CONSTRUCTION work in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve will affect the forest but will have long-term benefits for the ecosystem, say experts.
They were reacting to a National Parks Board (NParks) announcement on Monday that repair works would be carried out from Sept 15 onwards, and that public access would be limited for the next two years or so.
The works include piling to stabilise weakened slopes and upgrading of amenities such as the exhibition hall. Elevated walkways will also be built to replace damaged portions of the existing trail.
Mr Joseph Koh, chairman of the Nature Reserves Scientific Advisory Committee, said the works will "not necessarily" worsen the damage in the ecologically sensitive area, provided they are "done right".
Pointing to plans to install 1.3km of elevated walkways, he said at the NParks event on Monday: "Superficially, this sounds intrusive. But from the scientific point of view, boardwalks are useful to protect forest litter."
Noting that the walkways allow small organisms to live underneath, he said: "By building more boardwalks, we actually safeguard the soil, the forest litter and plants and animals that live there."
Mr Chan Ewe Jin, a council member of The Institution of Engineers, Singapore, said the dust and noise from construction could be minimised by measures such as using manual labour instead of heavy vehicles.
Other experts such as Dr Shawn Lum, head of the Nature Society (Singapore), say the upcoming repairs will be "beneficial for the long-term health" of the forest ecosystem.
Measures such as slope and trail restoration, which decreases erosion, and the protection of tree roots using boardwalks, he said, will help trees survive and regenerate. "This in turn will provide a more stable environment for the diverse animal life."
Strix Wildlife Consultancy director Subaraj Rajathurai said the while the works might pose an inconvenience to wildlife, it was only temporary.
The 51-year-old, who has explored Bukit Timah for more than 33 years, said: "Over the years, the reserve has suffered from the impact of the construction of the Bukit Timah Expressway, the increase in human traffic and developments in the area - parts of the forest have been eroded.
"The works will help repair some of the damage and minimise future impact."
The number of visitors to the 163ha reserve has increased from 80,000 in 1992, when it opened, to 400,000 last year.
Others also noted that NParks is talking to external consultants to see how to limit the adverse effects of the works on the reserve.
Mr Koh said: "In our discussions with NParks, it became very obvious to us that they were acutely aware of not just what should be done, but how it will be done."
For instance, piling works to stabilise the slopes will be done only on tarmac roads, and not on nature trails, to prevent trees from being uprooted.
A lot of thought was put into the piling project, which will be done in a way to avoid damage to the forest, said NSS council member Tony O'Dempsey.
"If stabilisation work is not done, slope failures could result in loss of valuable forest."
NParks said it would carry out the works manually as much as possible. If machines are needed, only small ones will be used.
The Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is one of four reserves here. It has the largest patch of primary rainforest and is popular among nature enthusiasts.
An orchid species thought to be extinct in Singapore was found here after more than 80 years, according to online journal Nature In Singapore.
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