NParks calls for impact study of new nature park

SINGAPORE - It is being built to bring more Singaporeans closer to nature.

But how will nature cope as people come closer to it?

This is the question the National Parks Board (NParks) wants answered about the planned Chestnut Nature Park, to be built next to the species-rich Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

When completed next year, the park will have biking and hiking trails, a viewing tower, meeting pavilion and carpark.

It is being built to bring Singaporeans closer to nature, the Government had said in 2012.

In an uncommon step, NParks called a tender recently for a biodiversity impact assessment (BIA). The study will assess how streams, flora and fauna may be affected by the construction and use of the 80ha forested site, slightly larger than the Botanic Gardens.

It lies on the western fringes of the reserve, across the Bukit Timah Expressway from Bukit Panjang. The Straits Times understands that assessments of this kind are not mandatory for all new parks, but may be done if sites have rich biodiversity.

In previous years, NParks' assessments were conducted for the Sungei Buloh Masterplan, the Chek Jawa Boardwalk on Pulau Ubin that opened in 2007 and a wildlife bridge completed last year to link the Bukit Timah and Central Catchment nature reserves.

The Chestnut park site consists mostly of secondary forest.

The study would, for instance, assess how wildlife might be affected by earthworks, tree removal and construction noise. Or, after the park is completed, by humans and park activities.

It would also recommend measures to offset any impact.

Nature reserves make up about 4.4 per cent of land here.

The Central Catchment Nature Reserve is home to hundreds of animal species such as the critically endangered banded leaf monkey and some of Singapore's remaining patches of primary rainforest.

Some of these species might also frequent the proposed park site, noted Nature Society (Singapore) president Shawn Lum.

The BIA should take note of how species-rich primary rainforest near the Chestnut Avenue water works might be affected, he said.

But he added that the bigger worry is whether park visitors will behave responsibly, such as by sticking to designated trails and not forging illegal ones into the reserve.

NParks, he suggested, could consider capping visitor numbers and stepping up ranger patrols.

"The worst-case scenario is that this leads to more incursion into the reserve," he said. "You want to open up areas, but you have to make sure the public awareness is there. "If not, that's where we'll run into trouble."

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