SINGAPORE - Parts of Clementi Forest will be safeguarded as two new nature trails will be created, the National Parks Board (NParks) said on Saturday (July 31).
Nature enthusiasts had called for the conservation of the luxuriant forest and the wildlife in it.
A stretch of the 2km Clementi Nature Trail will run along an existing stream within the Clementi Forest. The trail will connect the existing Rail Corridor to an upcoming nature park in Dover Forest. It will be completed by 2023.
A 4km path will run along a stretch of the old Jurong Railway Line, which was operational from 1965 to 1992.
The Old Jurong Line Nature Trail - as it will be called - will run along parts of the old line - railway tracks, bridges and tunnels. It will be completed in stages from 2024, NParks said.
The two new nature trails will also connect with Jurong Lake Gardens via a new 3km park connector to be built. In total, these green threads, along with 9km of existing trails and park connectors, will provide those who live in the western part of Singapore with a network comprising 18km of trails.
Minister for National Development Desmond Lee said via a pre-recorded video on Saturday at the launch of the new green network that the two new nature trails will provide safe access for Singaporeans to enjoy greenery while minimising impact to biodiversity.
At the same time, the country's heritage will also be conserved, Mr Lee said, pointing to how the Old Jurong Line Nature Trail will enable people to experience "both nature and a slice of our heritage at the same time".
Both the Dover and Clementi forest plots have been in the spotlight in recent months, amid a growing interest among residents to preserve the country's wild spaces.
People had also called for both sites, which are zoned for residential use, to be retained as green spaces instead of being developed.
The authorities have said that Clementi Forest will be kept for this purpose, although there was no immediate need to develop it.
As for Dover, the Housing Board (HDB) said on Friday that it will develop only the eastern half for public housing in the near term. The more biodiverse western half of the site will be left fallow for now, although the authorities have given their assurance that a nature park will be carved from it.
For people and wildlife
The new green network in western Singapore will provide residents there with more opportunities to experience nature and culture in a safe way that will also not harm wildlife.
Last October, drone footage of the Clementi Forest at dawn spread widely on social media. The beauty of the site captured by nature enthusiast Brice Li, 53, spurred many to attempt exploring Clementi Forest on their own.
The authorities eventually issued a statement advising people against doing so, as the site was unmanaged and tree fall incidents and unpaved trails could pose safety risks to hikers.
Wildlife, too, was affected by the influx of people to Clementi Forest.
In May, The Straits Times reported that the numbers of two rare orchid species - Dienia ophrydis and Zeuxine clandestina - had fallen sharply after more hikers took to crossing Clementi Forest. The sensitive ground-dwelling plants , which are found along the old Jurong Line, had been trodden upon.
NParks researchers went on a rescue mission to retrieve wild individuals and nurture them at the Singapore Botanic Gardens to ensure the continued survival of both species.
NParks said the transplanted orchids are doing well, and will be propagated and reintroduced to suitable habitats around Singapore.
The two new trails will also accommodate wildlife moving between Singapore's fragmented forest plots. Both are part of the Clementi Nature Corridor that NParks had earlier identified as having the potential to be a highway allowing animals to move between Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and the Southern Ridges.
Mr Brice, in response to the latest announcement on the new nature trails, told The Straits Times: "It was a pleasant surprise. The Rail Corridor can get very crowded on weekends, so hopefully these new trails will help to reduce crowding there."
He added that after his video went viral, he started seeing a significant increase in hikers to the site and felt like he had to "do something about it" to help prevent potential damage to the forest due to the larger footfall.
He sent a proposal to the authorities in November, suggesting that a boardwalk and nature trail be established to allow visitors to enjoy the space responsibly.
Mr Brice said that with Singapore's limited green spaces and the authorities' assurance that the land need not be developed for now, it made sense for the forest to be opened for people to enjoy.
"There are safety concerns now, as the terrain is rough, so hopefully the new trail will make the space accessible to more, but not overly managed, so it remains as natural as possible," he said.
NParks said it will set up a Friends of Clementi Nature Corridor volunteer group so that the public can to help manage the trails and enhance natural habitats along them.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.