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It may seem as though Stephen Browne, Manager of Fauna & Flora International Singapore has been seconded to the Singapore Tourism Board for his latest blog, but it’s the naturalist within that has him singing the praises of the green city and its trees.
On my travels around Asia I inevitably have to visit capital cities. Cars, tall buildings, lots of people, too much concrete and noise and dust are all constants but undeniably, some are just nicer than others. I think it’s the presence of green open spaces, trees and wildlife that make a city bearable – and those without less so. I am a conservationist, so I of course have an interest in all things green and fluffy, but I bet that anyone who visits a truly green city, such as Singapore, will not fail to be struck by how pleasant they can be.
There are estimated to be over 2 million trees on Singapore, (and 5 million people) which equates to roughly 3,000 trees per km2. A lot of these contribute to the 2,000 native plant species recorded on the island, but there are also many non-native species. This combined with Singapore’s equatorial climate means that there are always trees that are in flower or fruiting – from which many wildlife species benefit. My walk into work each morning is regularly enhanced by hornbills, woodpeckers, parrots and parakeets, even hill mynahs, all of which enjoy the abundance of fruits and nesting cavities. It’s not only birds that are winning here – numerous butterflies, other insects, squirrels, tree shrews and epiphytic plants also benefit from the abundant foliage.
So why the ample greenery? The reasons are numerous. When the island was claimed in 1819 by Sir Stamford Raffles for the British Empire it was pretty much a tree covered swamp, so had plenty of trees to start with. From that point on there was tree clearance for agriculture and construction, but a desire to grow fruit and to keep the island as a tropical paradise, meant that tree cover was always maintained. Trees were kept to produce shade, which helped reduce the impacts of the hot climate, and reduce pollution, dust and noise by ‘capturing’ nasties with their leaves. More recently there has been a concerted effort to plant more trees and protect those that stand.
The National Parks Board (NParks), the government authority responsible for maintaining Singapore’s natural and green spaces (300 parks & four nature reserves) has launched a number of schemes to increase the appreciation and awareness of trees, as part of its plan to make Singapore a ‘City in a Garden’. Initiatives such as the Heritage Tree Scheme are designed to increase the appreciation of the islands natural heritage and allow members of the public to nominate trees that are important to them. To become a ‘Heritage Tree’ the tree has to have a girth of more than five metres, be a rare species, have historical significance and be assessed by the Heritage Tree Panel. There are currently 183 Heritage Trees receiving special protection.
The Heritage Roads Scheme is another initiative run by the NParks to identify and protect roads that have large, leafy and impressive road-side trees, established to protect the trees from threats resulting from road widening or realignment. There are currently five Heritage Roads, with a further 55 on the watch list.
Another way of increasing public awareness of trees is the NParks ‘Know 10 Trees’ campaign, which aims to increase awareness and appreciation of ten of the mostly commonly found and important tree species in Singapore.
All of these schemes, combined with others (such as the Park Connector Network) are designed to increase the appreciation of the value of trees as nice things to look at, or as a way of making the general surrounding more appealing. It isn’t just people that benefit, wildlife does as well.
It’s inevitable that cities will become bigger, as the world’s population becomes more urbanised, but it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom and could ultimately reduce pressures on the natural world. With considered planning, cities can be pleasant places to live and can even become havens for wildlife, there just has to be the desire to make cities green and sustainable. Of course there is much more to making a city sustainable than planting a few trees, things such as integrated water management, waste disposal and transport systems are probably more important, but it is a good place to start and it’s relatively easy.