MARCH 7 — Singapore is a tiny country. At 700 square kms, it is over 400 times smaller than Malaysia and is home to 5.6 million people.
With a population density of over 8,000 people per square kilometre, we are one of the most densely populated nations.
So, given the issues with size and density and of course rapid development, to an extent Singapore's biodiversity has always been under threat.
But one of Singapore's proudest achievements is that despite our rapid development our city remains full of green spaces.
In fact, 40 per cent of Singapore's land area is defined as having green cover — grass and trees — and that is a great achievement.
However, the truth is that the overwhelming majority of this green cover is recently planted and takes the form of parks, planned urban greenery etc.
The amount of actual forest cover in Singapore is about 3 per cent of our land area and true primary forest (areas undisturbed or minimally disturbed by humans) amounts to a negligible 0.22 per cent of our land area.
This distinction is important because ecosystems, animals, plants and habitats need true natural environments to flourish — urban parks are primarily for humans and can’t replace real forests.
Every bit of forest is extremely precious which is why it was disturbing to see that recently a contractor tasked with clearing land for an agricultural scheme in Kranji admitted to clearing 4.5 hectares of forested land by mistake.
The contractor had apparently cleared more land than had been permitted and clearance of the land also began before the required Biodiversity Baseline Study was completed.
Four and a half hectares is certainly not a vast amount of land but given that Singapore has so little forest left every square foot is precious.
This is particularly frustrating in such a well-regulated and tightly monitored state where we see bars and restaurants promptly shut down for infractions; yet not for “harming” our city’s green lungs?
We need to do better. We need to choose to protect our forests. Yes, we need new housing and new agricultural projects, but we also need biodiversity.
I understand there is economic and policy making pressure to utilise every inch of our limited land area but we cannot do this at the expense of the tiny green spaces that are left. We cannot afford it.
Singapore may lack space, but we are fortunate to not lack wealth and talent — we need to mobilise these resources to save our green spaces.
Why cut down forests for agriculture when we can utilise the roofs of thousands of HDB flats and other buildings where we can deploy the best urban agriculture techniques?
Why clear green space and the fringes of rivers and reservoirs for HDB (public housing) flats when we can build denser, taller but still comfortable HDBs in mature neighbourhoods?
And while I do love all the parks and park connectors that have been developed over the years, sometimes it may be best to leave green spaces alone — without any parks or trails.
Perhaps, in a city where most people would say the national bird is a construction crane, it may be counterintuitive but leaving these spaces completely alone can actually benefit us all.
These environments support the insect that will help pollinate and sustain our agricultural ventures and they will help maintain the plants and the fish guarantee healthy waterways.
Sometimes doing nothing adds the most value of all— and I hope our policymakers appreciate that.
*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.