Best of our wild blogs: 14 Aug 17

East Asian Ornate Chorus Frog (Microhyla fissipes) @ Windsor Nature Park
Monday Morgue

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Skyscrapers pose fatal risk to migratory birds: Study

Audrey Tan Straits Times 13 Aug 17;

SINGAPORE - Skyscrapers have become an intrinsic part of the skyline in land-scarce Singapore but they are posing a problem for migratory birds.

And buildings in the central and western parts of the island are the ones birds are most likely to crash into, a new study has found.

The study, put together by bird scientists and researchers from institutions such as the Nature Society (Singapore) and National University of Singapore, found that, between 1998 and 2016, 237 migratory birds collided with buildings, and 157 of them or about 66 per cent, died.

Of the 237 collisions, 115 took place in the Central Business District area and a few residential areas on the fringes of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

In the west of the island, there were 57 collisions, largely in areas with heavy industrial land use on the edge of the Western Catchment area.

The two areas accounted for 73 per cent of all reported collisions in Singapore.

The study, the first to document bird and building collisions in South-east Asia, also found that certain species of birds are more likely to collide into buildings than others.

The study said: "The birds most vulnerable to collisions with man-made structures are migratory species whose routes pass through major urban centres.

"The problem is exacerbated by light pollution from urban buildings at night, which both attracts and disorientates night-flying birds, leading to increased collision rates in urban areas."

The rise in bird-building collision rates is not unique to Singapore. In North America, estimates of bird deaths from collisions range from 100 million to 1 billion birds a year.

In New York, a growing number of building owners are switching off non-essential lights after becoming aware about the fatal attraction birds have to lights.

Since 2005, more than 90 buildings in the city, including the Rockefeller Centre, Chrysler Building and the Time Warner Centre, have joined the Lights Out programme, which encourages buildings to take a lights-off approach to keep birds safe.

In Singapore, four species - the blue-winged pitta, yellow-rumped flycatcher, western hooded pitta and oriental dwarf kingfisher - together make up 53 per cent of all collisions.

The blue-winged pitta and the western hooded pitta fly into Singapore from the Indochina region, and do so largely at night.

"They may be particularly vulnerable in the vicinity of high-rise, brightly lit housing and office blocks, which are a feature of modern Singapore's skyline and are a deadly attraction to birds," said the study.

The study was done by Mr Low Bing Wen, Mr Yong Ding Li, Mr David Tan, Mr Alan Owyong and Mr Alfred Chia.

It was published in the June (2017) issue of Birding Asia, the bulletin of the Oriental Bird Club - a Britain-based society for ornithologists studying Asian birds.

Mr Alfred Chia, who is from the Nature Society (Singapore) Bird Group, said all it takes is for people to turn off the lights in high-rise buildings, instead of leaving them on throughout the night.

He said: "It may not be practical or feasible for building authorities to make it mandatory for building owners and developers to install bird-friendly glass in building facades."

Bird-friendly glass is a special kind of glass that has UV-reflective patches, which make the glass more visible to passing birds.

As for the current situation, Mr Chia said: "There is one thing that can be immediately done and at no cost - switching off lights in tall office buildings in the city at night. It will contribute positively to minimising the incidences of birds crashing into buildings."

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Roots & Shoots growing strong in Singapore

Jessie Lim Straits Times 14 Aug 17;

The Singapore chapter of a service learning programme that grooms young people to make a difference for animals, the environment and the community has grown in a decade from a single school to more than 25 schools, from pre-school to tertiary levels.

Roots & Shoots, which has a global network, is a youth-oriented service programme founded in 1991 by renowned primatologist Jane Goodall. The Jane Goodall Institute (Singapore), or JGIS, which celebrated its 10th year, runs the local Roots & Shoots network.

Explaining why Roots & Shoots has grown over the decade, Mr Tay Kae Fong, 39, JGIS president, said: "More young people feel empowered. They believe they can make a difference so that the environment, animals and people can develop in a sustainable way, together."

Other key programmes of JGIS include eco-literacy classes for secondary schools and monkey walks to educate the public about the long-tailed macaque, a monkey species native to Singapore.

Its Roots and Shoots conference, on Aug 8, brought together 13 local Roots & Shoots groups. The students and educators presented their projects, which included caring for migrant workers and the human-macaque conflict.

The highlight of the one-day conference, organised by JGIS and held at the Singapore Chinese Girls' School, was a keynote address by Dr Goodall.

Living in harmony with the macaques was at the heart of Ms Quek Xiao Tong's Roots & Shoots project, which she started during the December holidays in 2013.

Ms Quek and her team set up an outreach booth at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, talking to visitors over six weekends about the importance of not feeding the monkeys, as it makes the monkeys reliant on humans for food.

"Roots & Shoots showed that I can be an advocate for the environment and that people can change their mindsets about nature," she said.

Ms Quek, 20, now a second-year undergraduate doing environmental studies in the National University of Singapore, recently finished a three-month internship at JGIS, during which she helped to prepare for Dr Goodall's visit.

Eleven-year-old Benz Chong Tze Jun presented an individual project about macaque behaviour at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve during the conference.

This is the first year that the Ministry of Education and JGIS have collaborated on the Individualised Research Study, where Primary 5 pupils in the Gifted Education Programme research a project based on personal interests.

Benz made nine trips to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and MacRitchie Reservoir this year, and observed that the macaques at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve spent about 80 per cent of feeding time consuming natural food, and 20 per cent eating food provided by humans.

"With knowledge comes empowerment to educate the people around us, so that we can learn to co-exist with nature in harmony," the Primary 5 Nanyang Primary School pupil said.

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Farmers to compete on concept in new land tender

Vegetable farmers face fixed-price tender; proposals judged on factors like innovation
Audrey Tan Straits Times 14 Aug 17;

New farmland will be released later this month and, for the first time, the 12 plots for growing leafy vegetables in Lim Chu Kang and Sungei Tengah will be tendered out on concept and not price, the latter of which will be fixed.

This means that farmers growing leafy vegetables will not have to worry about engaging in a price war trying to secure the land. Instead, their proposals will be judged on factors like production capability, track record, relevant experience and qualifications, and whether they can harness innovation to improve and sustain production, and keep their businesses viable.

Under this fixed-price tender method, land will be parcelled out by farm type. The other three types to be tendered out this way, over the next few years, will be for quail eggs, food fish and beansprouts.

The land price will be fixed by the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore's Chief Valuer's Office, which will take reference from prices of agriculture land sold by the Government, a spokesman for the Agri- Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) told The Straits Times.

"Apart from past land prices, rents obtained from the leasing of agricultural properties were also considered," she added.

Other plots for general agriculture food farms, such as frog and goat farms, will be tendered using concept and price. Proposals will first be evaluated on concept. Of the shortlisted candidates, the one with the highest bid will then win the tender.

"The difference in approach is that in the concept and price category, the land can be used for a range of farm types instead of a specific one," said the AVA spokesman. "Land price varies depending on the type of farming conducted on the land. As the land price for various farm types is different and the farm type is not fixed, these plots cannot have a fixed price."

Concepts will be judged on the same criteria as those for the fixed-price tender.

The local agriculture sector produces less than 10 per cent of total food supply, but is vital for food security as it serves as a buffer in case of food supply shocks.

The last time land was tendered out for agricultural use was more than two decades ago.

Come end-2021, the leases of 62 farms in Lim Chu Kang will run out, and the land will be given over to military use.

In total, the AVA will tender out 36 new plots of farmland on 20- year leases. The plots are in Lim Chu Kang and Sungei Tengah, and span 60ha in total.

The new plots, however, will not offset the loss in farmland at the end of 2021.

But the hope is to step up Singapore's food security within the constraints of limited land by encouraging the use of high-technology farming in the new plots to boost productivity and yield.

Eden PurelyFresh Farm, formerly known as Eden Garden Farm, will be putting in a bid for the upcoming tender this month.

Chief executive and founder Desmond Khoo, 30, welcomed the fixed-price tender method as one that benefits working farmers who already have a proven track record.

For farmers like him, it also removes the uncertainty of naming the right price to secure the land.

"It is good that the Government is helping us with the land price because, in this way, we can use the money to invest in high-tech equipment and research to increase the farm's productivity and yield."

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