Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Rooftop habitat gardening, organic farm

A few months ago, I attended a talk by two NParks staff who talked about Biodiversity on Rooftops in Singapore. This is an exciting concept to me and I quickly form the idea of rooftop habitat gardening.

I live on the 18th floor. When I look out from my balcony, I could see a lot of rooftop spaces which can be utilized for rooftop biodiversity. If carefully planned, rooftop green spaces provide wildlife corridors to counteract habitat loss. These corridors allow wildlife to move from one tract of habitat to another.

I have visited some rooftop gardens in Singapore, including those of HDB multi-storey car parks  They tend to be more of landscape/ornamental gardens. Dull, ornamental, manicured gardens certainly cannot attract a rich variety of wildlife. I really wish to see habitat gardens on rooftops in Singapore. We can garden the rooftop so as to create natural habitats for certain groups of wildlife (such as birds, butterflies, bees, hoverflies, ladybugs, etc.) and at the same time incorporate organic edible crops. There are many well-known benefits of locally grown and organic produce.

The rooftop of the multi-storey car park in our estate has not been in use for many years because no residents would want to park their cars there - no lift access and no cover. It has actually been locked up for many years. I attempted to approach our residents' committee, HDB and Town Council on the idea of converting the rooftop into a garden for biodiversity and organic crops. After quite some effort and time (email exchanges and telephone calls), I managed to meet representatives from our residents' committee and Town Council together. It was a rather discouraging meeting. What I saw as an opportunity was what they saw as many difficulties. I remember some of the difficulties they mentioned:

  • The car park rooftop is not designed for this purpose
  • There is no lift access for the rooftop
  • The car park is HDB's property and is for generating income

Yes, I could also see all these difficulties, and more. But, if it is the right thing to do, we should be able to turn the difficulties into opportunities.

I remember Winston Churchill's quote:  “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.

Well, the Town Council representatives did not turn down my suggestion right away, but said that they would discuss with HDB on this matter and then get back to me. Well, three months have passed, and I have not heard from them anymore. I guess this is their way of saying "No!" to me.

I also wrote to our MP. Again, I got no reply at all.

There are rooftop farms in cities around the world. In Hong Kong, which is a city rather like Singapore (a city void of open space), there are a number of rooftop farms. One of them is featured in this CNN report on June 29, 2011:

In my recent trip to Hong Kong, I visited some organic farms, community gardens and rooftop farms. I was particularly touched when I saw the rich biodiversity in and around this organic farm I visited in Fanling.

There are quite a number of organic farms in the New Territories, providing a healthier and safer choice for the Hong Kong residents. Every week, there are a number of farmers' markets in different districts of Hong Kong, where the organic farmers sell their produce directly to their customers. I visited one of these farmers' markets - Organic Farmers' Market@Central, right at the central business district of Hong Kong. This market opens every Sunday. Although small (only about 10 stalls), this farmers' market is very vibrant. The stall holders are the farmers themselves. They are friendly and are happy to answer customers' questions on their vegetables. The stalls do not provide plastic bags. Customers must use their own shopping bags. I am also amazed by the variety of vegetables sold there. Below is a video clip I shot of this small but vibrant organic farmers' market.

It is also interesting to read this Malaysian lady's impression of Organic Farmers' Market@Central.

Back in Singapore, the only Farmers' market I know of is the one at Loewen Gardens. I do not know if they sell locally grown organic vegetables there.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Weevils fighting

Unprotected wildlife habitats in Singapore can be recklessly destroyed anytime. A recent example is the clearing of the forest outside Braddell View estate.

There is a forest near where I live. In it I have recorded 47 species of dragonflies. This is 36% of the 131 species ever recorded in Singapore. Among those 47 species are some very rare species, including Heliaeschna uninervulata, which was a new addition to the Singapore odonata list when I first discovered in this forest in 2008.

In the forest, it is not difficult to find fallen trees. Usually these dead trees attract many different kinds of creatures such as beetles, bugs, flies and wasps. I have been recording the behaviour of these creatures on video for a year. The footage below shows two male weevils fighting for a female. The weevil is common in the forest and it belongs to the family Curculionidae. Its mouthparts are formed into a long snout with an antenna on each side of the snout, which is often used to bore wood. The weevil's snout and big eyes give it a hilarious look.

Please watch the video at 480p.

I have been visiting the forest regularly in the past 9 years. It is apparent that the biodiversity there is on the decline in these two years. It is now more difficult to see the rare species. This is probably due to the more frequent disturbance from humans.

Since this forest is unprotected, it may face the same fate as Braddell Road Forest.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Quality green space within a city

Although Singapore is a small-sized, highly urbanized city-state, it has an amazing diversity of life: 375 species of birds, 303 species of butterflies, 130 species of dragonflies, 34 species of bats, just to name a few groups of animals.

However, due to land-use pressures, urban development in Singapore continue to destroy habitats for wildlife. An example is the loss of the damselfly, Mortonagrion falcatum, in Tuas.

While we should aim to reduce the impact on natural wildlife habitats by urban development, we should also manage our urban green spaces so as to enhance urban biodiversity.

Singapore has a lot of urban green spaces: parks, golf courses, sports fields, etc. Among these urban green spaces, public parks (regional, town and neighbourhood parks) would have the greatest  potential to enhance our urban biodiversity and become our quality green spaces in the city of Singapore. Quality green space within a city can support a variety of species and habitats, contributes to essential services including water filtration and absorption, nutrient cycling, air filtration and noise buffering.

While I understand that our public parks serve as social gathering and recreational spaces for the local community, I also strongly believe that biodiversity-friendly measures can be taken to enhance the flora and fauna in them.

In the document by the National Parks Board, Singapore’s National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, I read this:

"Singapore Today — A Garden City, A Haven for Biodiversity. Our aim is to bring this to the next level – a city embraced in a garden of diverse flora and fauna."

Also, in the document by Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, The Sustainable Development Blueprint, the word "biodiversity" appears 40 times.

It is apparent that our government does have biodiversity in their agenda.

Bishan Park
With an area of 62 hectares, a 2.7 km stream running through it, and its close proximity to a nature reserve, Bishan Park has a great deal of potential to be among the best quality green spaces in Singapore. However, the current state of the park is very far from ideal. If you take a look around Bishan Park, you'll see turf grass, widely-spaced trees, playground equipment, parking lots. While all of these items may benefit park visitors, they lack many qualities that could enhance biodiversity.

Also, the frequent and thorough clearing of vegetation and mowing of grass, especially along the restored stream, has negative effects on biodiversity. Wildlife need adequate food, water, shelter and space in order to survive.  The traditional turf grass and widely-spaced trees in Bishan Park offer little in the way of meeting wildlife needs.

Let me embed a really wonderful and inspirational short film here. This film won the 2011 WWF Short Film Competition. I highly recommend it and hope that the people who can make decisions on how to manage our public parks will see this short film too.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Make Meadows, not Lawns

A beautiful ladybug was foraging among the vegetation by the side of the stream in Bishan Park, Singapore. At 1:19 of the following footage, she found a juicy and delicious aphid.

A few days after this footage was taken, a team of grass cutters came and cleared the vegetation along the sides of the stream. Homes of these beautiful creatures (ladybugs, butterflies, bees, dragonflies, etc.) were then gone.
Warning: The noise of the grass cutting is rather deafening.
Turn down the sound volume of your viewing device if you wish to watch this footage.

Along the sides of the stream in Bishan Park are mostly lawns, which are expensive to maintain (frequent and noisy trimming of vegetation). Such thorough clearing of vegetation destroy the habitats of different kinds of creatures.

The following photographs were taken on 6 August 2012:

"Bishan Park will also be home to diverse wildlife with habitats created to encourage certain species to settle and thrive." - said PUB in 2009.

Imagine if we have meadows of beautiful wildflowers on the slopes, instead of lawns ...

What they are now doing to the Bishan Park is contrary to what they said in 2009, when they began their project to revamp Bishan Park:

"The new Bishan Park will also be home to diverse wildlife with habitats created to encourage certain species to settle and thrive.  For example, reed beds will promote dragonfly communities and seasonal nectar-producing flowers will entice butterflies so people will be able to observe rich biodiversity." (Source:

I gave my feedback to some PUB staff five months ago, suggesting that a variety of vegetation be planted along Bishan Stream, at least for the section of the stream nearer to Upper Thomson Road. I strongly believe that this will enhance the habitats for a variety of wildlife and would attract the nice species from the nearby forests around Lower Peirce Reservoir. They thanked me for my feedback, but regular clearing of vegetation still goes on, and most of the sides of Bishan Stream are still lawns, which are just useless biosystems.

Imagine if we have meadows of beautiful wildflowers on the slopes by the sides of Bishan Stream, attracting butterflies, bees, ladybugs, dragonflies, ....  A couple in England, Brian and Denise Herrick, did just that. They converted a former piece of wasteland into a beautiful meadow with many (57 species) wildflowers.

Source of images:

If a couple could do this, then PUB/NParks should certainly be able to do the same. It's only a matter of whether they want to do it. If what they said in 2009 is true, then they should want to do it.

I understand that PUB/NParks need to address the concerns of the residents in the nearby condominium and housing blocks. Residents don't like bees to be around as "bees sting people", so vegetation needs be cleared. PUB staff also mentioned to me that too much vegetation would affect the stream's ability to handle high volume and flow rates during downpours.

I believe PUB/NParks, with their knowledgeable and well-qualified staff, would be able to address all these concerns.

I really hope to see at least some small meadows (if not a large piece of it) at suitable locations in Bishan Park 1.

Well, as for bees,  perhaps we can get inspiration from other modern cities such as Tokyo, Hong Kong, New York, London, Paris, where there are thriving urban beekeeping communities.

Michael Leung is the first urban beekeeper in Hong Kong. He has created a new bee-saving buzz there. and founded  HK Honey, a mix of young and older people.

A beautiful documentary on HK Honey (Length 3:21)

There is a TV program in Hong Kong on urban beekeeping, in which our Singapore bee expert, Mr. John Lee, was interviewed for his views:

Urban Beekeeping (Part 1)

Urban Beekeeping (Part 2)
Mr. John Lee interviewed at 6:15 and 10:19

Links related to Meadows and Lawns:

Monday, 30 July 2012

KTPH - 3 more dragonfly species recorded

Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH)

This morning (30 July 2012), I visited KTPH and Yishun Pond again and was delighted to see three dragonfly species new to the site, including the beautiful and uncommon Rhyothemis triangularis (Sapphire Flutterer). This means that the total number of dragonflies species recorded from KTPH and Yishun Pond is now 19.

Rhyothemis triangularis (Sapphire Flutterer)

It is apparent that the habitats created by KTPH in and around Yishun Pond are starting to attract nice dragonfly species. Kudos to the KTPH staff in charge of the enhancing of the habitats for wildlife! But their effort could be undermined by the irresponsible visitors to the pond. The amount of litter seen, especfially along the edge of the pond near "Spiral @ Yishun", will probably lead to degradation of habitats.

Sprial @ Yishan, where littering problem is most serious

If I can see so much litter among the vegetation along the edges of the pond, floating on the water and partially submerged in water, there is certainly also a large amount of litter submerged in water, and is not visible to me. How can the litter be removed from the pond? Everyday, the wide variety of litter (plastic, chemicals, cigarettes) is soaked in water, releasing chemicals to the water.

The littering problem has to be solved. The authorities must take much stronger actions against litterbugs.

Plastic bottle and cup

Styrofoam box

Plastic bottle