Letter by MR WONG YEW KWAN
First commissioner of Parks and Recreation (1974 to 1982)
26 Feb 2016
Over the past couple of weeks, because of the worry of many people that the proposed cross-island MRT line might be built under the MacRitchie jungles, and might therefore cause damage to the forests therein, much has been featured in the local media concerning saving the forests in the MacRitchie Central Catchment Nature Reserve. Several articles have mentioned that the Reserve is “home to at least 413 species of plants, 218 species of birds, 30 mammals and 24 freshwater fish species”. But none of these articles has mentioned the source of the information. I do not know about birds, animals and fish species found in the Reserve, but as one who was commissioned by Nparks in 1992 to carry out a quantitative survey of the tree populations of the whole Central Nature Reserve, I have found at least 499 species of trees. The study sampled the trees with some 62 sample plots, each with an area of 0.2 ha. Within each sample plot, all trees with girths equal to, or larger than, 30 cm were measured for girths at 1.3 m from the ground. The sample netted in some 7,462 trees belonging to the 499 species.
One has to note that these were big and small trees with girths bigger than 30 cm. If smaller trees are considered, I am sure the Reserve will have many more species. Also there must also be many species of shrubs and other plants inside the forests. So to say that the Reserve has only 413 species of plants is a great under estimate.
Another misconception is that some of us believe that the Reserve is primary lowland forest. This is not true. Based on the quantitative survey referred to here, one can say that the Reserve is covered largely with secondary forests. Only patches of primary forests, as indicated by the species, occur here and there. Based on the survey, the total area of such primary forests amounted to only 280 ha.
Results of the survey were published in the Gardens’ Bulletin, scientific journal of the Botanic Gardens. The scientific paper entitled, “The tree communities of the Central Catchment Reserve, Singapore”, was printed in 1994, Vol. 46 (Part 2) of the journal.
As a plant ecologist, I am of the view, shared by many people, that the proposed MRT line should be built to go round the Nature Reserve rather than into it.