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Nature Society urges HDB to save more of Tengah new town’s forests for wildlife

SINGAPORE — The Nature Society Singapore (NSS) has called for significantly more land to be set aside for wildlife at the future Tengah new town, in a proposal that it said would reduce the number of housing units that can be built there.

Nature Society urges HDB to save more of Tengah new town’s forests for wildlife

A Changeable Hawk-eagle’s nest at Tengah forest. The Nature Society Singapore is asking the authorities to consider setting aside a total of about 220ha at two ends of the Tengah new town site as a refuge for wildlife, including uncommon birds and mammals.

SINGAPORE — The Nature Society Singapore (NSS) has called for significantly more land to be set aside for wildlife at the future Tengah new town, in a proposal that it said would reduce the number of housing units that can be built there.

Tengah, which sits between ecosystems in the Western Catchment Area and the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, is couched by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) to be Singapore’s first housing estate that is a “forest town”.

In its 16-page position paper posted online last week, the society said that a total of about 220ha at two ends of the 700ha site should be set aside as a refuge for animals including uncommon birds and mammals.

Under the HDB’s plan, only up to 10 per cent of Tengah’s original forest is retained. This means that half of the species there could be wiped out, based on an ecological rule of thumb, the NSS said.

It urged the authorities to build four bridges — or eco-links — to allow wildlife to disperse, before proceeding with the next phase of forest clearing. These should be built across the Kranji Expressway, Jalan Bahar, Brickland Road and Bukit Batok Road.

“Otherwise, the problem of wildlife roadkills will be re-enacted as in the tourism development at the Mandai Lake Road recently,” the group said in its paper, which was submitted to the HDB and National Parks Board (NParks) in August. After work began on two new wildlife parks in Mandai in January last year, several animals including the critically endangered Sunda pangolin, leopard cat and sambar deer died in collisions with vehicles in the area.

The group also said: “We recognise that our proposals will take away a significant quota of planned residential units from the Tengah area, but Tengah forest is the largest patch of unprotected secondary forest left in Singapore outside the (Ministry of Defence’s) land in the Western Catchment.”

Future sites, such as the Paya Lebar Airbase when it is relocated from 2030, could be used to make up for the shortfall, the NSS proposed.

When contacted, the HDB said that it is working with other agencies to study the NSS’ proposals and will continue to engage it and other nature groups on future development plans.

The first batch of 1,500 Tengah flats in its Plantation District is expected to be launched next month, and the first phase of land clearance has started. Plantation District’s community gardens will have trees with edible fruits such as chiku, guava, longan and pomegranate.

Estimated to be fully developed over two decades, Tengah estate could comprise up to 42,000 new homes, with public housing making up more than 70 per cent of the units, the HDB said previously.

A key feature of the estate will be the Forest Corridor, where residents may “hike in their backyard”. At 5km-long and 100m-wide, it will run through the town and facilitate movement of wildlife between the Western Catchment area and the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

Graphic: HDB

TRAGIC FOR WILDLIFE?

The NSS hailed the Forest Corridor as a “tremendous step forward”, but there are concerns over its effectiveness.

“When the housing plans are all completed, what we will have for this lengthy green corridor is the actuality of it being sandwiched closely by a busy, noisy expressway on the northern flank and a gigantic HDB housing estate on the southern flank,” it said.

The 100m width will not be enough to mitigate disturbances for wildlife, because 50m is the “standard buffer for a forest habitat on all flanks” and there will not be interior space, it said.

“NSS’ position is that this will be tragic for the rich wildlife currently inhabiting the area,” it added.

The 117 resident and migratory bird species sighted in the area make up 30 per cent of the total bird species recorded in Singapore, the society said. They include the endangered Straw-headed Bulbul, and the near-threatened Grey-headed Fish Eagle, Blue-rumped Parrot and Long-tailed Parakeet.

The nationally endangered Changeable Hawk-eagle also has a nesting site in the area, and the NSS called for it to be protected.

In its reply to TODAY, the HDB did not comment on whether it would protect the Changeable Hawk-eagle’s nest.

It said that some 20 per cent of the land in Tengah will be set aside for green spaces.

The Forest Corridor will form part of a larger network of greenery that connects the Western Catchment and Central Catchment Nature Reserve. It will run next to the Kranji Expressway, away from residential developments, the HDB said, while existing connecting corridors will be preserved where feasible.

NParks will plant more native forest species to create a “lush habitat to support rich biodiversity”, the HDB also said.

As the corridor approaches Bukit Batok, it will be integrated with the existing canal so that aquatic habitats can be provided.

ANIMALS SHEPHERDED BY EXPERTS

The HDB said that it implemented the first phase of a wildlife shepherding plan before development works for the Plantation District started.

This was done in collaboration with a wildlife consultant, and trained experts physically searched for animals and relocated them.

“The plan has been progressing well and several animals such as the Plantain Squirrel and Malayan Box Terrapin have already been shepherded towards the green spaces in the north-western part of Tengah,” it said.

“In the longer term, the goal is to guide wildlife towards the Forest Corridor within Tengah and ultimately into adjacent forested areas.”

BRICKWORKS, KAMPUNGS AND SECONDARY FORESTS

The HDB engaged an independent consultant to conduct an environmental baseline study of Tengah. The study was completed last year.

Last April, Mr Desmond Lee, then-Senior Minister of State for National Development, said that key findings would be made public.

These findings, provided by the HDB, are:

  • In the 1960s, brickwork factories were set up in Tengah.

  • In the 1980s, villagers were progressively moved to nearby towns, and the villages were demolished.

  • The current vegetation consists mainly of remnants of rubber plantations, kampungs and small-scale farms.

  • There are no primary forests left in Tengah. Most of the existing vegetation is scrubland, woodland and secondary forests “of low conservation significance” that are relatively young.

  • Commonly found native species in the area include wild boars, long-tailed macaques, Plantain Squirrels, monitor lizards and pied imperial pigeons.

  • Tengah forest facilitates dispersal and migration of native plants and animals between the Western Catchment area and Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

 

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