmosphere from surfaces).

Penang Heritage Trust president Khoo Salma Nasution said the hills were sacrosanct.

“They are our green lung, forest reserve, water reserve and a historic backdrop of a bustling city at the edge of the sea.

“Our eco-system is incredibly fragile and to develop high-rise and high density buildings on hillslopes is to set the stage for a system breakdown and ecological disaster,” she said.

Let’s save the hills together
The Star 8 Jul 12;

GEORGE TOWN: A non-governmental organisation has proposed that all environment stakeholders band together to monitor hill destruction activities in the state.

Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) Penang branch adviser D. Kanda Kumar suggested that NGOs “mobilise the public” via a state-wide campaign to protect the hills from further destruction.

“We can consider starting a campaign to get all stakeholders involved so that as a group, we can be more pro-active and vigilant,” he said yesterday.

He said the MNS Penang branch was a member of the “Penang Forum” a coalition of NGOs that deals with issues ranging from social to environmental and it was studying how hillslope development could be controlled.

“There must be a discussion on the next course of action. It's tricky because there are legal issues involved but we should look at why there is this need' for such high density development on our hills.”

However, he claimed it was not just developers who were “destroying” the hills.

“Unchecked illegal agricultural activities was how it all started.

“Some 30 years ago, the hills in Penang were already slowly being cleared but it's only now that people are opening their eyes to the destruction because the clearings are visible from the roads.

“Previously, such clearing activities were done on the other side of the hill which was usually hidden from public view,” he added.

The MNS was at the forefront of the Friends of Penang Hill, a coalition comprising 12 NGOs with over 1,000 members that protested and won the battle against the Bukit Pinang project.

The coalition was set up in the early 1990s to protest plans for an international recreation-and-holiday resort development on Penang Hill.

Tanjung Bungah Residents Association chairman Datuk Dr Leong Yueh Kwong, a former lecturer of ecology, botany and environment, said development on the north coast had reached a critical level.

“It's obvious that the Penang landscape has changed, especially in the north coast that is bordered by hills and the sea.

“At present, we just do not have the infrastructure to cope with any increased activity. Given the trend we're seeing now, problems like traffic congestion will be a daily occurrence instead of something that happens on peak hours, weekends and holidays,” Dr Leong said.

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