Tuesday, September 23, 2014

What is ailing our forest??

The great "restoration" work has finally been executed for Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, starting 15th Sep 2014, and for the next 2 years, in various stages, much repair and restoration to the forest will be carried out.

But then what are the reasons that cause this drastic 2 years closure?  Primarily, and in my own reasoning based on these evidences that I have gathered.  Public mis-use and mis-understanding of the reserve!!!
Case in point, as reported in the news, the newly discovered Keppel Reservoir is being visited by the curious local tourist, who left behind their disgusting litters as evidence of their presence. So instead of a newly discovered reservoir, it is now another dumping ground!

Misunderstanding #01 - I can use my old shoes to walk
This has an indirect correlation to the attitude one adopts when trekking in the reserve.
Imagine, that the footwear is one of the most important apparel, and is already treated lightly; then the same attitude is also shown in the nonchalant ("bo chap") behaviour when in the forest.

Many people prefer to use an old pair of  "not been used for a long time" sneakers, only to realise that they would lose their soles!  They have no desire that their good pair of sneakers to get dirty or scuff, and so they ventured into the forest with an old pair of "seldom see daylight" sneakers.

From experience, shoes must be worn regularly for it to last.  The less it is being worn, the faster it will deteriorate.

From the best brand to the unknown, I have seen them all.
 And to the following person who wore such a shoe, you must have been very misinformed!!

Misunderstanding #02 - Paper is from plant, therefore I can litter
Beside lost soles, tissue papers make up much of the litters seen in the reserve.
A quick understanding of how paper is made, foremost yes you are right, paper is made from the pulp of the plants.  But original pulp is never WHITE, and therefore one has to understand that most of these litters have undergone chemical treatment, be it bleaching or "fragrance added", they are no longer natural!

So please don't litter the forest.  The residue chemical will leach into the soil!

Misunderstanding #03 - Litters can mysterious disappear into the Eco-System
From where I have seen the litters, I can guess that the litter-bug understood that they are not supposed to litter.  Why?  Because the discarded litters were usually flung far away from the main track, hoping that the proverbial saying "Out of Sight, Out of Mind" will apply.
Unfortunately, it is not the case.  Certain litters are more hardy than the forest and us.  Especially plastic and aluminium lined foil.  They can really last.  For certain type of litter, especially those that once used to wrap food, this can be eaten by the forest animals enticed by the food smell, and can lead to their demise!

Khong Guan Biscuit Hermetic Seal Wrapper, great for sealing in the freshness but take time to degrade. Hunger does not dismiss us from civilized behaviour
The ubiquitous PET bottle with refreshing content, but please not in the forest!!!
"Out of Sight, Out of Mind" - Unfortunately, the eco system doesn't work that way!

Misunderstanding #04 - "Smiley" Patch can keep away bugs!
Not only Smiley but any other patch.
Most often than not, the average time this patch stays on the clothing is less than 15 minutes!
Foremost, the sticky portion is not designed with the stickiest goo for fear that it will ruin your clothing. Therefore, slight brush against any object will dislodge them.  Again contributing to the non biodegradable litters found in the forest.  Such patch is ideal for picnicking in the park.

However, the adverse effect that such repellent bring is the unnatural odour it brings to the reserve.  Just like dogs and pets are banned in the reserve, where these domesticated animals can bring undesirable sense into the reserve, likewise they should not be allowed to be used in the reserve.

The best insect repellent is to wear long pants and long sleeve shirt, and your perspiration covering those exposed areas.
Work out a sweat, it is good for your heart.  :-)

Misunderstanding #05 - Toilet Paper makes good Trail Marker
Many organisation or individuals have organised walk-about in the reserve.  To ensure that their parties members will not somehow get lost in the forest.  They will put up trail marker, the worse culprits are organisations that choose to legally seek permission to place the markers, but conveniently forget to remove them!  (I have written to one such organisation, and still I have to clear their mess for them!)

Yellow Ribbon Trail Marker
Along ZhengHua Park - I wrote to the organiser to clear them.
And usually these markers take the form of well meaning signage, with bold prints and plastic protective coverings.  While others will simply use toilet paper, with the concept that paper is biodegradable (Misunderstanding #01).

Taken at ZhengHua Park - i have the impression that they are either testing a route or GPS equipment.  Still they forget to retrieve their signage!
Misunderstanding #06 - Engraving their love ensures their love can last
This is a fallacy!
Love between 2 individuals require understanding, having a "give & take" attitude", being responsible, being committed etc; therefore engraving your names and declaring your love for all to see, only hurt the tree.  If it recovers, well and good, but they still bear evidence of your inconsideration!

This tree can be seen when you walk up the 184 steps of Jungle Fall Path
And there are some who are bent in hurting the tree with their arrogant pride!  Not too sure whether it is the vandal's name that has been carved "Song Kai Yi", but I read it as idiot!

Hopefully the algae will grow quickly and cover this obsenity!
Misunderstanding #07 - Trees are very robust - they can recover quickly from harm!
Unfortunately that is not very true, many a tree in this forest have fallen because of abuse.  The soil that is their foundation has been badly eroded, and worse their trunks have been used as support down a difficult slope.
A responsible trekkers will avoid holding onto trunks of trees that are skinny and with exposed roots, any further mishandling will end up like this poor tree.  And I doubt very much it can recover!
Similarly, responsible trekkers will not step on exposed roots nor use their trekking poles to poke at roots.

All these actions can cause irreparable harm to the trees and plants.

This fallen tree with shred of roots still anchoring it to its original upright position!  Picture taken at Dairy Farm Path

Roots exposed because of erosion, and already in prearious situation, some irresponsible trekkers still step on them.

So what can be done, now that the forest will be resting for the next 2 years?
These are my suggestions, drastic in some of the ideas.

Suggestion #01 - NParks should hire "Fire in the Belly" Candidates for Reserve Rangers

"Fire in the Belly" - people who love nature, regardless of their qualification, but simply show their love and concern for the diminishing natural areas that we still have.
  • When hiring, the candidates must hike 5 km to the interview point, preferably up on some hilly ridge, through thick vegetation, and some swamp, with 15% body weight backpack for further incentive
  • Successful candidate will then be required to spend 7 days on our remote Ubin island, to live off the the land
  • Resume for application must include some write-out with photos to show why they have that "fire in their belly"
This is to segregate those who "Study Science because they have no choice" from those that simply have a penchant for nature.

Suggestion #02 - Successful Candidate for Reserve Rangers to clock Mileage in the field
Actually this is an unnecessary step!
Once the "fire in the belly" candidate has been hired, you will hardly see them in the office.

Since they are out in the fields, they will automatically be seen
  • educating and guiding visitors in the reserves
  • discouraging bad practices especially by pointing to litters; broken branches; and illegal new trail!
  • conducting field trip especially to areas where researchers are conducting certain experiment (eg. collecting of leaf fall; insects; or even birds)
These are evidences of that "Fire in the Belly" which is in them.

Suggestion #03 - Control "Hike through the Reserve" Events
As evidence by the lack of enthusiasm to clear their trail markers after the events.  All organisation that seek permission must submit map where these markers are placed.
A certain amount (maybe S$50) per marker must be deposited, this marker of course must bear evidence of serial number as well as authorised stamps.  This deposit can only be returned upon evidence of collection of these markers!
(Suggested already, probably in one of the electronic black hole letter box!)

Suggestion #04 - All Trekkers or Hikers to sign Letter of Undertaking to preserve the Forest
Not legal binding but more of a moral obligation.
A form of education, that they should abide by the rules as stated for a reserve  A type of identification can then be given to individual who sign those undertaking.

Ensure that all school groups come a visiting to make the children sign and that they are aware.
In fact, some can be in the form of badges, like those worn by the Scouts and Guides!

Suggestion #05 - All Organised Guiding Event must have a proper concluding message from NParks Reserve Rangers
The objective for such event is education, and wrong education can do more harm than good.

Sadly I have overheard interesting documentary about our fauna and flora.
For example:
  • Chameleon for the Changeable Lizard
  • Komodo Dragon for Monitor Lizard
  • White Flower is dull therefore they must have strong scent to attract insects
Thus proper education is necessary, otherwise why bother with the excursion!  Might as well visit the mall.

(Also suggested, probably in one of the electronic black hole letter box together with other suggestions!)

Suggestion #06 - Forget about making Botanic Gardens a UNESCO Site!!!
This is going to be very controversial!
If the attempt to make the Botanic Gardens a UNESCO Site, is going to divert resources and funds from BTNR and other reserves, then FORGET it!!

The reserves offer more RAW and NATURAL discoveries vs the Botanic Gardens.  In fact, the reserves should be make into UNESCO sites!

If anyone has noticed, I have used "Reserve Ranger" and not "Park Ranger". For me, there is a great distinction between a Park and Reserve.  A Reserve should observe this simple rule - "as though it is still a forest", which means that
  • if a tree fell, then there is where it should lie, and not cut into smaller chunks
  • however if it fell on a track, then I personally would prefer that some means be make to facilitate movement, and not move the obstacle if possible
  • no bin for trash - everyone should bring home their own trash
  • necessity for adhoc closure (especially when heavy rain soften the track, and speed up erosion when trample upon)
In another words, everyone play a part to preserve our forest.