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Despite safety fears, most want big trees to stay

SINGAPORE — Visitors to the Botanic Gardens on Sunday (Feb 12) said they were concerned about safety, given the fatality caused by the Tembusu tree that had fallen, but were against chopping down other large Tembusu trees to prevent a similar occurrence — an opinion echoed by nature experts.

Despite safety fears, most want big trees to stay

Workers are seen cutting the fallen Tembusu tree at the Singapore Botanic Gardens Feb 12, 2017. Photo: Wee Teck Hian/TODAY

SINGAPORE — Visitors to the Botanic Gardens on Sunday (Feb 12) said they were concerned about safety, given the fatality caused by the Tembusu tree that had fallen, but were against chopping down other large Tembusu trees to prevent a similar occurrence — an opinion echoed by nature experts.

Mdm Angie Ng, 76, a frequent visitor to the Gardens, was at the scene of the fallen tree to see the progress of the clean-up on Sunday morning.

“I’m concerned because, lately, the winds have been very strong, and it can be dangerous. However, I’m not in favour of chopping down the trees. Rather, more should be done to prune the trees properly,” said the retiree.

“I’m quite scared, I guess, and will avoid sitting under big trees for now,” said Mr Aaron Ong, who visits the Gardens weekly.

“However, there are so many old trees in Singapore, so we shouldn’t be chopping them down, but we should be doing more safety checks instead,” said the 30-year-old, who works in sales.

A 38-year-old woman from India was killed and four other people were injured when the 40m-tall Tembusu collapsed in the Singapore Botanic Gardens on Saturday afternoon. The tree, with a girth of 6.5m, was uprooted at 4.25pm at the edge of the Botanic Gardens’ Palm Valley, near the Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage.

Many visitors were flummoxed as to what could have caused the old tree — which had stood for more than 270 years — to fall.

“I’ve been wondering why, as precautions had been taken, and the trees were checked regularly. Also, if it could withstand weather conditions for the last 200 years, surely it could withstand strong winds!” said Mr Manendra Chaudhari, 55.

Experts say that generally, the National Parks Board (NParks) would have a string of comprehensive measures and regular checks in place, and that this could have been a one-off, freak accident that was hard to predict. They were also caught by surprise as Tembusu trees are known to be hardy.

Botany expert Shawn Lum, who is also the Nature Society president, said, “It’s about knowing which species are vulnerable, monitoring them frequently, and pruning them to keep them from becoming too top-heavy.”

He said some species of trees that are prone to breaking would be removed, where possible, to pre-empt incidents of them falling and potentially injuring people.

For example, trees from the genus albizia, wherever they are found close to human activity, would be removed by the authorities unless they grow in forested areas. But regardless, he said, incidents may occur.

“In Singapore, there are bursts of heavy wind, and they sometimes bring chunks of forests down. Through their sheer force, they can even bring down old, sturdy trees if the wind strikes them at their vulnerable parts,” he said.

Arborist Ng Tze Ping of TP Arbo Care, which provides tree consultation services, added that there are now many advanced technologies for monitoring trees.

“For older trees, more advanced equipment should be used. Now, there are ultrasound technologies, for instance, which can detect any internal decay. But NParks should be well equipped with the range of technologies needed,” he said.

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