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After detailed checks, NParks declares trees in Botanic Gardens’ Palm Valley safe

SINGAPORE — The National Parks Board (NParks) has completed a “detailed check” on all the trees in Palm Valley in the Botanic Gardens, where a Tembusu heritage tree fell on Saturday — killing one person — and has found them to be safe.

After detailed checks, NParks declares trees in Botanic Gardens’  Palm Valley safe

Authorities investigate a fallen Tembusu tree at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, Feb 12, 2017. Photo: Wee Teck Hian/TODAY

SINGAPORE — The National Parks Board (NParks) has completed a “detailed check” on all the trees in Palm Valley in the Botanic Gardens, where a Tembusu heritage tree fell on Saturday — killing one person — and has found them to be safe.

And it is now conducting more checks on other trees in the vicinity, as well as all the heritage trees in the Gardens, it said on Sunday (Feb 12). There are now 63 heritage trees left in the Gardens.

In its latest update, NParks also gave more details of the inspection regime for the tree that fell. For example, its twice-yearly inspections included checks on the anchoring roots, crown, trunk and signs of soil movement.

“We want to assure the public that we share concerns about the safety of our trees in the Singapore Botanic Gardens, especially in view of the recent spate of intense weather conditions,” said NParks Commissioner of Parks and Recreation Leong Chee Chiew. “As we’re still investigating the tree fall incident, we should not speculate on the cause of the tree fall and allow the due process to take its course. Our priority now is to accord assistance to the families of the deceased and the injured.”

A 38-year-old woman from India was killed and four others were injured when the tree, 40m tall and 6.5m in girth, collapsed on Saturday afternoon near the Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage.

In response to the “increasingly unpredictable and severe weather conditions”, inspections of trees along expressways and major roads have been stepped up, said Dr Leong.

Previously done once every 12 to 18 months, depending on tree species, size and location, the frequency of inspections has been increased to once every six to 12 months since 2012.

And yearly “detailed second-level inspections” of old trees more than 4m in girth have been in place since November.

Experts said the definition of old trees varies from species to species, as each species matures at a different pace. According to arborist Ng Tze Ping of TP Arbo Care, Tembusu trees in Singapore older than 50 years can be considered old.

Measures to improve the general health of NParks’ trees have also been undertaken, added Dr Leong — for instance, pruning techniques to improve the structure and balance of trees. NParks has had an enhanced maintenance regime in place since last May, with further measures such as crown reduction and pruning before periods of severe weather conditions.

For heritage trees, pruning should be done twice a year if they are located in areas with high human traffic, said Mr Ng. According to NParks, which manages 5,000 Tembusu trees, the last time the fallen Tembusu tree was pruned was in August.

“Going forward, we’re already developing modelling techniques to better understand the structural behaviour of trees under varying environmental conditions like the rain, wind and soil,” said Dr Leong.

On Sunday morning, visitors clustered around the scene of the incident, taking pictures and speculating on the cause of the fall. While Palm Valley remained cordoned off from the public, the rest of the Gardens was open.

Workers at the fallen tree were sorting out bunches of branches and leaves and moving them away. At press time, workers were still cutting the trunk from its roots as lorries continued to remove portions of the tree from the Gardens.

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