Tag Archives: love our macritchie forest

The Story of Saving Macritchie So Far

Recently, I’ve seen Facebook posts about the Cross Island Line on my newsfeed posted by those outside of my usual echo chamber of environmentally-conscious, nature-loving friends. The Cross Island Line debacle has finally surfaced into mainstream public consciousness. People are talking about the impacts of building an MRT line through a forest our city in a garden. This comes almost two years after it was first announced as part of the 2013 Population White Paper, which led to lively but unsustained conversations about it. A petition started by a concerned individual began to garner signatures. It was discussed at the Singapore Future Sustainability Symposium. Nature groups conducting walks in Macritchie Forest drew attention to the matter by incorporating it in their guide notes. An alternate route was proposed by Nature Society Singapore in a position paper submitted to the government.

Petition
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What’s changed now? The debate has grown to include interwoven perspectives about our (under)valued biodiversity and natural heritage, treasures for the next generation, benefits of connectivity, difficult questions about development versus preservation, fissured environmental laws, and lessons in stakeholder engagement.

This is in response to the newly-released environmental impact assessment (EIA) report solely on the environmental baseline and soil investigation works that are required for future construction of the line. Notably, this is the first phase of the EIA, upstream of a future study that will assess the construction and operation of the underground train tunnels.

This EIA report has over 1,000 pages and 7 chapters, and is available for viewing at LTA by appointment only. There are no digital copies, making details about the EIA vaguely translated at best – a defensive move given the lack of legal requirement for EIAs to even be produced, much less open to public scrutiny. Information here on the EIA have been personally noted, and I take responsibility for any inaccuracies. [Update 19/2/2016: The LTA has now released the EIA online in full for public viewing here, a move made after the lack of transparency was raised in a letter to the Straits Times.]

The time is ripe for a decision by LTA to select one of two viable options proposed in the report:

Option 1 (Green): 1.8km route cuts across Macritchie/CCNR from the Singapore Island Cross Country Club to the Pan Island Expressway (PIE)

Option 2 (Blue): 9km route skirts around it Macritchie/CCNR from the southeast of SICC, beneath to Lornie Road and parallel to the PIE

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The engineering feasibility of the Cross Island Line likely depends on soil investigation works to map out the geology of the area for both options. For Option 1, the train tunnel ought to go through Bukit Timah Granite for structural stability, and this is the reason why 16 boreholes (instead of 72 originally planned) will be drilled 50-70m underground for analysis.

Importantly, the EIA studied the impacts of soil investigation works on surface water quality (groundwater quality was studied without intrusive testing), ambient noise, vibration, ambient air quality, and ecology and biodiversity.

Option 1 presents particular concerns. Even though a rather robust Environmental Mitigation and Monitoring Programme has been recommended to reduce almost all impacts to acceptable levels of minor to moderate or negligible, there still remains the possibility of accidental events . Uncontrolled site runoff, spills from construction fluids, roadkill and damage to vegetation from vehicle movement could all occur – the likelihood of which could fluctuate based on how well measures are observed.

The language of the EIA has diffused into media reports, with words like impact receiving attention. Translated from the Impact Significance Matrix, impact is a composite of sensitivity/vulnerability/importance of receptor/response and magnitude of impact (with factors of extent, duration, scale and frequency). Typically, we want to minimise impact to minor or negligible, especially if they are in highly sensitive areas such as areas directly within the reserve. The type and likelihood of impact is also important. The phrase “as low as reasonably practicable”, stylised as ALARP, is also mentioned as a caveat to the limits of engineering ingenuity, standards, protocols and emergency action plans to reduce these impacts.

Share this comic by Jacqueline Chua here

The construction of a Cross Island Line is one that has particular pressure points which lie outside the scope of the EIA report:

  1. Macritchie / CCNR is the largest nature reserve in Singapore. While it is gazetted by law, it has not been accorded blanket protection.
  2. The biodiversity and habitats found in Macritchie are unparalleled and scarce. Flora and fauna species are already endangered and cannot be found elsewhere, while the high urban cover of Singapore has reduced primary and secondary forests to these few remaining patches in our nature reserves.
  3. The costs of picking Option 2, the route that skirts around the reserve, have not been clarified by LTA yet.

A concerted move by environmental groups to push for a “zero-impact policy as a starting point to avoid long-lasting impacts on the environment” is making itself visible and vocal on social media platforms, garnering support from the masses with each share and like. The Love Our Macritchie Forest movement, fronted by the Toddycats, the BES Drongosand the Herpetological Society of Singapore, is putting pedal to the metal – or in this case, boots on the ground.

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March for Macritchie is a series of guided tours in March initiated by Love Our Macritchie Forest that the general public can sign up for – and decide for themselves the values that they place on biodiversity intrinsically, as educational tools, or for wonder to be experienced by themselves or their children.

“You can’t miss what you don’t know.”

This slogan captures precisely the motivations for me to be part of the Love Macritchie movement. You can’t miss what you don’t know about the local biodiversity housed in our forests – a part of our terrestrial environment that still remains audaciously non-urbanised. And you won’t miss it until it’s gone. (Pictured here are some of the animals found in Macritchie.)

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Such is the impassioned, heartfelt plea from environmentalists such as myself to not only minimise the impact of the Cross Island Line, but to reduce the impact to zero. This is not unachievable, given the fact that there is after all, literally another option on the table present as a thinner (and hence detailing fewer impacts) bound report: the alternate Lornie Road route, Option 2.

Words by: Judy Goh

EDIT: The EIA has now been made available for viewing online here!

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EIA (Phase 1) of CRL announced: where do we go from here?

On 5th February 2016, Phase 1 of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was announced by the Land Transport Authority (LTA). The report concluded that:

  1. Site investigation works will have moderate impact on the environment, if mitigating measures are taken.
  2. As such, soil testing will still go ahead.

Soil testing works involves deep drilling into the ground of the forest, and is done to determine the soil composition of the potential construction site of the Cross Island Line (CRL), as part of risk assessment protocol.

While we, the BES Drongos and other concerned individuals from the Love Our MacRitchie Forest movement have been hoping for the forest to be left undisturbed, the fact remains that drilling will still go ahead.

However, as much as we are disappointed with the EIA outcome, our voices have not been ignored. Following concerns from various nature groups, LTA has decided to:

  • Reduce the number of boreholes from 72 to 16;
  • Confine drilling to public trails and non-vegetative areas; and
  • Employ more non-intrusive (no physical alteration) methods in soil investigation.

Furthermore, an alternative route first suggested by the Nature Society is currently being considered as a viable second option. The suggested route will skirt around the nature reserve instead of cutting directly through it, which means less direct disturbance to the forest ecosystem.

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Original route (Green) and proposed alternative route (blue). Image: Today Online

So what can we do? Where do we go from here?

While we can’t reverse the decision made by LTA, if you are concerned about this issue, here’s what you can do to help:

  1. The EIA will be open for public viewing for the next 4 weeks; book an appointment to go down and view it.
  2. Help spread the news and raise awareness! Tell your friends, your family or anyone who you know cares about this. If lots of people go down to view the EIA, it will show LTA how much the public cares.
  3. Voice your support for the alternative route. The alternative route is now our best (and last) bet to reduce significant impacts on the forest.

You can contact LTA [Ms Michelle Chan (email LTA_CRL_CCNR_EIA@lta.gov.sg or call 6295 7437)] to view the EIA and give your feedback. Please note that you can view it by appointment ONLY, at Land Transport Authority, 1 Hampshire Road (Blk 11 Level 4, Room 2), Singapore 219428

In addition, to show your support for the alternative route, you can sign the petition here: http://www.tinyurl.com/lta-crl

The Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) is home to 400 species of trees, 200 species of birds, 400 species of insects and 150 species of mammals and amphibians. If you’d like to learn more about the biodiversity found in the CCNR, please do sign up for our walks!

For more information on the CRL and CCNR, visit:

Love Our MacRitchie Forest

Straits Times: Measures to lessen impact of MRT works on CCNR

 

 

Discoveries on our Trail by Fire!

Hello everybody! The BES Drongos are quickly gaining traction as they begin their first edition of Trail by Fire – a series of trails where selected members of the public (aka our friends) to join our walks and add that little bit of authenticity to our practice walks. Why “Trail by Fire”? It’s a pun on ‘trial by fire’, nature trail style.

Trail by Fire Group Photo

Last Saturday’s trail saw us encountering new biodiversity, particularly birds! It was the first time that we, the BES Drongos, encountered our namesake – the Greater Racket Tailed Drongo! Its scientific name is Dicrurus paradiseus. The drongo is an immensely interesting bird, and not just because they are our mascot animal. They are visually very distinctive as they have a pair of long unique tail feathers called “rackets” as seen from the photo. They are excellent mimics and can imitate the calls of a variety of other birds, although they tend to attach a metallic ring to the end of the call, which is unique to this bird.

This picture of the drongo was captured during another trail at the Venus loop of the Macritchie Reservoir Park.
This picture of the drongo was captured during another trail at the Venus loop of the Macritchie Reservoir Park.

Drongos are also sneaky creatures. They are known to practice kleptoparasitism, which means that they often steal prey from other foraging animals such as macaques. One of their favorite tricks is to follow a flock of birds like babblers, and then make an alarm call to scare the foragers away while the drongo picks up the spoils. This is the story behind the BES Drongos’ tagline, “Follow that monkey!”. 

Trail by Fire Entrance

As we were walking through the trail near the entrance to the Petai Trail, we heard a distinctive call that reminded us of a rooster. These were the calls of Red Jungle Fowl, also known as jungle chickens! Red jungle fowl are essentially the ancestors of our domestic chickens, and can be distinguished from them by their white ear flaps.

This picture of the red jungle fowl was captured during another trail at the Venus loop of the Macritchie Reservoir Park.
This picture of the red jungle fowl was captured during another trail at the Venus loop of the Macritchie Reservoir Park.

Red jungle fowl also distinguish themselves from their more placid descendants in that they can fly, often flapping their way up trees to escape predators! Their call also differs from domestic chickens in that the end is cut off (sounds kinda like it has a sore throat). An excellent example of this call can be heard in the Youtube video below:

Blue-throated Bee Eater

This beautiful bird perched on the tree overlooking a large water body near the end of the trail is a Blue-throated Bee Eater. This bird is not a permanent resident of Singapore. Instead, it migrates around the SEA region seasonally. They normally visit during their breeding season, although they are sometimes also classified as uncommon winter migrants (that means that they spend time here during winter, but rarely). They are insectivores that favor flying insects, and the one that we saw was eating dragonflies that it picked off from the surface of the water. When taking venomous prey or prey with stings, they will “wipe” their prey against their perch to get rid of the venom or sting. This is probably where they get their name from; they basically specialize in eating stinging insects that other birds find unappetizing.

The photo below is of a bird that is as yet not properly identified because it is unclear, but we suspect that it is a Pin-Striped tit-babbler. During the trail, we may have also seen a forest babbler but failed to get a photo.

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Babblers are common residents in most of our nature reserves in Singapore, including the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. They can be noisy little birds with a distinctive and repetitive call, as seen in this Youtube video:


Babblers are important to note because they are one of the vulnerable bird groups that could be affected detrimentally should the Cross Island Line be built through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. This is because certain species like Abbott’s babbler can only live in the lower story of mature secondary or primary forest, which is obviously quite scarce in rapidly urbanizing Singapore. Because of their small size, these birds also dislike flying across large open spaces. As fragmentation occurs due to the building of developments across the nature reserve, these birds are unlikely to travel between forest fragments. Thus, their breeding potential is limited and their gene pools are reduced due to less mixing between populations.

Trial by Fire

We hope you have enjoyed this short sharing on some of our discoveries on the Petai Trail at Macritchie Reservoir Park. Each trip is an eye-opening experience and as you can tell from our posts, we never cease to find something new and unexpected each time! More Trails by Fire will take place over the next few weeks. We will be providing more information on the impacts that developments within nature reserves can create, such as forest fragmentation and soil disturbance in future blog posts, so keep an eye out for them. For now, pop by the Love Our Macritchie Forest website, run by the Toddycats, to find out more about how the Cross Island Line can impact the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

Credits to Jacqueline Chua for the photos.

For more awesome photos, check out our Flickr page!

Toddycats and Drongos Unite!

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This week the Drongos had some special guests with us, the Toddycats! The Toddycats are nature and environment volunteers with the upcoming Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, and they run another trail in MacRitchie, called the Venus Loop that is located further down Upper Thompson. The Toddycats also manage the Love Our MacRitchie Forest movement, which was launched in response to the proposed Cross Island Line (CRL) that would cut through MacRitchie. The Toddycats hope to educate the public through their walks about the fragile ecosystem and stunning biodiversity we have here through their trails, and the Drongos are hoping to follow in their footsteps. So in a way, the Toddycats are our mentors, and we certainly learnt a lot from them on this trail.

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This trail was also pretty special because it was the first time our volunteers were presenting to non-Drongos, and we are proud to say that they are shaping up to be promising guides!

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However, we all certainly still had a lot to learn, as the Toddycats amazed us with their uncanny ability to spot all sorts of biodiversity along the trail. So for today’s post, there are a whole lot more animals, and we hope that with more experience we can someday be as sharp as the Toddycats in spotting such amazing creatures!

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This Ornate Coraltail (Ceriagrion cerinorubellum) was flitting around near the boardwalk. The Coraltail is a damselfly, which is not the same as a dragonfly, even though they look very similar. Both dragonflies and damselflies are from the order Odonata but are generally classified into two different suborders, with dragonflies under Anisotera and damselflies under Zygoptera. The most obvious difference between dragonflies and damselflies is that damselflies have a long, slender body as compared to dragonflies, which have shorter, stockier bodies.

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We were very lucky for this trail as we spotted both a Malayan Blue Coral Snake (Calliophis bivirgatus) and Wagler’s Pit Viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri )(photo below), highly venomous snakes that we had not seen since our first recce of the trail. A fun (and rather frightening) fact that we learnt from the Toddycats was that the Malayan Blue Coral Snake is also known as the Hundred Paces Snake, because its venom is so powerful that a person can only make it about a hundred paces after being bitten before they die. Ouch.

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It seems that the snakes like to bask near the boardwalk because the vegetation is not as dense there and thus has more sunlight. Because venom takes a while to make, it a good thing to remember that snakes generally will not attack non-prey animals (for example, us) unless they are highly threatened or cornered, so if you ever see a snake, give it some room and back away slowly so as to not startle it. Always ensure that the snake has an escape route, and you should be fine!

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Another interesting reptile we saw today was a Clouded Monitor Lizard (Varanus nebulosus), named as such because it has beautiful yellow cloud-like markings on its back. Monitor lizards are closely related to Komodo Dragons (the largest lizards in the world which grow up to 3 meters long), but thankfully all the Monitor Lizard species in Singapore are unable to grow that big.

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This Common Sailor butterfly (Neptis hylas papaja) was resting on some Resam ferns (Dicranoptris linearis). Both the Common Sailor and Resam like the sun, and both are common species found on nature reserve fringes.

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Speaking of butterflies, we found this fantastical caterpillar (Eudocima smaragdipicta) creature so strange that it really seems otherworldly. Other than the weird Pokémon ball-looking patterns found on its body, the oddly shaped “head” at the end of the caterpillar facing up in this photo is actually its tail! The caterpillar uses its false head to give the impression of a rearing snake as it raises its behind, serving as a defense against birds and other hungry predators.

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While we are on the topic of fake snakes, we also found the flower of the Rattan Plant (above) and the resulting fruit (below). The scaly fruit develops in between the “cups” of the long, segmented flower, and the cups only fall off after the fruit is ripe, exposing the fruit bunches.

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As most of us know, the main stem of the plant is often used to make furniture and other products (like canes), but did you also know that the fruit produces a red resin known as “dragon’s blood” and is often used to dye violins?

Well, that is about it for this trail! We would like to give special thanks to the Toddycats Chloe Tan, David Tan, Yi Yong, Sean Yap and Amanda Lek for taking the time to come down to our trail with us! We hope that as we develop our own stories and gain experience as guides that we will one day make you guys proud. (:

(Thanks to David Tan, Sean Yap and Samuel Chan for pointing out some initial mistakes in the post!)

For more photos, check out our Flickr albums!