March for MacRitchie: A month of discovery and public participation to conserve MacRitchie Forest

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NUS Toddycats! conducting a guided forest walk. Photo by Marcus Ng.

 

 

 

It is the last day of March and this wraps up March for MacRitchie, a month-long series of events coordinated by the Love Our MacRitchie Forest movement. March for MacRitchie was conceived to raise awareness about the conservation issues surrounding the proposed Cross Island MRT Line (CRL) through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR).

On 5 February 2016, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) gazetted the Environmental Impact Assessment (Phase 1) report for the CRL Site Investigation works. The report details the findings of the assessment for both CRL alignment options – Option 1 traverses the CCNR MacRitchie area and Option 2 skirts around the south of CCNR. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) found that the potential impacts on surface water and groundwater, ambient noise, and ecology and biodiversity are “moderate to major” for Option 1 even with strict implementation of mitigation measures.

The Love Our MacRitchie Forest movement supports the alignment of the CRL along Option 2. We hope that the authorities will recognize the importance of the forest and how much support there is for the protection of the Nature Reserve. The CRL Site Investigation works within the CCNR should not proceed.

Over the past month, March for MacRitchie brought together various green groups to speak up for the forest. It was a call to action for members of the public to voice their concerns about the potential impacts of CRL-related works within the CCNR. Eight walks and two public awareness booths were conducted by namely the NUS Toddycats!, BES Drongos, Herpetological Society of Singapore, Jane Goodall Institute (Singapore) and Cicada Tree Eco-Place.

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March for MacRitchie calendar of events

These events showcased the amazing biodiversity of MacRitchie Forest and we found that many people cared for the forest and were inspired to lend their voices to help protect it. It was the first time discovering the wonders of the rainforest for many walk participants, right at the heart of Singapore. Here are some of the highlights!

Petai Trail with BES Drongos

The BES Drongos had planned to conduct two walks for March for MacRitchie but doubled the number of walks due to the great demand. All the walks were fully subscribed!  They saw some amazing creatures including the uncommon stork-billed kingfisher (Pelargopsis capensis) and the forest-dependent slender squirrel (Sundasciurus tenuis). Mediacorp’s Channel 8 followed the BES Drongos on one of their walks to find out why volunteers are organizing these walks and how participants felt about the CRL-MacRitchie issue. Indeed, as one of the guides said in the interview, “We hope that through our walks, we can share our knowledge with the public and help them make an informed decision about the issue.” Watch the full episode of Frontline here – http://video.toggle.sg/en/series/frontline-2015/ep43/378740

Venus Loop with NUS Toddycats!

The NUS Toddycats! conducted two walks which yielded many exciting encounters with wildlife. They came across the rare Blue-rumped Parrot (Psittinus cyanurus) feasting on starfruits as well as a Plantain Squirrel (Callosciurus notatus) facing off with a tree-dwelling snake, the Red-tailed Racer (Gonyosoma oxycephalum)! There were also glow-in-the dark mushrooms and Malayan colugos (Galeopterus variegatus). Many people do not realize that this lush rainforest that we have in the middle of our city is not just ‘a bunch of trees’. It is in fact home to an amazing diversity of wildlife that are both fascinating and vulnerable, and it is definitely worth conserving.

Monkey Walk with Jane Goodall Institute (Singapore)

Jane Goodall Institute (Singapore) conducts regular Monkey Walks to educate people about Long-tailed Macaques (Macaca fascicularis) to help combat their bad reputation as pesky animals. During their Monkey Walk this month, JGIS also helped to raise awareness about the CRL-MacRitchie issue. They encountered a troop of playful macaques during their walk, much to the delight of the participants! Aside from the macaques, they also saw a Malayan colugo just by the boardwalk! Yahoo News was also present to document the walk. You can watch it here – https://sg.news.yahoo.com/video/nature-groups-double-macritchie-walks-002209120.html

Herp Walk with Herpetological Society of Singapore (HSS)

The HSS conducts regular walks in nature areas around Singapore to shed the impression of reptiles and amphibians (aka herptiles) as scary cold-blooded creatures. They are in fact beautiful animals that are intriguing and important to our forests. For March for MacRitchie, HSS conducted their walk at MacRitchie TreeTop Walk. Their guides are experts at spotting herptiles! The lucky participants were treated to a galore of herptile sightings including the Green-crested Lizard (Bronchocela cristatella), the endangered Spiny Hill Terrapin (Heosemys spinosa) and the rarely-seen Yellow-striped Tree Skink (Lipinia vittigera). Sadly, they also came across a dead snake, the Kopstein’s Bronzeback (Dendrelaphis kopsteini), which looked like it had been killed by a human. Read their account of the walk here – https://herpsocsg.wordpress.com/2016/03/21/herp-walk-march-for-macritchie/

Conservation booths

On 12 Mar 2016, the NUS Toddycats! organized a conservation booth at My Tree House Green Library for Kids @ Central Public Library. Armed with real specimens from the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, the volunteers brought MacRitchie Forest to the library visitors. With the support of other groups, the event also featured fun activities for kids such as a storytelling session, a colouring workshop by Cicada Tree Eco-Place as well as an origami workshop and skit performance by Crescent Girls’ School. David Tan of NUS Toddycats! also gave a talk titled “Singapore got Wildlife, Meh” during the event. It was an enriching day for the visitors with newfound knowledge of our forest biodiversity, especially for the young ones. Seeding an interest in nature among youths is important. Making sure our Nature Reserves remain unspoiled for future generations is even more so! Read an account of the event here – https://lovemacritchie.wordpress.com/2016/03/15/lomf-conservation-booth-at-my-tree-housenlb-12-mar-2016/

The BES Drongos also held a conservation booth on 15 Mar 2016 featuring specimens from the museum at the NUS College of Alice and Peter Tan to showcase our forest biodiversity to the undergraduates.

Talks

The month of March was also abuzz with a number of public talks and discussions about the CRL-MacRitchie issue. Tony O’Dempsey of Nature Society (Singapore) gave a talk “Conservation Engagement in Singapore and the Cross Island Line” at National University of Singapore on 1 Mar 2016, mainly to educate undergraduates about the engagement process between nature groups and the government. The talk was open to public and saw more than 200 attendees.

The topic was also hot among Singaporeans living abroad. In the UK, students from University College London organized a talk “Conservation vs Convenience: Let’s talk about the Cross Island Line” by Faizah Jamal, former Nominated Member of Parliament, on 9 Mar 2016. Here is a Storify account of the talk.

Voices of the people

More than 11,000 people have signed the letter to LTA in show of their support for the alternative CRL route that skirts the CCNR.

People from all walks of life also wrote on postcards designed by the BES Drongos to implore the authorities to reconsider proceeding with CRL-related works within the CCNR. The public support behind this cause is strong. So is the scientific data concerning the potential impacts of the works. One thing that stood out from the letters was the willingness of people to take longer train rides to conserve CCNR as well as the strong call for the protection of the Nature Reserves for the sake of the future generations. We hope that the authorities can hear the voices of the people and make the correct the decision for the country. Here are some keywords and quotes from the writings.

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“The important thing is that there is in fact an alternative MRT route that poses less harm to our biodiversity. Please do not send the wrong message to our future generations.”

“I hope that Singaporeans will be able to appreciate local biodiversity several decades from now.”

“As a country that is a role model for the rest of the world in many ways, perhaps it is time to show our commitment to environmental conservation.”

“Today, I learnt a lot about nature, forests, animals (bats are cute!) that I feel should be taken care of!”

“Conserving what we are left with is our duty and not a choice. Teach our younger generations to be responsible, show the society that we are not selfish.”

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The #MyMacRitchie campaign on Facebook and Instagram was also launched in March as a platform for people from all walks of life to share why they love MacRitchie. #MyMacRitchie sought to get people who love MacRitchie Forest to share photos of their moments in MacRitchie Forest and why they feel the CRL should not go under CCNR. Read some of these beautiful posts here – https://lovemacritchie.wordpress.com/2016/03/28/2627

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Banner for #MyMacRitchie. By BES Drongos.

Media coverage

March for MacRitchie was featured in the media such as The Straits Times and Reuters. Here are some of the related articles.

A heartfelt new song inspired by the CRL-MacRitchie controversy was also released on 15 Mar 2016. “The Line” is written and performed by The Pangolins. Read the full article here – https://lovemacritchie.wordpress.com/2016/03/15/the-line/

Please leave MacRitchie Forest untouched!

March for MacRitchie managed to bring attention to the CRL-MacRitchie issue and we can see that there is wide public support for the CCNR to be conserved. There are many reasons why they think this way – be it for the animals, plants, ecosystem services, fond memories or for the benefit of future generations. With the site investigation works slated to begin very soon, we hope that the government can reconsider the potential consequences it can have on the environment and the people who care for the forest.

So here is a shout-out to the relevant authorities to avoid proceeding with CRL-related works in MacRitchie Forest. We urge the government to uphold the sanctity of the nature reserve by keeping it untouched by urban developments.

Let’s keep marching for MacRitchie

Love MacRitchie and friends will continue our efforts to raise awareness about the biodiversity in our forest reserves. Guided walks by various groups are still ongoing! Public/school talks and conservation booths can also be arranged (based on availability). Just drop us a Facebook message with your request.

Last of all, no one’s voice is too small or too weak to protect MacRitchie Forest. We had heard many people say “So what if I speak up? It will just go unheard.” That is not true! Every show of support counts and the forest needs you to speak up for it. You can help by writing to the relevant authorities to voice your concerns. You can also share the Love Our MacRitchie Forest Facebook page with your friends and family. You can tell them why you think the CRL going under our nature reserve is not a good idea.

March for MacRitchie may be over but we can’t stop here. Let’s keep marching for MacRitchie and convince the government to build the CRL around our nature reserve, not under it.

 

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