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Nature groups support mitigation measures for Keppel Club site but concerned over biodiversity

Nature groups support mitigation measures for Keppel Club site but concerned over biodiversity

The new nature park network will add close to 30km of new nature trails, park connectors and nature ways. (Photo: NParks)

SINGAPORE: Nature groups have lauded proposed measures to minimise the environmental impact of developing the Keppel Club site, although they remain concerned about the protection of biodiversity in the area.

It was announced on Tuesday (Apr 12) that the Housing and Development Board (HDB) will build about 6,000 flats on the site of Keppel Club, with the first Build-to-Order (BTO) project expected to launch within three years.

Given the site’s proximity to several nature areas including the Labrador Nature Reserve, Southern Ridges and Berlayer Creek, the Government said that development plans for the 48-hectare plot of land will “sensitively integrate” surrounding ecological connectivity.

In their 1,028-page environmental study report, HDB and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) outlined key measures to minimise adverse impact throughout the course of the project. These include phasing clearance activities to avoid the bird breeding season and conducting shepherding of wildlife before site clearance.

They also proposed implementing dust control measures to safeguard air quality, as well as staggering building heights to reduce the duration of noisy activities.

The measures were announced following an environmental impact study, which found that there are more than 390 plant species and 380 fauna species within the development site and its surrounding environment.

With the area home to many species of conservation significance, environmental groups CNA spoke to raised concern about whether the measures would be enough to protect them.

“There are various habitats of high conservation significance like the native-dominated secondary forest Bukit Chermin, mangrove forest at Berlayer Creek, seagrass meadows and rocky shore,” said Ms Sarah Lin, team lead for informal environmental group LepakinSG’s Our Wild Spaces.

“These habitats are home to many species of conservation significance, have high ecological linkage and are very difficult to recreate,” she added.

While the spaces will not be destroyed according to current development plans, she said they will be impacted during the construction and operation phase as the habitats are located near the development site.

AN ECOLOGICAL “STEPPING STONE”

Building a housing development in the area could also impact the movement of birds and other wildlife, said Nature Society Singapore’s (NSS) president Shawn Lum.

With Keppel Club surrounded by Sentosa, Telok Blangah Hill Park, Mount Faber Park and Labrador Nature Reserve - all of which are covered in forests and are well-known havens for birds – he said the site currently serves as a connector between each green space.

The golf course at Keppel Club is also an important foraging and resting ground for birds, providing a “stepping stone” to facilitate the movement and expansion of bird species across the different green spaces, said Dr Lum.

In surveys conducted in 2005 and 2008, NSS noted that the site had the most diverse habitats compared to any golf course in Singapore.

This ranged from rocky coast and mangrove to open grassland, freshwater pond to garden, parkland and woodland, the report said.

Many of the site’s flora consisted of old growth trees like the Tembusu, the Rain Tree and the Albizia, which provide resting spots for birds such as the large‐billed crow and the white‐bellied sea eagle.

To enhance ecological connectivity, the proposed development plans for the area include green corridors for birds and potentially small mammals in the surrounding habitats at Labrador Nature Reserve, Bukit Chermin and the Southern Ridges.

Around 20 per cent of the Keppel Club site - or about 10 hectares - will also be set aside as green spaces such as parks and open land.

While the target is “quite ambitious”, Dr Lum said it also depends on how the green spaces are used.

“If you break it up into 10 or more plots of green space and scatter them across the development, each green space is probably going to be too small to support any habitat or have any impact on wildlife,” he said.

“So, perhaps instead of having more green spaces, you have fewer but wider green corridors and spaces which can support biodiversity. You can also create buffer zones between man-made green spaces and existing forest areas to minimise the impact on the ecosystem,” he added.

Echoing his sentiments, senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) Dr Woo Jun Jie said the quality and form of green spaces will be an important consideration in the development of the area.

“Given its location along the coast as well as the presence of natural habitats for migratory birds, it is important to conserve ecological systems and habitats. This may mean less manicured parks and more ‘natural’ and ‘wild’ green spaces,” he said.

“These are considerations that the HDB has discussed, but which nonetheless require close attention,” he added.

Ultimately, experts and nature groups said there needs to be more awareness about protecting biodiversity as Singapore continues to develop and encroach on habitats.

“Living this close to nature, human-wildlife interaction is going to be a definite thing,” said Ms Lin. “People who intend to purchase flats need to be made aware of the kind of biodiversity they will be living with, they need to be educated and not just with signs and posters.”

She added that strategies such as increasing visibility of glass to reduce bird strikes or road calming measures for wildlife crossing can also help to enhance safety for wildlife.

Source: CNA/vl(gs)

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