SINGAPORE: For decades, magnolia singapurensis, a flower native to and named after Singapore, had not been seen in the country.
Until National Parks Board (NParks) officials discovered the flower again at a swamp in Nee Soon a few years ago.
It took repeated trips back to the swamp to carefully collect the seeds of the flower, bring them to the nursery to cultivate, and study how best to grow the species elsewhere, said Ms Sharon Chan, director of the Central Nature Reserve at NParks.
There are only four known instances of magnolia singapurensis, which thrives in swampy areas, in the wild.
On Saturday (Oct 20), the native species was replanted elsewhere in Singapore for the first time.
The planting ceremony, led by Second Minister of National Development Desmond Lee and advisers from Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, marked the first phase of NParks' work to reintroduce native flora to the Rail Corridor stretch.
Nature lovers, researchers, members of the surrounding community were also invited to the planting ceremony.
The 24km Rail Corridor was first built in the early 1900s as part of the colonial KTM train network.
Work to restore its native flora are starting at Rail Corridor (Central) – a 4km stretch from Hillview to the former Bukit Timah railway station, near the King Albert Park MRT station today.
The area would then serve as a buffer zone between Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and the urban area, NParks said.
NParks is clearing out plants of foreign origin that took root during the development of the railway and replanting native species in order to conserve them.
A stream made from concrete that once served as the drainage system for the railway tracks is also being enhanced, in hopes of encouraging wildlife to return to the area.
NParks said otters have already been spotted playing in the stream. It hopes to see water hens return as well.
"Our scientific research has shown that the Rail corridor is an important part of Singapore's forest ecosystem ... Animals are probably using (it) to move back and forth between the Central Catchment and the Southern Ridges," said Mr David Tan, a researcher who is part of community group Friends of Rail Corridor.
"Rewilding is good not only for the Central Catchment, but for all forest biodiversity in Singapore as well."
To encourage members of the public to visit the Rail Corridor, the dirt trail will be converted to one of grass and gravel. The Rail Corridor (Central) stretch will be worked on in phases and is scheduled to be completed by December next year.
Infrastructure projects on the whole Rail Corridor have a deadline of 2021, when the whole corridor will be open to the public.
According to the Urban Redevelopment Authority, there will also be a pedestrian underpass under the Rail Corridor parallel to Hindhede Drive which will be completed by end-2019, so that members of the public can safely enter Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.
Member of Parliament for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC Christopher de Souza said it will be a "green artery for Singaporeans".
"The goal here is to try to create more accessibility for residents (in the area) so they can come, they can walk, they can cycle, they can share this community space that is increasingly becoming more accessible," he said.
Free guided walks covering the flora, fauna and heritage of the Rail Corridor will be organised until the end of the year. Registration for the walks, which take place between Oct 27 and Dec 1, opens this Sunday at 10am.