Petition calls for 30 to 50% of Tengah Forest to be preserved instead of being redeveloped into new township

The planned green corridor is "woefully inadequate" in preserving the area's biodiversity or mitigating climate change, say petition authors

In the wake of the furror of voices calling for the preservation of Bukit Batok Hillside Park area, Clementi Forest and Dover Forest since 2020 when plans to develop the areas were discussed in mainstream media, another petition has cropped up.

This time, it calls for the preservation of at least 30 to 50 per cent of Tengah Forest which is due to be bulldozed to make way for a Housing Development Board (HDB) residential estate called “Tengah Forest Town” which is supposed to be as large as Bishan.

The petition also called for the allocation of two core habitat areas within the Tengah Forest to serve as an essential resting/feeding/breeding space for wildlife as proposed by the Nature Society (Singapore), and for the designation of eco-links in the western and eastern part of the forest to facilitate easier wildlife movement along ecological corridors between the Western and Central catchment areas.

Further, it asks that the Tengah Nature Way be protected from traffic noises and potential human disturbances as much as possible.

Finally, the petition called for the release of the HDB’s environmental impact study (EIS) report on the north of Tengah to the public and nature groups for feedback and early engagement.

The petition, which has received over 400 signatures at the time of writing, was written by Jimmy Tan in collboration with the co-creator of the Clementi Forest petition and Saniroz, a nature explorer and photographer. Mr Jimmy Tan was behind the Bukit Batok Hillside Park petition.

In the petition, Mr Tan noted the zoning of Tengah Forest as residential and business plots in the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) Master Plan 2019 leave only 10% of the original forest or less in the form of a green corridor.

The HDB notes on its website 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.”

Tragically, Mr Tan quoted figures from the Global Forest Watch as of May 2021 which shows that an estimated 30% of Tengah Forest has already been cleared for development, leaving only about 490 hectares or less left.

Back in 2018, the Nature Society (Singapore) submitted its feedback on the HDB’s Tengah Baseline Review completed in 2017. The feedback revealed that the HDB is undertaking a more detailed EIS prior to the next stage of development and that it is due to be completed in the second quarter of 2021.

This is the report that the petition is calling to be made public.

Mitigating measures inadequate to protect biodiversity

The petition author expressed agreement with the NSS that the mitigating measures outlined by HDB’s baseline review such as wildlife shepherding exercises and setting aside a 5km long, 100m wide green corridor are “woefully inadequate” to more fully protect the area’s rich biodiversity.

As stated in the petition, “Tengah forest is home to many endangered or rare species. Prioritizing human profits by developing homes will demolish the natural habitats of our wildlife.”

Quoting the NSS feedback on HDB’s baseline review, Mr Tan highlighted that the forest supports at least 33 species of plant life with conservation significance, including 19 that are critically endangered, 262 species of wildlife, and 159 species of significant large trees.

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”.

Highlighting a 2003 study which found that Singapore had already lost about 28 per cent, or 881 of 3,196 recorded species, in 200 years, the petition goes on to stress that the main reason for this was habitat loss as over 95 per cent of the islands forest cover has been lost to agriculture and urban development.

Mitigating measures inadequate to combat climate change

The petition also emphasised that the mitigation measures proposed by the HDB in its development plants for Tengah Forest are inadequate in efforts against climate change as well.

It stated: “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.”

It went on to dismissed the plan to plant 1 million young trees around the country as “insufficient” in mitigating the intense heat as Singapore would have lost an equivalent number of mature trees.

Given the crucial role these mature forested areas play as carbon sinks, greatly diminishing Tengah Forest would reduce Singapore’s natural carbon dioxide mitigators which would, in turn, lead to more extreme temperatures, said the Mr Tan in the petition.

Respecting boundaries with wildlife

Finally, the petition noted the importance of maintaining and respecting boundaries with wildlife, drawing an example from the current COVID-19 pandemic.

“Notably, it is reported on 4 June 2021 that scientists behind a new independent task force, 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,” the petition stated.

“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,” the noted the author.

It added that the countries should instead focus on recycling existing built-up land instead of “sacrificing” the few remaining wild green spaces and biodiversity.

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