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Nature groups propose changes to alleviate environmental impact in Mandai

SINGAPORE — With public consultation on the environmental impact assessment (EIA) for development plans in Mandai underway, nature groups have suggested modifications to the proposals to further mitigate any potential impact, while some have also called for more clarity on the level of impact expected.

Media seen at site tour of the new proposed site for the future Bird Park at Mandai, taken on July 26.  The project involves the development of approximately 35.4 ha of land to the west of the existing Singapore Zoo. Historically, the disused land included a village, farmland and The Mandai Orchid Farm. TODAY file photo

Media seen at site tour of the new proposed site for the future Bird Park at Mandai, taken on July 26. The project involves the development of approximately 35.4 ha of land to the west of the existing Singapore Zoo. Historically, the disused land included a village, farmland and The Mandai Orchid Farm. TODAY file photo

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SINGAPORE — With public consultation on the environmental impact assessment (EIA) for development plans in Mandai underway, nature groups have suggested modifications to the proposals to further mitigate any potential impact, while some have also called for more clarity on the level of impact expected.

When completed in 2023, Mandai’s 126ha mega-nature attraction will see a new Bird Park, a Rainforest Park, as well as an eco-lodge and an education centre.

Wildlife consultant Mr Subaraj Rajathurai noted that the building of an eco-bridge for wildlife crossing across Mandai Lake Road — one of the measures that had been announced to safeguard wildlife in the vicinity — would help minimise traffic accidents.

However, he added that Mandai Park Holdings (MPH), which commissioned the EIA, could look into more “green connections” to help animals “safely move from one area to another with minimum risk”.

Such links could include putting up ropes and continuous canopies for arboreal species, such as monkeys, squirrels and civets, to move freely between the trees, and identifying passage ways to prevent animals from going in the wrong direction.

Mr Subaraj also pointed out that while there will be narrow buffer zones, measuring 45m to 50m wide — where no construction or human activity will take place — there still needs to be “sufficient landscape and greenery to play a part in animals’ foraging and moving”.

Nature Society (Singapore) president Shawn Lum said while there is “no magic wand” to compensate for habitat loss, the developers could look into various ways of designing the attractions, such as sinking down aviaries to prevent trees from being impeded by large structures, and to allow for wild birds to still roost in undisturbed canopies.

Local conservationist Mr Tony O’Dempsey expressed concerns about locating the bird park next to the nature reserve. This could give rise to scenarios such as wildlife escapees competing with native birds for habitat and food resources, or cross-infections between native birds and captive birds via vectors such as mosquito and lice, he said.

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Mosquito fogging near the nature reserve would also affect native insect wildlife there.

“These are things that mitigations, such as cage design, cannot satisfy 100 per cent ... We are taking a big risk,” Mr O’Dempsey said.

More attention also needs to be paid to the existing band of mature fruit and secondary tree species in the area — which provide a conduit for native animals such the Colugo — which would be cleared to make way for the project, he added.

Such a move would leave the eco-bridge as the only connection across Mandai Lake Road.

Citing how trees planted within the eco-bridge and buffer zones might not be tall enough to support arboreal animals, Mr O’Dempsey said other solutions could be found, which “leave the existing forest in place while utilising the surrounding grass land for structures”.

Co-founder of Cicada Tree Eco-Place Vilma D’Rozario said: “To have two large attractions added in, and accommodation on-site so close to the Central Catchment Nature Reserve is a great concern ... These are not good practices.”

Dr Ho Hua Chew, vice-chair of the conservation committee at Nature Society (Singapore), noted that greater efforts are needed to quantify adverse environmental impact.

He felt that the EIA’s concluding statement that the majority of the impacts “can be reduced to a residual impact magnitude of small or below” to be rather vague or misleading.

“This means that there are some — maybe a few — that cannot be reduced to this level (small or below). What are these impacts? How serious are they? These, as I see it, are not made clear in the report,” he added.

He said he will be helping the Nature Society to provide a formal and detailed feedback.

Mr Lum added: “In the risk assessment, we can list each of the risks one by one, the results of those impacts, the likelihood of these things happening, and then you can work on a more ecologically sound mitigation ... That becomes a starting point to address these issues more realistically.”

Those interviewed said they were glad that some of the input given by the nature groups was incorporated into the EIA.

Mr Louis Ng, Animal Concerns Research & Education Society’s (Acres) chief executive, said: “It was a more collaborative process, where we involved local experts, people who really understood the animals. We were thankful for that.”

Mr Subaraj added: “We just need to push a little harder, and make the layman understand what we know from years of experience in the field ... (so) we can make it a better place for wildlife.”

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