Singapore Can Protect Global Biodiversity Says WWF

Global populations of wildlife have declined 58% in the past 40 years, and is expected to decline further to 67% by 2020, in the latest Living Planet Report 2016 by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). The report identifies food production as a primary cause of biodiversity loss through habitat destruction and the over-exploitation of resources. WWF-Singapore highlighted the implications of these findings for Singapore, calling for the public to take action as responsible consumers.

Why Nature Is Our Greatest Classroom

he great wall of vegetation, an exuberant and entangled mass of trunks, branches, leaves, boughs, festoons, motionless in the moonlight, was like a rioting invasion of soundless life,

a rolling wave of plants, piled up, crested, ready to topple over the creek, to sweep every little man of us out of his little existence. And it moved not.

Piasau Nature Reserve: Green Lung for Miri

Tree planting at this nature reserve alone may not fulfil Miri’s need for urban reprieve, reports Mallika Naguran at Borneo Jazz Festival 2016.

Miri, 12 May 2016. Musicians, journalists, students, politicians and Shell staff came together this morning to plant trees at the start of the two-day Borneo Jazz Festival in Miri, Sarawak. 

The act of tree planting at this musical event can be seen as a symbolic gesture. It is also a reminder for all - from the producers of fossil energy to consumers - to conserve the forests and natural areas of Sarawak, which have taken a hit with increasing deforestation due to urban and agricultural development. 

The Sarawak Forestry Corporation sponsored 67 tree seedlings that are indigenous to Sarawak, which were planted at the Piasau Boat Club compound. The three species planted were: ranggu/sentang, Azadirachta excelsa; bungkang, Eugenia grandis; and kasai, Pometia pinnata. 

Klazz Brothers love tree planting at Borneo Jazz 2016

“It feels good to be part of tree planting here in Malaysia. In Cuba, tree planting takes place all the time, from schools to concerts and festivals, and we love it!” said Roland Grzegorz Abreu Krysztofiak, a musician from Klazz Brothers & Cuba Percussion. "But back home we get our hands dirtier as we really dig in and for many hours!" he added.

Piasau Historical Development and Now

Shell’s interest and involvement in Piasau Nature Reserve (PNR) stemmed from its ownership of what was formerly known as Shell Piasau Camp, a residential area of the expatriate community in Miri, mostly from the oil and gas industry.

Shell first began operations in Sarawak by drilling for oil in Miri 125 years ago, according to Jonathan Jolly, Government Relations Manager, Sarawak Shell Berhad Miri. Apart from greasing the economic growth of Malaysia, Shell sees itself as an important stakeholder of local communities. “We continue to invest in the areas of health, environment, capacity building, arts, culture and more,” said Jonathan at the event.

Shell and the Sarawakian government, at the request of many residents, decided to create a “green legacy” in this area. This initiated the transfer of land rights from Sarawak Shell Berhard to Sarawak Forestry Commission in 2015. Before the handover, efforts were already made to preserve the tree population in the area. As such, Piasau Camp area was gazetted as a nature reserve in 2014. This means that Piasau Camp has been accorded legislative protection against development, encroachment and poaching.

According to the forestry department, PNR has 17 species of fauna protected under  the Wildlife Protection Ordinance, 45 bird species (including the hornbill), three mammal species, five amphibian species, 12 reptile species, 10 butterfly species and 107 plant species. 

“There are 21 Oriental-pied hornbills, to date,” said Mr. Kamal Abdullah of Sarawak Forestry, who told Gaia Discovery that more can be done to conserve the forest and promote species’ habitats, starting with educational walks and activities. 

Piasau - Beyond Conservation

Among those who called for the Piasau Camp to be conserved as a natural reserve rather than a commercial development was YB Datuk Lee Kim Shin, citing the need to preserve both built and natural heritage areas with more conservation activities within the reserve.

Awareness of the PNR among Miri residents is still not as high as desired, apparently. “With more environmental and eco-tourism events and conferences taking place within the reserve itself instead of the city centre, we hope that the Piasau Nature Reserve will become an icon among the urban parks in Miri and in Malaysia,” said YB Datuk Lee Kim Shin, Assistant Minister of Social Development & Assistant Minister of Communication, Sarawak. 

While this nature reserve in Miri has been accorded national recognition, and efforts to plant more trees are done on a regular basis, this is still not enough. Musa Musbah, Chairman of the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) Miri Chapter, is calling for more land to be converted for wildlife to flourish.

“Conserving the forest for iconic birds like the hornbill is one thing, but the other more pressing matter is to enlarge the boundary of the PNR to include the land surrounding the Miri River and in front of the beach,” revealed Musa to Gaia Discovery. This, he says, would increase the present acreage at 88.5 hectares (ha) by another 40 ha, which will boost wildlife survival and growth.

To compare its size to another prominent wildlife area - the Semenggoh Nature Reserve in Kuching at 653 ha - the PNR s rather small.

“I have been pushing for more land conversion for nature every year, and I keep getting nowhere. I am so frustrated,” he added. It is understood that the surrounding land areas referred to may in future be developed for commercial purposes. 

If this were to happen, it would make the PNR a very small green lung for Miri, and miles away from achieving the iconic status that Datuk Lee desires.

The tree planting event at Borneo Jazz Festival 2016 was organised by Shell, Sarawak Forestry and Sarawak Tourism Board.

City Parks: A sideways look at nature in the city

Being able to visit natural spaces and parks is something most developed city-dwellers expect. But what if we turned our cities into parks in their own right? Daniel Raven-Ellison thinks most cities have plenty to offer as they are. By Jeremy Torr. 

London, 29 October 2015- Having visited all of the UK’s national parks, photographer and naturalist Raven-Ellison says something is missing. An urban nature landscape. His suggestion is that instead of thinking that we have to travel to remote areas to enjoy nature, why not explore what nature has to offer in our cities? What if the planners made London a National Park City?

He bases his arguments on the UK, but his suggestion that most major cities contain a little bit of everything from meadows and hills to open spaces and wetlands applies to most of today's big cities. Raven-Ellison says most countries have specified inspirational and distinctive protected areas that all include every kind of major habitat apart from one – the landscape-scale urban habitat.


Open park spaces are tightly interwoven together to form a contiguous cover of urban greenery in Singapore. From anti-clockwise: Pasir Ris Park, East Coast Park, Hort Park, and Henderson Waves bridge linking Telok Blangah Hill Park and Mount Faber Park.He says the reality is that cities, our biggest urban habitats, can be more ecologically diverse and valuable than many parts of the surrounding countryside. They can also be equally good for outdoor adventures and, by their nature, be much more accessible and inclusive for all aspects of society. He notes that the Greater London sprawl (and possibly many other major cities) cover up to 10% of the entire land space of the country they are built in. Even more importantly, up to 80% of the population live in cities which means they are hotbeds of biodiversity by both resident and opportunistic flora and fauna.

London is a great example, he says. It is well known as a financial, cultural and technological centre, but it is also one of the UK's biodiversity hotspots too. As well as being home to millions of homo sapiens, London boasts 8.3 million trees (Singapore, despite being a fraction of London's size has some 2 million) and 13,000 species of wildlife. Just under 50% of London's surface is physically green and it has 142 local nature reserves, 37 Sites of Special Scientific Interest and two National Nature Reserves.

But generally speaking, a city cannot be designated as a national park. It is usually classified as an area ‘outstanding for outdoor recreation’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘open-country’. Many cities have plenty of spaces like this, says Raven-Ellison, that pass the first two criteria of these three tests, but are not open-country.

"For me, the purpose of national parks is more interesting than how they are classified," he says. He says that usually, the purpose is to conserve and enhance natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage, and to promote the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the national park by the public.

"But when looking to satisfy these requirement, National Park Authorities also have a duty to seek to foster the economic and social well-being of the communities they serve," he says. "This way of thinking about a landscape is extremely powerful - and one that many cities could benefit highly from."

Inspired by the city's landscape, there is a growing movement calling for London to be declared the world’s first National Park City. Supported by thousands of individuals, many organisations and politicians, the main driver is not that London should be thought about in the same way as England's national parks – but that planners should start using national park thinking in London itself.

This new kind of city-based national park would learn and take inspiration from existing national parks, but be distinctively different, says Raven-Ellison. Unlike rural national parks, a London National Park City would not have any formal powers prohibiting planning or development. Instead it would focus on helping residents and visitors to better understand and improve the environment and their enjoyment of it.

He cites the need to increase the number of children exploring, playing and learning outdoors as one of the greatest motivations for pushing for city national park developments. Indeed, one recent research paper from the UK revealed that as many as one in seven parents have not taken their child to play in a natural environment in the past year. Exact figures are not available for Singapore, but there is no doubt the figures would be high here too.

"We can act together to turn these figures around," says Raven-Ellison. "One of the aims of a National Park City would be to connect 100% of the resident children to nature. This would not only have positive effects on young people’s education, mental health and well-being, but no doubt increase how much they understand and value urban natural heritage, increasing the likelihood of them protecting and enjoying it not only on their doorstep, but in far more distant places too," he asserts.

Raven Ellison is convinced this approach would bring other benefits too. It would help to protect green space, improve the richness and connectivity of habitats, inspire new business activities, improve air quality, and foster a new shared identity for city dwellers.

"It is possible," he says. "All that is needed is for lots of people to join the movement by declaring their support."

Daniel Raven-Ellison is a ‘Guerrilla Geographer’based in London

For more info on City National Parks go to:

RWMF: Mangrove Tree Reforestation Conserves Biodiversity

In its 18th year, the Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) kicked off the high energy concert performances with slowmo tree planting, an acitivity that has been held for four years running.

MEM Alumni Seminar 2015 with Nature Society

NUS Alumni and NSS joint seminar explores how communities can help nurture nature

Singapore’s natural landscape has undergone an immense transformation over the last 50 years, along with the city state’s rapid social and economic development.  Singaporeans have gradually shown their realisation of the value of the country’s flora and fauna, especially in the past two decades.

Singapore treads carefully between development and nature, thanks to active involvement of conservation communitiesAs part of the celebration of this year's SG50 golden jubilee, alumni from NUS's Masters in Environmental Management (MEM) course, together with the Nature Society (Singapore), will hold an interactive program of free seminars and walks to share their reflections on how conservation has been fostered in our communities.

The four-week program, which starts on 16 May, is titled "Nurturing Nature with Community Involvement". It aims to highlight how Singapore's view of nature and community conservation has changed since 1965.

Speakers including Dr Shawn Lum, President, Nature Society (Singapore), Dr Liew Kai Khiun, Nanyang Technological University, Tony O'Dempsey, Nature Society (Singapore), and Mallika Naguran, Gaia Discovery.

Topics will cover current issues including including nature-friendly development, ecology in the community, conflict resolution, the role of social media, education, and heritage-sensitive conservation across Singapore's varied community groups.

The half-day seminar session, from 8.30 - 14.00 on 16 May, will be held at the Auditorium, Shaw Foundation Alumni House, NUS, 11 Kent Ridge Drive, S119244.

It will include a vegetarian lunch and a free book exchange for attendees, specialising in nature and conservation publications.

The seminar will be followed up by weekly Saturday-morning Guided Nature Walks, held at the Botanic Gardens (looking at heritage trees), the Central Catchment Reserve (exploring Singapore's biodiversity) and at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (investigating mangrove and coastal biodiversity). These will be held on May 23, 30 and June 6 respectively. Expert guides from the Nature Society (Singapore) will be on hand to expand on the topics previously covered in the seminars.

For more details, location maps and registration on the MEM Alumni Seminar 2015.

Bee habitats: Natural, industrial, even underground

Bees aren’t all alike. Tens of thousands of different bee species exist around the world, and they all like different habitats. Encouraging different species to settle in restored habitat is even more complex. By J.Green

Megachilid bees have been the subject of much research

Edinburgh, 17 March 2015- The UK currently has more than 260 bee species, with some 26 of those being social (that is, they live in swarms, nests or hives). There are also 25 native bumblebee species but sadly two have recently become extinct. While there are still many types of bees, research shows bee diversity has significantly decreased in more than 50% of the UK’s landscapes since 1980.

Recent research from the UK-based Centre for Ecology and Hydrology has confirmed that the situation for British bees is pretty dire. Some 75% of the UK is agricultural land. And because of that, researchers estimate around 97% of natural bee habitat - wildflower meadows, small woods, open heather moors – is gone. As a result, “bees have significantly declined over the 20th century,” says the report. That is an understatement.

But bee help is at hand. To combat these trends, the authorities have initiated a program that pays subsidies to landowners for the “intensification of landscape quality.” Farmers chose wildlife-friendly options to qualify for those subsidies, which can total GBP280 a year. One common outcome of this subsidy is natural strip of land left at the edge of existing farmland. There, a mix of agricultural plants and grasses that bees like are added. Bumblebees take to agricultural legumes, while sunflowers are also good for bees.

Strips of land at the edge of a field provide essential bee habitat

In one recent project, ecologists tested a few different options. In land where were there simply crops, there was no value for bees. In areas without pesticides, there was likewise a limited response. Where the “natural generation of plant communities” was allowed, there was also only a limited response. The key to making bees feel at home is creating sites that offer pollen and nectar, with a diverse seed mix. This, says the research, results in a “significant response” from bees.

Bees and Seeds

But a single seed mix, no matter how diverse, will “not have sustained benefits,” say researchers. There is also a seasonal component; some plants die off. So flowering plants that offer nectar need to be re-sown every 3-4 years, and a diverse plant mix ensured that includes perennials.

Former mining sites are a surprising potential bee habitat, and are found everywhere in the world. Given all the untapped land, there are lots of opportunities to restore them as habitat for bees. Karen Goodell, an ecology professor at Ohio State University has investigated mining sites as a potential new home for bees.

She says reclaimed mines “can aid bee conservation,” but they will not be as good as remnant or untouched habitat. It’s difficult to restore plant communities that existed in mining areas before. Forests can be re-created, but a full ecosystem is more difficult. Goodell says “floral diversity and abundance will positively affect bee recruitment,” so consequently bees will be less diverse in reclaimed mining sites than in remnant habitats.

Karen Goodell researches bee ecology at Ohio State UniversityIn a study of 24 sites at The Wilds, a leading conservation site in Ohio, Goodell netted bee species, counted floral resources, and assessed nest habitat. She looked at sites that were closer and further away from natural habitat, looking specifically at Megachilid bees, which are more solitary than honey bees and nest on or in the ground. Strikingly, she found that the abundance of floral resources wasn’t really important - but restoring nesting substrate was far more critical. The ‘nesting subtrate’ includes stem wood and bare soil but the use of additional artificial nest substitutes didn’t help the bees feel at home. “It’s important that habitats, whether they are restored or not, have ample hollow stem wood lying around, shrubs, dead wood, and bare ground, if you want to attract (Megachilid) bees,” she noted.

Ecosystem Restoration

Another bee expert, Neal Williams from the University of California, Davis, confirms the transformation of wild areas into agricultural areas is the primary reason for bee habitat loss. Near the Sacramento River in California, a group of farmers and other activists are restoring an 80-kilometer stretch along the river banks from Red Bluff to Chico. Williams’ is studying the community of pollinators in the restored fragments and comparing them to remnant riparian forests while looking for “persistent differences” that stand out between the two areas.

Williams says the sites were successfully restored - a mono-cultural walnut orchard landscape was turned back into a forest - but now there is no understory which meant the bees came back, but not to a thriving overall ecosystem composition.

But bees are essential for both ecosystem health, and for the honey industry too. With around 85% of the world’s flowering plants needing a bee or other pollinator in order to reproduce, these tiny insects are crucial to our survival.

So much so that in California, more than 3,500 truckloads of bees are trucked in every spring from other, less intensively-farmed parts of America to pollinate over 1 million acres of almond trees during their three-week spring bloom.

So it looks like although some dedicated activists are working hard to keep the bees happy with new homes, there is nothing like original, pristine habitat for a happy hive. Farmers in the UK are doing their best, thanks to the government subsidy, but simply describing empty land as a potential bee haven is not realistic. Bees need a complete ecosystem to thrive. The best way to ensure that – and a good supply of honey for us all – is to avoid turning pristine land into mines or wheat fields.

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