News broke out surrounding the final decision made by the government on 30 July 2021 to clear the eastern half of what’s known as ‘Dover Forest’ to help meet the strong demand for housing in mature estates within the area.
Dover Forest Faces Immenent Threat of Land Clearing
The forest, covering a span of 33 ha that lies within the Ulu Pandan area has become a major topic of debate involving various stakeholders after coming under scrutiny in recent weeks. The area has since been zoned for future residential development that is set to offer 17,000 Build-to-Order flats later this year.
In early January, the conservation committee of the Nature Society of Singapore proposed for the forest to be redesignated into a public nature park due to extensive biodiversity data discovered in the forest. It is noted that there are no less than 120 plant species and 158 animals including critically endangered ones that reside in the forest.
Christopher De Souza, MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC’s Ulu Pandan ward, has even shown support by filing for an adjournment motion in Parliament in a bid to preserve Dover Forest which is situated in his constituency. Additionally, Government Parliamentary Committee for Sustainability and the Environment chairman Louis Ng who also founded the animal welfare group – Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) recalled from previous instances on efforts made to save the animals by relocating them from redeveloped areas to the nature reserves cautioned: “You can only do that so many times, pushing all the animals into one area. And in this case, it would be quite a far push to the next forest.”
These cases are amongst many other hot topics that have emerged surrounding the issue of nature conservation. For example, the debate about the future 50km Cross Island MRT Line and whether it should go under or around the Central Catchment Nature Reserve lasted several years, ending with the Government’s decision that the MRT line would take a 2km route running 70m under the nature reserve.
Events Leading Up
On Thursday, 28 January 2021, Minister for National Development Desmond Lee made a visit to the forest with members of the local nature community and has pledged to proceed with care and not “rush into a decision” on the development of Dover Forest, following strong calls by nature groups to preserve the site.
The site was earmarked for “Residential Development” (Subject to Detailed Planning) in the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) master plan.
Dec 20: a 155-page report following an Environmental Baseline Study (EBS) of Dover Forest that was carried out over a span of two months from late January to March 2017, plus one additional day in October 2017 was published by the Housing and Development Board (HDB). In November 2020, the findings of the Dover Forest EBS became the main pillar of reference for authorities which ultimately led to their final decision on 30 July 2021 to clear the eastern half of the forest for public housing. It had welcomed public feedback pertaining to the findings for a period.
Dec 21: National Development Minister Desmond Lee announces the news that Build-To-Order flats will be launched in the Ulu Pandan estate.
Jan 15: Nature advocate group, Nature Society Singapore (NSS) publishes a 13-page proposal to HDB, proposing instead for the forest to be designated a “public-cum-nature park”.
Jan 16: Closure of public feedback period.
Jan 28: Mr Lee announces that all feedback on the future of Dover Forest will be closely studied.
Feb 1: Mr Lee announces a four-week extension to the public feedback period, till March 1. Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Christopher de Souza proposes to Parliament alternative plots of land around the Ghim Moh neighborhood for housing development.
July 30: HDB says development plans for the 33ha site will balance nature conservation and housing needs, with a sizeable portion of Dover Forest’s western half to be safeguarded as a nature park, and the eastern half largely used for residential developments. The plans account for findings from the EBS and about 1,800 responses received during the two feedback periods.
History of Dover Forest
Shortcomings of the said survey
As pointed out by Nature Activist, Chua Tin Tat in his Facebook post on some of the inadequacies of the EBS Survey:
- Insufficient period of time for survey. 12 surveys conducted over a period of two months plus one day is not enough to provide a complete view of the biodiversity of Dover Forest.
- The survey method was to walk along planned track routes and catalogue the plants and animals found along those paths which potentially misses out on all the other species that exist far from the routes and deeper in the forests.
- Failure to follow up on the discovery of a nationally critically endangered species, the Ficus virens. There exists at least two more of such mature trees within the site that was not documented.
- The catalogue of 27 ‘large trees of significance’ within Dover Forest containsa tree that was wrongly identified as Ficus microcarpa when it is actually a Ficus benjamina. This mistake made by EBS surveyors is one instance which signals that other mistakes could be made in the 155-page report.
- Insects were largely unaccounted for in the survey and those that were mostly are only the most readily observable groups – butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies.
- Little or no analytical efforts were made on the vertical structures of the vegetation where individual trees can be ecosystems themselves for epiphytes, parasitic plants, fungi and animals that they support, the quality and structure of the soil and the sub-soil species present, and to catalogue the fungi of the forest.
- Report was missing endangered animals such as the straw-headed bulbul and the Malayan box turtle that reside in the forest. Both of which have since been found by visitors trekking.
What does it mean for Dover Forest?
According to MP Louis Ng, “People have a desire for these areas to be protected and of course, people have a desire for housing as well … the Government’s role is to find the balance, it’s not a matter of whether we want to or not.” He hopes the decision is made to retain Dover Forest as it is because once it is developed, it will be gone forever.
The final verdict for the development plan of Dover Forest has been revised. Instead of developing the entire forest into housing estates, the plan will see just the eastern half of the forest being developed in 2022 while the western half, which is richer in biodiversity will be set aside for now. According to the HDB, it will however be relooked into for development over the next decade.
With that said, however, we have definitely observed the positive trend of citizen advocacy as well as the government’s willingness to include and listen to the voices of those who wishes to be heard, allowing for all to have a part to play in the decision making processes of the country.