Conserve green lungs on outskirts of Singapore

Straits Times Forum 11 Jan 14;

I READ with interest the report about Pasir Ris Heights residents trying to protect a patch of forest near their homes (“Fight to save forest patch hots up”; Wednesday).

Five years ago, my family moved to Yishun, a quiet town on the outskirts of Singapore, to enjoy more greenery and fresh air. We were pleasantly surprised by the amount of greenery, and especially excited by the wildlife, found in Yishun.

Unfortunately over the past few years, the relentless clearing of many patches of wild forest to make way for new houses has stripped Yishun of the greenery we used to enjoy.

I can no longer take my children for walks near the forests and point out to them the wonderfully diverse wildlife that exists in Singapore.

There may be some people who like to live on the outskirts of Singapore and enjoy what little is left of nature here.

The Government should take note of this and perhaps preserve the nature and wildlife in these areas. Surely we do not need to cut down trees that took years to grow to house our growing population?

Can we have a Singapore where children do not need to visit central nature reserves to be close to nature? Can we stop removing green lungs on the outskirts of Singapore before this precious bit of nature disappears?

Tan Eng Chun (Dr)

Not all green patches worth preserving
Straits Times 11 Jan 14;

THE controversy over the decision to build an international school on a patch of wild growth near Pasir Ris Heights ("Fight to save forest patch hots up"; Wednesday) reminds me of a confrontation during my term as secretary, later president, of the Nature Society (Singapore).

We were a bunch of naive nature conservationists then. When the Government agreed to our request to conserve Sungei Buloh as a bird sanctuary in 1989, birdwatchers went overboard in lobbying for the conservation of any and every area with many birds. Most of these areas were rich in birdlife. Not so plant life or other aspects of animal life.

And if such areas were to disappear altogether, the mostly resident birds could always find refuge in our parks and gardens, where there are plenty of trees to provide food and shelter.

Sungei Buloh was different. Home to thousands of migratory birds, the mangrove habitat was fast disappearing then. Unless an area was set aside, there would soon be no feeding and roosting grounds for these birds.

The Nature Society lost credibility when birdwatchers lobbied for an area of the reclaimed Marina South to be conserved. This was a flawed move as the habitat was not unique and could be easily re-created.

Resident groups, though passionate about the cause, may not be well versed with the technicalities of the habitat and its associated flora and fauna.

Non-governmental organisations like the Nature Society, with its rich experience in past nature conservation issues, should be able to provide relevant advice.

The Pasir Ris plot is a highly degraded piece of wild growth. The plants there are nothing to rave about, and the 30 to 40 species of mostly resident birds can always move on to our many parks and gardens.

There will always be such plots of wild growth, especially when an area is left undeveloped for some years. But this does not mean that we should clamour for their conservation.

Conservation needs to co-exist closely with development. We need land to develop. At the same time, we need to conserve our natural heritage, as we have done so.

We need to ensure the continued preservation of our current nature reserves. These are the areas where the vegetation is mature and the biodiversity rich. We should be less attached to areas of wild growth that are full of birdlife but poor in other aspects of flora and fauna.

Wee Yeow Chin (Dr)

Still more room for a greener heartland
Straits Times 14 Jan 13;

IN HIS letter, Dr Tan Eng Chun clearly demonstrated that Singaporeans, surrounded by a concrete jungle, feel for nature in its pristine form - trees, shrubs, green lungs, open areas, nature reserves, forests, wild life and fresh air ("Conserve green lungs on outskirts of Singapore"; last Friday).

However, this vital quest for a greener environment is something that is not sufficiently acknowledged, understood and appreciated by our planning authorities.

While it is true that planning policies do take into consideration the need for open spaces in the heartlands, there is still more room for a greener environment in our housing estates.

As Dr Tan has lamented, there is a relentless felling of trees and other forms of greenery to make way for more housing. A case in point is the proposed construction of an executive condominium along Woodlands Avenue 5 and the soon-to-be-built HDB flats in the open green space along Woodlands Drive 50. In these two cases alone, a substantial amount of green space is to be obliterated. Currently being used for recreational activities, these green areas will soon make way for heavy construction equipment, concrete piling and the resultant dust and deafening noise.

My family and I moved to Woodlands to take advantage of the lush greenery and fresh air, but unfortunately have to settle for something less.

Of late, there has also been a systematic and relentless felling of the beautiful and healthy trees that used to adorn Woodlands Drive 50 between Woodlands Primary School and 888 Plaza. These trees took several years to grow and were pleasing by their very presence, not to mention the shade and fresh air they gave residents. The street now looks bare, although little trees have been planted, presumably to replace the felled trees. These young trees will take years to grow, depriving residents of their much-treasured pleasure.

This scenario is being replicated throughout Singapore and I hope the authorities will consider the aesthetic needs and aspirations of Singaporeans in their quest for a greener environment and a better quality of life.

V. Subramaniam (Dr)

'Green lungs' vital
Straits Times 15 Jan 13;

IN ITS zeal to cater to housing and other commercial projects, the National Development Ministry should not ignore the need for "green lungs" in our living environment ("Fight to save forest patch hots up"; last Wednesday).

Planting shrubs and decorative trees does not a woodland make.

We should not have to visit nature reserves just to get a breath of fresh air.

The clearing of woodland along Commonwealth Avenue West, from Buona Vista to Clementi Road, is a case in point. It has resulted in the loss of foliage beside the Ulu Pandan Park Connector.

Is there a government department tracking and auditing the loss of our forests?

Audrey Cheong (Ms)

HDB makes conscious effort to provide green spaces in estates
Straits Times 21 Jan 13;

WE SHARE Dr V. Subramaniam's view on the importance of greenery in HDB estates ("Still more room for a greener heartland"; last Monday).

In developing new housing projects and upgrading older HDB precincts, the HDB makes a conscious effort to plan for and include greenery.

In our new housing projects, green spaces are provided within each precinct. To inject more greenery into HDB estates, we have introduced skyrise greening since the 1990s, for example, rooftop terraces.

Extensive landscaping can be found in HDB estates across the island. For the older estates, when the HDB upgrades the precincts, we make a deliberate effort to enhance their greenery. The surroundings are also spruced up and new facilities added to enhance the overall living environment for residents.

Woodlands, like all HDB towns, is comprehensively planned from the onset to create a total environment for residents to live, work, play and learn.

There is a good mix of recreational, residential, social and commercial land use to meet the needs of our residents, and different plots of land are developed progressively over time according to their planned land use, whether as parks, apartments, schools or shopping malls and others.

The sites mentioned by Dr Subramaniam have been set aside for residential use under the Urban Redevelopment Authority's gazetted Master Plan. With the supply of public and private housing being increased to meet the housing needs of Singaporeans, it is inevitable that these two parcels will eventually be developed for housing.

To meet the recreational needs of residents, different types of parks have been provided to serve the residents in Woodlands.

At the regional level, there is the existing Admiralty Park located within Woodlands town, which serves the towns in the Northern Region. At the neighbourhood level, there are existing neighbourhood parks; while at the precinct level, there are precinct green spaces provided within each development for the residents.

Kathleen Goh Siew Kian (Ms)
Director (Planning Department 2)

'Wild growth' home to endangered eagles
Straits Times 31 Jan 13;

A PROPER ecological perspective needs to be provided on the issues raised by Dr Wee Yeow Chin ("Not all green patches worth preserving"; Jan 11).

Dr Wee states that when a nature area is destroyed, "the mostly resident birds could always find refuge in our parks and gardens".

But what about those that cannot do so? And what if the habitat harbours endangered species?

The Pasir Ris site has been left undeveloped not for some years, but for some decades. True, the plants may be "nothing to rave about", but that does not make the habitat unworthy of protection. Perhaps it could be incorporated into Pasir Ris Park to sustain or enhance the park's biodiversity.

Eagles like the endangered changeable hawk-eagle and the white-bellied sea eagle hunt for food in the park and the coastal waters respectively.

Despite the Pasir Ris site's close proximity to the park, the eagles have nested in this "wild growth" for years, which shows that the park is not suitable for them.

Known nesting pairs of white-bellied sea eagles have recently been affected by developments in Choa Chu Kang and Yishun; likewise, the changeable hawk-eagle in Dairy Farm, Jalan Bahar, Sungei Ulu Pandan and Woodlands Road.

Some of these "wild growths" outside the nature reserves must be allowed to exist intact, otherwise what is common becomes uncommon, and what is endangered will become extinct.

Since half of Singapore is still green and undeveloped, there is room for flexibility in development planning.

Ho Hua Chew