Wild growth alone won't make Singapore a global eco-city

Straits Times Forum 8 May 13;

DR HO Hua Chew ("Wild greenery makes S'pore a global eco-city"; last Wednesday) says the unprotected natural greenery in Singapore is mostly secondary forest.

His definition is flawed. Scrubland, even those with scattered tall trees, are not forests. Similarly, clumps of old trees at Bukit Brown and Bidadari cannot be termed forests.

Of the unprotected greenery, young secondary forests would have a higher biodiversity than scrubland, but much lower than that of the primary forest in Bukit Timah or even the older secondary forest of the Central Catchment reserve.

When natural greenery is removed and replaced with trees and parks, biodiversity will be compromised. But as the plants, especially the trees, mature over time, biodiversity will improve. And if parts of the parks can be left to regenerate naturally, the situation will improve greatly. However, to declare that the removal of such natural greenery will lead to pollution, environmental degradation or increased release of carbon dioxide into the environment is without basis.

I am also puzzled as to how we can have massive loss of forested areas with future development, leading to "a city in a sterile green facade".

First, we do not have massive unprotected forests to lose.

Second, the urban jungle of wayside trees and parks is rich in wildlife. Again, the biodiversity may not be as rich as that of forests, but we do have biodiversity all the same.

Bukit Timah, due to its small size, is a "fortress under siege", but not so the larger Central Catchment forest. There have been reforestation programmes there that will ensure its proper regeneration to its ultimate primary forest status in the very long term.

Our park connectors have proven successful. Flying lemurs, tree shrews, squirrels, civet cats and even pangolins have dispersed out of the reserves to nearby forested areas, even to the Bukit Batok Nature Park. The hornbills mentioned by Dr Ho have similarly been spreading from Pulau Ubin to the mainland, no doubt assisted by the provision of nesting boxes. Otters have spread from Johor to many locations via the sea and rivers. Obviously, a comprehensive series of wildlife corridors is unnecessary.

Finally, will incorporating new parks to patches of unprotected wild growth, including Bukit Brown and Bidadari, make Singapore a global eco-city? Surely it takes more than wild growth for this to be achieved.

Wee Yeow Chin (Dr)
Bird Ecology Study Group

Economic growth and environmental conservation can co-exist
Straits Times Forum 8 May 13;

CONSERVATION activist Ho Hua Chew is right in pointing out the benefits of wild greenery and the potential problems that its loss will cause ("Wild greenery makes S'pore a global eco-city"; last Wednesday). I agree that we should retain large patches of forest for purposes such as recreation and pollution reduction.

But while Dr Ho's vision is noble, it may have to be compromised in the face of economic development.

Countries across the globe are facing rising competition, and the situation that confronts Singapore is even more challenging. As a small city-state, Singapore has to compete against mega-cities such as New York City, London, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

To stay relevant, Singapore has to constantly upgrade and enrich its knowledge-based economy.

Given our limited land resources, wild greenery may have to make way for higher-value-added projects. After all, a choice has to be made between economic development and environmental conservation.

However, I am not suggesting that the two are mutually exclusive. Singapore can still do its fair share of environmental conservation by expanding roof-top greenery and neighbourhood parks.

As for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, getting people to make lifestyle changes may be more viable and effective than retaining huge patches of secondary forest.

Zeng Jin