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Expand Istana’s green refuge

The Prime Minister’s Facebook post about a surprise visit by a barn owl has attracted significant public interest, with 27,100 “likes” and 1,790 “shares” of the post.

Liew Kai Khiun

The Prime Minister’s Facebook post about a surprise visit by a barn owl has attracted significant public interest, with 27,100 “likes” and 1,790 “shares” of the post.

This is perhaps a hearty response to his remarks: “The Istana grounds are a green refuge for many species of birds and animals. We should preserve and create many such green spaces all over our island, so that in our urban environment, we can enjoy the natural flora and fauna of Singapore.”

Originally a nutmeg plantation before it was converted into Government House in 1867, the Istana possesses both the built and natural heritage of Singapore.

The lush 43ha Istana premises are like an oasis in the heart of the dense city centre. It has tropical and heritage trees as well fruit plants, which were home to 75 bird species, including the endangered hornbills, 25 butterfly species and 23 dragonfly species, according to the 2006 wildlife census.

As natural vegetation is expected to shrink after the redevelopment of military training grounds and other forested areas such as Bukit Brown and Bidadari, it is perhaps timely to consider expanding the Istana’s natural landscape to mitigate the loss.

Like the appropriation of several golf courses in the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s draft Master Plan 2013, the Government could convert the Istana’s nine-hole golf course into a mini-forest that could serve as a bigger green lung within the city centre.

A golf course is associated with exclusivity and extravagance in land-scarce Singapore. A lusher Istana, with a larger wildlife sanctuary and botanical repository, would reflect a more progressive and environmentally conscious vision of Singapore as a liveable, loveable place for man and nature.

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