Preserve 30-50% of Tengah forest to protect biodiversity and tackle climate emergency

Preserve 30-50% of Tengah forest to protect biodiversity and tackle climate emergency

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Jimmy Tan started this petition to Housing and Development Board (HDB) (CEO Mr Tan Meng Dui) and

Dear sirs and madams of HDB, URA, NParks and MND, 

We are writing on behalf of many concerned citizens and residents who are signing this petition. We are raising our concerns about the continuing threat that Tengah Forest is facing from the ongoing development. This issue was raised in an article "After Dover, Will Clementi Forest Be Next On The Chopping Board?" written by Jessica Heng and published by Rice Media on 5 June 2021. 

The URA's Master Plan 2019 available here shows

the statutory land use plan which guides Singapore's development in the medium term over the next 10 to 15 years [...] reviewed every five years and translates the broad long-term strategies of the Concept Plan into detailed plans to guide the development of land and property. The Master Plan shows the permissible land use and density for developments in Singapore.... The Master Plan may be amended from time to time. (URA, 2020)

We observed in URA’s Master Plan that Tengah Forest was zoned as mainly residential and business plots.

We noted from HDB that "Tengah will be Singapore’s first smart and sustainable town, with green features and smart technologies. The development of Tengah will provide new homes and workspaces in the Western region of Singapore, and complement other developments in Tengah, Jurong Innovation District, and Jurong Lake District."

We understand from Global Forest Watch that as of May 2021, about 30% or more of Tengah forest (or about 210 ha or more) is estimated to have been cleared so far. That means we still have about 70% or less of Tengah forest (or about 490 ha or less) left, together with the existing biodiversity.

We also understand from Nature Society (Singapore)'s Feedback on HDB's Tengah Baseline Review that "following HDB’s environmental baseline study (EBS) which was completed in 2017, HDB is currently carrying out a more detailed environmental impact study (EIS) prior to the next phase of development. The EIS has been in progress since Dec 2019 and is expected to be completed around the 2nd quarter of 2021. HDB will continue to engage the nature groups and share the findings when ready.”

We fully agree with Nature Society of Singapore (NSS) that the mitigation measures, such as a wildlife shepherding exercise and setting aside of a 5 km long, 100 m wide green corridor, are "woefully inadequate".

As written by Jessica, "The land area of the corridor, which totals only 10% of the original forest or less, is inadequate in accounting for the volume of species present, while the mere 100 m width of the corridor will see the slender strip being sandwiched closely by the Kranji expressway on the northern flank and disturbances coming from a dense housing estate on the southern flank."

The mitigation measures are inadequate because we need to protect our rich biodiversity more fully.

Tengah forest is home to many endangered or rare species. Prioritizing human profits by developing homes will demolish the natural habitats of our wildlife.

As recorded in NSS' feedback on HDB's baseline review, Tengah forest supports a rich biodiversity, such as:

  • at least 33 species of plant life with "conservation significance" (about 12.3% of the total known records), of which:
    • 2 plant species are regarded as extinct
    • 19 plant species are critically endangered
    • 4 plant species are endangered
    • 12 plant species are vulnerable
  • 262 species of wildlife (birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, butterflies, odonates), of which at least:
    • 44 animal species are nationally threatened (17%)
    • 60 animal species are regarded as forest dependent (23%), with 43 for birds, 4 for mammals, 3 for reptiles, 7 for butterflies and 3 for odonates.
  • 159 significant large trees, of which 90% individual trees belong to the fig family (Moraceae).
  • There are further aspects of ecological importance of Tengah forest detailed in a blog post by Nature And Us, which we invite you to read. 

As noted by NSS, "these records are very impressive for a secondary forest patch located about 3-4 km away from the main forested heart of Singapore, the Central nature reserves".

NSS have advocated for building further eco-links and preserving two core areas of forest patches on either end of the green corridor, which serve as pitstops "for them to take cover and get back their confidence before pushing on through the corridor".

Otherwise, if only up to 10% of Tengah’s original forest is retained, half of the species there could be wiped out, based on an ecological rule of thumb.

Moreover, it would be tragic if critically endangered species, such as Sunda pangolins and straw-headed bulbuls, which are found in Tengah forest, were to disappear altogether in the wild right under our nose due to our neglect to take care of ecological connectivity when we already have the knowledge and the means to protect them and their natural habitats.

We should learn from the unfortunate case in which our native species, such as the large forest gecko and cream-coloured giant squirrel, became extinct after Bukit Timah expressway (BKE) was built in the 1980s, which separated Bukit Timah nature reserve from Central Catchment nature reserve.

Notably, a 2003 study found that Singapore had already lost about 28 per cent, or 881 of 3,196 recorded species, in 200 years without much fanfare. The main reason was habitat loss, after more than 95 per cent of the island’s forest cover was lost to agriculture and later, urban development.

As observed by Dr Yong Ding Li, ornithologist and scientific adviser for the Nature Society's bird group, "the majority of forest animals will be in decline just because the forests are too small, but we can help by trying to create corridors to connect the different forest fragments.”

The mitigation measures are inadequate also because we need to tackle climate change more effectively.

Climate change is a serious existential threat worldwide. Singapore is particularly at risk of rising heat and sea levels. The sensation of the former is exacerbated by the ambient humidity resulting from our small tropical country's dense urban areas and land being surrounded by/in close proximity to water.  

Just as importantly, forests and green spaces are vital to the cleanliness of our air. Large dense forests, such as Tengah forest, act as carbon sinks and offer natural cooling mechanisms to counter the rising heat of climate change more effectively than replanted trees scattered among parks, gardens and roadsides.

According to the Meteorological Service Singapore’s Centre for Climate Research Singapore, last year’s annual mean temperature of 28 degrees Celsius was half a degree higher than the long-term average, making 2020 the eighth warmest year on record. Singapore’s official meteorological agency also noted a recent sharp rise in temperatures and warned that maximum daily temperatures could reach 40 degrees Celsius by as early as 2045.

Even if we will have replanted 1 million young trees scattered around Singapore by then, it may be insufficient to mitigate the intense heat because we will also have lost approximately an equivalent number of 1 million mature trees through deforestation in densely vegetated areas. These areas include Lentor-Tagore, Bidadari, Sengkang, Punggol, Pasir Ris, Jurong Eco Garden nature trails, Kranji woodlands, Bukit Batok Hillside Park area, Tengah forest, etc (not counting Clementi forest, Dover-Ulu Pandan forest and Bukit Brown forest, whose fates are still hanging in the balance at the time of writing). 

If wild green spaces with dense tree cover, such as Tengah forest, are eliminated or greatly diminished, we reduce natural carbon dioxide mitigators, and are more likely to experience extreme temperatures, as well as an increase in heat-thriving airborne diseases, endangering:

  • the more fragile members of our society with lower immune systems (elderly, sick, or disabled);
  • our wildlife (as their habitats disappear and/or are unable to adapt to rising heat, with the reduction in keystone species having the potential to disrupt the entire ecosystem); and
  • our nation’s ability to produce outdoor farmed food (affected by extreme and unpredictable weather patterns), thus our national food security.

With their habitats destroyed, wildlife will enter developed areas, which may result in roadkills and/or conflicts with humans, leading to injuries or even death in some cases. This trend will only worsen as we reduce their natural habitats virtually to nil. Then who’s at fault if a monkey waits at a cafe to steal food, threatening meal patrons? Or a frightened wild boar runs into passers-by in a residential area after being displaced from its diminishing forest home? Such incidents have already been reported a number of times, as witnessed by many of us. ACRES (Animal Concerns Research and Education Society) is already overwhelmed by the calls for help with wild animals encountering humans. The uneasiness of cohabitation will be more challenging moving forward if we keep destroying natural habitats.

Finally, we don’t need to be reminded again that COVID is a result of a lack of respect and boundaries with wildlife. It is reported on 4 June 2021 that scientists behind a new independent taskforce, which is hosted by Harvard University and will report to the coalition on Preventing Pandemics at the Source, said that ending the destruction of Nature to stop outbreaks at their source is more effective and cheaper than responding to them.

It’s a shame - we would add ironic and deplorable - that Singapore’s aim to be a “City in Nature” seeks only to preserve artificially created green spaces (e.g., Gardens by the Bay). Yet, natural reserves and habitats are destroyed, in favour of property development. 

In the context of climate emergency and biodiversity loss posing existential threats to all of us, surely it is high time we focus on recycling existing built-up lands, instead of sacrificing our few remaining wild green spaces and our biodiversity. This is in line with the latest initiative announced by Ministry of National Development, as follows:

"In the past, we could build new homes on swathes of undeveloped open land. Now, after 55 years of building and development, there are far fewer of these, and it has become more challenging to balance competing uses for land. In order to continue providing good homes for Singaporeans, we will have to recycle previously developed land.”

- Indranee Rajah, Second Minister for National Development, “Striking a Balance in Building HDB Flats in Prime Locations” (The Straits Times, 10 June 2021)

Our proposal

As such, on behalf of all nature-loving and life-loving residents of Singapore which we call home, we ask that Master Plan 2019 be urgently updated to better account for ecological connectivity, nature conservation and sustainable development.

For the safety and well-being of everyone, people and animals alike, please heed our concerns and implement the following measures urgently:

  1. preserve at least 30 to 50 percent of Tengah forest's original 700-ha size (or 210 to 350 ha) for purifying the air, cleaning the soil, removing pollutants, cooling the urban heat island effect, supporting biodiversity, preventing/mitigating risk of floods, zoonotic viruses and dengue diseases, reducing electricity usage for air-conditioning, enhancing our physical and mental health etc, thereby potentially saving billions of dollars of public funds and personal/household expenses, in terms of healthcare, socioeconomic and environmental costs.
  2. allocate the aforementioned two core habitat areas within Tengah forest to serve as essential resting/feeding/breeding spaces for wildlife, as proposed by NSS
  3. designate eco-links in both the western and eastern parts of Tengah forest to facilitate safer and easier movement of wildlife along the ecological corridors and nature parks between Western catchment areas and Central catchment areas
  4. ensure that the wildlife moving along the long, narrow Tengah Nature Way are protected from traffic noise from the expressway and potential human disturbances from the surrounding new/upcoming residential areas as much as possible
  5. release the latest EIS report on the north of Tengah to Nature groups and members of the public for our feedback when it is ready for early engagement in the planning and development process, before any further development work starts and before any developer is awarded the tender for any construction project done in Tengah forest.

Your prompt attention to this critical matter is appreciated.

Yours sincerely,

Roxane, Saniroz and Jimmy

P.S. Please refer to the blog post by Nature and Us for the full details on the importance of Tengah forest for dealing with climate emergency and biodiversity loss as well as improving our quality of life.

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