Use of forest trail: It's bikers against nature lovers

Use of forest trail: It's bikers against nature lovers
The popular Butterfly trail was closed in March. Human activity has caused tree roots to be exposed, and leaf litter and topsoil layers to be eroded. In some cases, as seen in this photograph, more than one trail has been created.

Cycling enthusiasts have started a petition for a trail in a nature reserve to be reopened for mountain biking, but nature lovers oppose the move.

The trail in question is the Butterfly trail in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, which was closed by the National Parks Board (NParks) in March, as parts of it fall within the construction site of the upcoming Chestnut Nature Park.

Mountain bikers have lamented the loss of this trail, famous for its terrain of interlocking tree roots and views of Upper Peirce Reservoir.

Yesterday, the Mountain Bike Association Singapore started a petition to the Government to reopen the site. Its president, Mr Calvin Chin, said that the 1,000-strong association hopes to get 5,000 signatures and will write to the authorities "within the next couple of weeks".

But environmentalists hope the trail stays closed to all human activities, including mountain biking, hiking and running, as these have damaged the century-old nature area off Chestnut Avenue.

On a site visit with NParks and the Nature Society (Singapore), or NSS, last Friday, The Straits Times saw that the roots of trees along the man-made trail were exposed, and the nutrient-rich leaf litter and topsoil layers were eroded.

"These issues result in the destruction of seedlings, as well as the loss of mature vegetation immediately adjacent to the trails," said Mr Tony O'Dempsey, chairman of the NSS' plant group, in a forum letter to The Straits Times on May 21.

But Mr Chin said bikers who use the trail are environmentally conscious. "We tell our members not to litter, and we do not veer off the tracks," he said, adding that a member paid about $500 last year for restoration works on the trail.

Cyclists can now go mountain biking at only four other areas - Bukit Timah, Mandai, Kent Ridge and Pulau Ubin.

Until recently, mountain biking was not allowed at the Butterfly trail, with riders risking fines from NParks. In 2012, the mountain bike association lobbied for the trail to be opened for recreational use and sent the parks board a study on the use of the Butterfly trail for mountain biking. NParks decided to allow cyclists to use the 3.2km trail until the building of new biking trails at the new Chestnut Nature Park began early this year.

Asked to comment on the report sent by the association, NParks told The Straits Times that the paper might have touched briefly on the environmental impact on the forest trails, but it cannot be considered an environmental impact assessment. Such an assessment is considered more rigorous.

It noted that the paper "did not make a comprehensive assessment of the current biodiversity found there nor a thorough assessment of the impact on the area should mountain biking be allowed to continue".

Studies done by NParks and NSS between 2013 and this year found a number of rare and endangered flora and fauna in the Butterfly trail site, including the Malayan porcupine and Hopea and Shorea trees. This was contrary to the association's study, which found no endangered species there.

Said NParks: "We are considering the possibility of closing the trail permanently. However, no decision has been taken yet and we will make another assessment of the area in 2016 before deciding."

The Straits Times understands that the mountain bike association and the NSS are meeting to exchange views tomorrow.

Said Mr O'Dempsey: "We are not picking on the mountain biking community. Our opposition to the use of the Butterfly trail is consistent with our overall policy on the conservation of native habitats in the nature reserve - areas for the conservation of native flora and fauna. This applies to mountain bikers, hikers, runners and, especially, ourselves."

This article was first published on June 1, 2015.
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