SINGAPORE: A new, conservation-focused section of the Singapore Botanic Gardens was opened by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Friday (Mar 31).
Located within the Tyersall-Gallop extension of the Gardens, the 10-hectare Learning Forest aims to restore the natural conditions of lowland forests and wetlands in the area, as well as bolster conservation efforts of local plant species.
Previously used for agricultural purposes in the 19th century, after which it was used for large residential estates, the site was carefully restored based on detailed site surveys and old maps.
The Learning Forest now forms part of the protective buffer zone around the UNESCO Heritage Site portions of the existing Botanic Gardens. It integrates with the Gardens' existing 6ha of primary rainforest - one of Singapore's last remaining tracts of such habitats.
An orchid island showcasing rare swamp orchids in their natural habitat. (Photo: Loke Kok Fai)
The site features swamp orchids in their natural habitat, local plant species discovered and documented by several of Singapore’s pioneering botanists, a collection of wild variants of local fruits like lychees and mangosteens, as well as an elevated boardwalk among some of the tallest rainforest trees - several more than 100 years old.
It is also home to more than 600 new plant species - many of them rare or endangered - as well as 200 species of wildlife including birds, mammals, reptiles and butterflies. It will serve as a reference for ongoing research work in the field of restoration ecology for the region.
An elevated boardwalk allows visitors to walk among the rainforest trees. (Photo: Loke Kok Fai)
The Learning Forest is divided into five sections: The Keppel Discovery Wetlands, the SPH Walk of Giants, the Lowland Rainforest, the Wild Fruit Trees Arboretum and the Bambusetum which features more than 30 species of tropical bamboos.
The discovery wetlands, for instance, was supported with a donation of S$2.08 million from Keppel Corporation.
VOLUNTEERS TO HELP MONITOR GARDENS’ ECOLOGICAL HEALTH
Speaking at the opening event, Mr Lee said the Learning Forest builds on the Botanic Gardens’ "legacy of conservation and improvement".
"Ultimately, our Botanic Gardens thrive not because of the interesting mix of plants, but because within it, there's life," he said.
"It's teeming with activity, it's loved and nurtured by the community, by all age groups."
He also announced that National Parks Board (NParks) will launch a new Citizen Science programme, where volunteers can help monitor the long-term ecological health of the Botanic Gardens. This includes submitting sightings of animals spotted in the Gardens using the SGBioAtlas mobile app.
"This is NParks' version of Pokemon GO, with a purpose," said Mr Lee. "Real animals which you capture on your smartphone. And the data which you collect will help NParks to monitor animal populations and improve conservation and biodiversity."
The Learning Forest can be accessed from Tyersall Avenue, near the Gardens' Swan Lake. Its opening hours are from 5am to midnight, except for the boardwalk and wetlands which are open from 7am to 7pm to avoid disturbing wildlife at night, NParks said.