Nature Society pushing HDB to preserve more of Tengah development forest area for wildlife

The Nature Society Singapore (NSS) has released a 16-page position paper calling for more land to be set aside for wildlife at the new forest-town of Tengah. Specifically, NSS is asking that a total of 220ha of land at two ends of the 700ha site be preserved as a refuge for animals.

Accepting that the proposal will reduce the number of housing units that can be built there, NSS urges the need to preserve Singapore’s largest patch of protected secondary forest in Singapore, home thousands of animals, including endangered Straw-headed Bulbul and the near-threatened Grey-headed Fish Eagle. The Tengah forest is also home to 30 percent of the total bird species recorded in Singapore and countless other mammals and plants.

The group 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.”

Tengah forest spans two ecosystems in the Western Catchment Area and Central Catchment Nature Reserve and is scheduled to be developed by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) into Singapore’s first ‘forest town’. Under that plan, HDB says that about 20% per cent of the land in Tengah will be set aside for green spaces. But that still only leaves 10% of Tengah’s original forest left untouched, leading to the displacement and possible wipe out of over half the species of wildlife in the area.

The NSS has suggested that four bridges or eco-links be built to allow wildlife in the area a safe passage out of the development area before forest clearing begins. This is to avoid a repeat of wildlife roadkill that happened at Mandai Lake Road recently where several animals including the critically endangered Sunda pangolin, leopard cat and sambar deer were killed in collisions with vehicles as a result of tourism development in the area.

The first batch of 1,5000 flats in this new Tengah forest-town will be located in the Plantation District and is expected to be launched next month with land clearance already underway.

The entire development is estimated to take about 20 years to complete, ending with 42,000 new homes with 70% of the units for public housing. One of the key features of the development is a 5km long, 100m wide Forest Corridor that will circle around the outer rim of the development, providing a space for residents to hike while also allowing space for wildlife to roam between the Western Catchment area and Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

However, the NSS has stated that a 100m wide corridor is insufficient to mitigate the disturbance to wildlife.

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

In their defence, HDB has said that they’ve already been working with a wildlife consultant and trained experts to implement a wildlife shepherding plan which has been progressing well. “In the longer term, the goal is to guide wildlife towards the Forest Corridor within Tengah and ultimately into adjacent forested areas,” said HDB.

Thought the concept of a ‘forest-town’ certainly is a step in the right direction for a more collaborative living design between humans and nature, we still should seriously consider doing everything we can to reduce and avoid causing more harm than we already have to the plant. The number of untouched forests are rapidly falling year to year and the concerns raised by NSS should not be so easily dismissed in favour of ‘development’. Setting aside 220ha out of 700ha of a forest for its original inhabitants is the least we could do for the wildlife we’re can’t seem to avoid displacing.

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