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: