We are gardeners, not possessors

Kenneth Chia Today Online 19 May 13;

Besides the chopping down of trees every now and then for various reasons, I am concerned with the way trees are trimmed periodically in Singapore. I use the word “trimmed”, although not only are small branches lopped off, but major ones are, too.

I have observed this overkill over the decades. Trees that were violently trimmed became stunted in growth after that, growing at a fraction of their former rate. Apart from that, residents are deprived of much of the shade provided by the trees’ former luxuriant foliage.

Trees are living things, which should be treated with respect and tenderness, especially when they are beneficial to us. If we treat nature properly, we would be blessed by it in ways we may not know.

Our government has done wonderfully to make Singapore a green city by planting and maintaining trees and flowering plants across the island. Given that trees are under the State’s jurisdiction, it seems right that the authorities can look after them in any way they see fit.

However, I request a review of the manner in which they are being treated, like inanimate possessions to own and discard with abandon. Humans do not own nature, be it a tree or flowering plant. At best, we are gardeners, not possessors.

Pruning enhances stability of trees during rainstorms
Oh Cheow Sheng, Director, Streetscape, National Parks Board
Today Online 28 May 13;

We thank Mr Kenneth Chia for his feedback in the letter, “We are gardeners, not possessors” (May 19, online).

Our tree care programmes are put in place to reduce the risks of storm damage. Pruning is required to reduce the weight of tree crowns to enhance tree stability during rainstorms and to reduce the risk of branch breakage. We are mindful not to over-prune our trees in the process.

As for the photograph Mr Chia had sent in, we wish to clarify that the tree, which was located at Bedok Reservoir Road, was not being pruned. It was being removed to enable the repair of an underground leaking water pipe.

We seek the public’s continued support, as we are fully committed to caring for our trees while upholding our responsibility of minimising public safety risks or damage from trees.

For further feedback, Mr Chia and members of the public are welcome to contact us at 1800 471-7300 or email us at NParks_Public_Affairs@NParks.gov.sg

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Best of our wild blogs: 19 May 13

Butterfly of the Month - May 2013
from Butterflies of Singapore

Lovely morning at Tanah Merah
from wonderful creation

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Some tall trees being replaced

To reduce risk of trees and branches falling, smaller and shorter species are planted
Hoe Pei Shan Straits Times 19 May 13;

Tall trees in some parts of Singapore are being replaced more speedily with shorter, smaller species to reduce the risk of falling branches and trees toppling over.

The National Parks Board (NParks) has over the past two years stepped up its ongoing replacement planting programme taking into account shifts in weather patterns in the region.

It said that incidents of "tree failure", defined as anything from broken branches to fallen trees, have been caused mainly by bouts of adverse weather conditions rather than maintenance issues.

So it is replacing some familiar trees with species that might be less vulnerable to mishap, and also grouping different trees together in some areas, so they can withstand bad weather.

Along Bishan Streets 11 and 14, for example, sea apple trees, a native species typically 30m tall, are being replaced by river tristanias, which grow up to 20m tall.

Other trees being replaced in selected areas include khaya, angsana and rain trees. The first two can reach 30m and are known to be especially prone to breakage. In areas where they are being replaced, smaller trees like the sea gutta, which grows to 20m, and the golden penda, which reaches 12m, will appear.

The aim is to find the right trees for the right areas, NParks streetscape director Oh Cheow Sheng told The Sunday Times.

It also considers the condition of individual trees, the potential impact of development work in an area and site conditions.

"Where verge space is more limited, we do make sure that we put in small to mid-size trees," said Mr Oh, noting that the new trees take up less space.

NParks' efforts have been welcomed by arborists and landscape architects, some of whom have called for reviews of streetside tree species after recent cases of falling branches and toppled trees that have damaged property or cost lives.

On April 27, driving instructor Jason Cheong, 25, died after a 14m rain tree fell in heavy rain along Admiralty Road West and crushed the car he was in. His student suffered minor cuts and abrasions.

Over the past decade, four people have died and 62 were injured by fallen trees and branches.

There were 122 uprooted trees from January to April this year, which NParks blamed mainly on Sumatra squalls last month.

This was a drop from 184 trees in the same period last year but more than double the 63 in 2009.

The highest number was in 2011, when 636 trees were uprooted, mainly due to microbursts - a localised, powerful and descending air draft column, which produces winds at high speeds - that occurred in Mandai and Sungei Kadut that February.

While NParks proceeds with replacing some trees, Singapore's well-known green image is in no way under threat. Mr Oh said NParks would work to keep some of the more scenic tree-lined routes even as it strikes a balance between aesthetics and risk to the public.

Aside from a one-to-one replacement of older trees, it is also carrying out clustering, where a mix of species are planted in a group along roads.

"Having clusters of different trees helps break the impact of strong winds, and more stretches of roads have been treated this way over the last year," said Mr Oh.

Along the Central Expressway, which used to be spotted with single khaya trees, there are now several clusters of mixed tree species.

Landscape architecture firm Coen Design's managing director Ann Teo said cluster planting was a way to emulate what works well in nature.

Urban greening specialist Veera Sekaran noted that modernisation has affected wind directions and forces, as well as water flow, impacting the growth and resilience of trees here.

"As trees get older, they become more susceptible to these urban stresses, and most of our roadside trees have been around for decades," said Mr Sekaran. "It is good that NParks knows it has to update its greenery strategy and replacement planting is a step in the right direction, but they need a better sense of urgency so we can see more results across Singapore."

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Dengue danger: 7,000 cases already

Epidemic may outstrip 2005 record of 14,000; 70% of breeding spots found in homes
David Ee Straits Times 19 May 13;

Singapore's dengue epidemic is showing no signs of easing and has hit 7,000 infections so far this year.

More worryingly, infection numbers for each new week are continuing to escalate, reaching a six-year high.

Latest figures show 562 cases in the second week of this month. For the six days from last Sunday to Friday, 510 people were diagnosed - yesterday's figure was not available. This is up sharply from weekly infections earlier in the year.

There are usually fewer than 100 infections a week this early in the year. And with the warmer mid-year months still to come, the outbreak could worsen further.

Heat shortens the Aedes mosquito's growth process, which could send it into breeding mode more quickly, the National Environment Agency has warned.

The latest figures show that, contrary to recent concerns, construction sites comprise only about 5 per cent of mosquito breeding grounds found.

Rather, people are likely to be infected by mosquitoes bred either in their own homes or those of their neighbours, the NEA's deputy director Tang Choon Siang said. These account for up to 70 per cent of breeding grounds.

But builders are doing their part to tackle the dengue scourge as well. This weekend, workers will scour more than 150 worksites for breeding mosquitoes, in an effort organised by the Singapore Contractors Association Limited.

Experts have expressed concern that this year's outbreak could outstrip 2005's, the previous record, which hit 14,000 people, killing 25.

There have been no deaths so far this year.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan warned last month that it was only a matter of time before the epidemic moves west across the island, from the east where the worst dengue clusters lie.

The NEA has reacted by waiting just a week instead of two to forcibly enter homes in dengue hot spots if residents do not allow them in to check for breeding sites.

The agency has also intensified its efforts to check homes, parks and drains, especially in hot spots, the largest two of which are in Tampines.

Sixteen clusters are currently labelled "high-risk", a slight drop from 19 a week ago.

Dengue cases in S'pore reach 7,000 mark
Olivia Siong Channel NewsAsia 18 May 13;

SINGAPORE: The total number of dengue cases in Singapore reached the 7,000 mark as of 3pm on Friday.

This is higher than the total number of cases reported for the whole of 2012 and in 2011. There were 4,632 cases reported in 2012 and 5,330 reported in 2011.

There has been however, a slight dip in the number of cases reported in the past week.

There were 510 cases reported in the week ending 17 May as of 3pm, compared to 562 the week before.

Of the 7,000 cases, 159 are in construction sites. That is more than double the number reported last year.

There were 71 cases reported in construction sites in 2012, about 1.5 per cent of total dengue cases in 2012.

This makes up 2.3 per cent of the total dengue cases reported.

Ho Ngok Yong, president of SCAL, said: "We want to make sure that, preferably zero (per cent) because all our construction sites now, you can see these buildings, are very near to residential places. Proximity is very close. Any outbreak therefore will affect residents."

Derek Ho, director-general of public health at National Environment Agency, said: "We've only found about five per cent of breeding habitats that's from construction sites. In fact the majority of breeding habitats are still within homes, about 70 per cent of the breeding (sites). But we think it's very important that all stakeholders in the community do their part to eradicate potential mosquito breeding habitats."

There were about 638 mosquito breeding sites found in construction sites so far this year. A total of 722 sites were found in construction sites in 2012.

The association has mobilised more than 150 construction sites to join the fight against dengue.

It has adopted several practices to prevent mosquito breeding at its premises.

These include levelling uneven ground to prevent water from collecting and spraying oil on drainage areas.

- CNA/xq

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Malaysia: Sabah sea turtle conservation effort doing good

The Star 19 May 13;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah's turtle conservation effort, dating back nearly half a century, is bearing fruit.

Certain pristine areas along the state's east coast is now home to an increasing number of these marine creatures.

For example, at Pulau Mabul, off Semporna, a 2km stretch of coral reef is home to more than 140 turtles.

“That is a good sign,” said Universiti Malaysia Sabah and Borneo Marine Research Institute senior lecturer Dr Pushpa M. Palaniappan.

She added that another 535 turtles had been caught and tagged in waters off the diving haven of Sipadan in recent years.

She said the institute would be conducting a census at Mabul in conjunction with World Turtle Day, which is from May 22 to May 24.

Volunteers and resort guests will be invited to take part in the census project, she said, adding that primary school pupils would have the opportunity to see the conservation efforts up close.

Borneo Marine Research Institute director Prof Dr Saleem Mustafa said public awareness was necessary in complementing enforcement measures protecting the turtles.

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Indonesia: More Than a Million Support Petition to Stop Aceh Deforestation

Jakarta Globe 18 May 13;

More than a million people across the globe have signed an online petition demanding the Indonesian government to cancel the plan to open the protected virgin rainforest in Aceh to commercial exploitation.

Arief Aziz, the communications director for the online petition website Change.org, said in a statement on Saturday that the “#SaveAceh” campaign has been signed by more than 20,000 Indonesians since its launch in March.

Following the massive reaction, Rudi Putra, an environmental activist, started another petition for the same cause on Avaaz.org, which has garnered more than 1.2 million signatures in its first 11 days.

“Aceh rainforests, home to endangered animals like orangutan and Sumatran rhino, have been destroyed by illegal hunters and loggers, but this new exploration will be an ultimate disaster,” he said.

Rights groups say the plan will allow around 1.2 million hectares that were previously protected to be cleared.

Approval of the plan would open up the forest on the northern tip of Sumatra to mining, paper and palm oil plantations.

The Aceh government banned the granting of new logging permits six years ago to protect the forest, but a new administration that came in last year is in favor of allowing logging again.

“Yudhoyono has the options: to leave an important legacy to protect the rich natural resources or to trash his own track record by allowing this disaster,” Avaaz’ campaign director Ian Baasin said.

Jakarta has signaled it will sign off on Aceh’s plan in the coming weeks, even as it is expected to extend the moratorium on new logging permits which expires on Monday and has been in force for two years.

There is also strong support in the Aceh parliament which has the final say, and officials say they hope it will pass soon.

Although it seems to fly in the face of the national moratorium, the project is possible because it hinges on Aceh’s decision to overturn its own deforestation ban which was introduced at the local level six years ago.

The ban, stronger than the national measure, was brought in by the previous local administration — but it will be scrapped under the plan.


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