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Nature groups welcome facts on Kranji clearing, but say area’s importance to biodiversity shouldn’t be discounted

SINGAPORE — While nature groups largely welcomed the clarifications by the authorities over the erroneous clearance of a patch of forest in Kranji, they said that the importance of the site to Singapore’s biodiversity should not be discounted.

Nature groups welcome facts on Kranji clearing, but say area’s importance to biodiversity shouldn’t be discounted

The authorities, together with industrial landlord JTC Corporation, revealed on Feb 22, 2021 that the Kranji site was largely scrubland and far from any sensitive nature areas.

  • Nature groups said the Government’s clarifications on Feb 22 provided context to the erroneous tree-clearing at Kranji
  • Yet it did not address the issue of biodiversity within the woodlands 
  • A conservation expert said the importance of scrubland as an ecosystem for biodiversity should not be discounted 


SINGAPORE — While nature groups largely welcomed the clarifications by the authorities over the erroneous clearance of a patch of forest in Kranji, they said that the importance of the site to Singapore’s biodiversity should not be discounted. 

It is made up of mostly scrubland, which is an open habitat with scattered trees or clumps of trees in grassy areas. 

At a press conference on Monday (Feb 22), the authorities, together with industrial landlord JTC Corporation, revealed that the site was largely scrubland and far from any sensitive nature areas. 

That was why an environmental impact assessment was not required initially. More environmental surveys were needed later, however, when project consultant CPG Consultants revised the building plan to accommodate a drain in its design.

Some 4.5ha of the site was erroneously cleared before the completion of environmental studies. The cleared patch of forest sits within a 25ha plot set aside for the development of the Agri-Food Innovation Park, which is part of the 500ha Sungei Kadut Eco-District.

In all, 11.9ha of land have been cleared so far, with another 13.1ha of greenery still undeveloped. All site work has stopped since JTC discovered the mistake by contractor Huationg last month. 


Nature enthusiast Brice Li, who brought public attention to the issue earlier this month with his before-and-after aerial comparison of the forest parcel in Kranji, said that the authorities failed to deal with the issue of biodiversity.

“They only talked about the cleared area,” Mr Li said, adding that the surrounding forests already have an established ecosystem.

Conservationist Ho Hua Chew said that animal species from the nature reserves to the east of the Kranji woodlands and even Bukit Mandai move in and out of the site to forage for food.

“The whole stretch we marked out as Kranji woodlands should not be developed at all,” the vice-president of the Nature Society (Singapore) added.

Dr Ho co-authored the book The Green Rail Corridor, published by the society in 2019. It provides an overview of the ecology and biodiversity of the Rail Corridor and unprotected nature areas along it such as the Clementi Forest, Mandai Mangrove and Mudflats, and the Kranji Woodland-Scrubland, which includes the site JTC is developing.

On JTC’s point of the affected area being former scrubland overgrown with albizia trees over a 10-year period, Dr Ho said that its importance should not be discounted.

“Whether it is a scrubland, a woodland or a grassland, these are all natural habitats that foster and enhance Singapore’s biodiversity, and certain categories of wildlife or birds will occupy them,” he said.

“We have to look forward to the future if we want to talk about nurturing and preserving our biodiversity.” 

Dr Ho said that scrublands have the potential to become woodlands or even rainforests, if given enough time to develop.

Wildlife activist Vilma D'Rozario said that she has spotted the common palm civet near the affected area. With at least a decade of growth, there would be wildlife, including the critically endangered Sunda pangolin.

Other creatures of note found there by the Nature Society (Singapore) are three birds of prey listed in the Singapore Red Data Book, a publication of endangered plants and animals found islandwide.

Dr Shawn Lum, president of the Nature Society (Singapore), said that the albizia forest might have been young, but it is home to a considerable number of bird species, some of which are locally or even globally endangered. 

“Because albizia grow quickly, and also because of their relatively open and layered crowns, they have become favoured nesting and roosting sites for many species of birds, particularly eagles and other uncommon birds of prey. 

“For these birds, albizias seem to have become a kind of ‘instant tall forest’ that provides a critical nesting and roosting habitat.”


Dr D'Rozario said that she was glad the Government is relooking land clearance processes.

“We cannot afford more mistakes with our already very fragmented wild habitats.” 

The Government said that all land clearance projects would undergo an immediate check on work processes to avoid a repeat of the error. There will also be a review of the lessons learnt from the mistake.

Dr Lum said that Monday’s press conference provided important details that shed more light on what transpired. 

The timeline given by the authorities showed that most of the land-clearing works that began in March last year were legitimate — approvals had been sought and processes were followed. But the errors, mainly involving the 4.5ha stretch, happened sometime between December last year and January this year.

Dr Lum added that while it does not make the unauthorised clearance of land more excusable, it showed that the authorities had done their due diligence and there was a plan to prepare the site for development. 

Although JTC said that no environmental impact assessment was originally needed for the site, the National Parks Board required a biodiversity survey over concerns that the construction of drainage areas could pollute the Sungei Pang Sua river that leads to the Mandai Mangrove and Mudflat — a rich feeding ground for migratory birds.  


The silver lining, Dr Lum said, is that this Kranji episode has fast-tracked some key regulatory and conservation procedures — from environmental impact assessment requirements to the monitoring and oversight of projects, to looking at green areas from a holistic perspective.

“There is an opportunity now to take green area planning and management to another level.

“This episode, together with recent calls for the retention of the Dover-Ulu Pandan and Clementi Forests, have clearly demonstrated that nature can no longer be seen as the domain of a narrow ‘nature groups’ community.”

Dr Lum said that nature has become a mainstream issue and the concern of many people.

This means that conversations about the retention and development of existing green areas, and the creation of new ones, may enter a “more constructive, inclusive and ultimately more satisfying phase”, he said. 

“We can move towards a future where nature becomes part of the Singapore identity, with benefits to wellness, community and family bonding, and healthier and thoughtful lifestyles.”

Related topics

Kranji forest land clearing nature conservation

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