‘Singapore’s forest are in dire need of protection’: Development’s toll extends beyond Kranji woodland

Cleared land that was previously covered in greenery seen Sunday in Pasir Ris. Photo: Poh Toon Xuan
Cleared land that was previously covered in greenery seen Sunday in Pasir Ris. Photo: Poh Toon Xuan

Poh Toon Xuan, 24, was visiting relatives in Pasir Ris when she noticed something different.

Where once a layer of mist clung to a forest frequented by wildlife such as hornbills, eagles, and other birds, a brown scar spread over the land. To her, it was another example of Singapore’s rapidly vanishing tree cover.

“In the morning, mist [could] be seen across the large patch of forests, but that’s gone now. From what [I’ve seen] from my few visits, I’ve spotted many oriental pied hornbills and brahminy kites and eagles,” she told Coconuts today.

She’s among Singaporeans arguing that government-supported deforestation in the name of development isn’t limited to a single area like Kranji woodland, but rather locations across the city-state that are on the verge of disappearing.

Such areas are important for the ecological web.

“Birds are easier to spot, but [I’m] sure there are lots of wonderful mammalian and amphibian life in that forest too,” she added.

Just a day after the government revealed that it sent a warning to a contractor for stripping large swathes of trees from the Kranji woodland, Poh posted photos showing the same going on just to the east, right next to the Api Api River in Pasir Ris, where she had gone to visit family on Sunday.

“I know we’re all angry about the destruction of Kranji woodlands but I just want to highlight the other forest clearing activities going on currently as well to show that Singapore’s forests are in dire need of protection,” Poh wrote. “A large part of the forests beside the Api Api River in Pasir Ris have also recently been cleared.”

Posted by Poh Toon Xuan on Tuesday, 16 February 2021

The area had been cleared for construction of public housing projects. Poh’s photo, taken Sunday, showed a barren expanse where trees stood just a year ago, as well as a map highlighting demolition plans for what’s left of Singapore’s forests – trees to be felled in the name of development.

Singaporeans have been criticizing the government since Tuesday after word got out that parts of the 70-hectare Kranji woodland in the north were cleared, and the responsible contractor only given a “stern warning.” The government has said the trees were cut down by mistake. 

The state industrial development agency, which is managing the massive Sungei Kadut Eco-District redevelopment project there, has reportedly said the destruction took place in December despite satellite imagery showing it began much earlier. Contractor Huationg Global Ltd., which has apologized for clearing the trees, has suspended all work. 

Calls for better protection of Singapore’s trees come as the government revealed a 10-year environmental blueprint that included planting a million more trees and measures to protect the coast, including near Sungei Kadut. 

Pasir Ris is also near to the shoreline and that the area next to the Api Api River would have been a back mangrove Poh said could help mitigate shore erosion and sea level rise. Average sea levels are 14cm above those in the 1970s.

“It’s practically unjustified to me why HDBs were put in place of such important vegetation,” Poh said, referring to Housing Development Board flats, adding: “It’s absolutely ridiculous that we’re still allowing the loss of forests in this era of carbon, climate and biodiversity crises, especially in Singapore where we’re supposedly a green and scientifically-advanced country.”

Some who reacted to Poh’s post lamented about Singapore’s earlier forests cleared for redevelopment, such as the one at Lorong Ah Soo. 

“The destruction of the secondary forest in Lorong Ah Soo began some time in March 2018. It was near my former workplace. I used to take a walk around the forest and enjoy the fresh air during lunch time,” Jimmy Tan wrote.

JTC has not responded to requests for further comment. 

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