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Conservation Issues
In the mid-80s, the Kranji Bund Marshes became a popular birdwatching area and the nesting site of the Grey Heron was discovered in the surviving mangrove remnants. In 1985, the MNS (Singapore Branch) submitted an outline proposal for a new nature reserve in the marshes (Briffett, 1985), but this was rejected by the relevant authority (Scott, 1989). In 1989, the Kranji Reservoir marshes, together with five other Singapore wetland sites, were included in the IUCN's A Directory of Asian Wetlands. The Directory emphasizes that the freshwater marsh is "a fairly rare type of habitat in Singapore and Peninsular Malaysia" (Scott, 1989). The only other extensive example of this habitat in Singapore and also included in the Directory is the Poyan Marshes in the military zone of the Western Catchment Area, which is little known in terms of biodiversity.

In 1990, when the plan for the SIMCOM transmission station to be sited at the Grey heronry area became known, a substantive conservation proposal was submitted by MNS to the relevant authorities (Ho, 1990). The proposal to leave the heronry intact was rejected on the grounds that an alternative site was lacking and that it would be too costly. From this incident, a most interesting development emerged - The Straits Times was bombarded with an unprecedented total of 43 pro-conservation letters, leading the Forum Editor to comment thus: "The fact that so many letters were received on an environmental issue, compared to, some would say, a far more important issue like the Elected Presidency (eight letters) speaks volumes of the prevailing priorities of our citizens, or at least those who write to this newspaper... this group of Singaporeans was obviously moved by their concern for a dwindling species to take a stand ... " (Yeong, 1990).

After this unfortunate incident, the MNS (Singapore Branch)s conservation Master Plan was published, in which the Kranji Bund Marshes, rated a five-star site, was recommended with 27 others for conservation (Briffett, 1990). Then, in 1993, the Kranji marshes, with 18 other sites, was put into The Singapore Green Plan (SGP) as a "nature conservation area". Although the SGP marked a big step forward for nature conservation in Singapore, what is most worrying is that, apart from the Nature Reserves and other sites under the National Parks Act (1996), the area size and boundary of these sites are not delineated in both the completed Development Guide Plans (DGP) and the 1998 URA Master Plan - despite the promise that it will be done over "the next five years" after 1993. This does not bode well for the long-term survival of the marshes (as well as the other sites with no boundary delineation).

When the National Service Recreation and Country Club (NSRCC) first announced its intention of developing a second golf course in the Kranji Reservoir area in 1999, the Nature Society (NSS) expressed its concern publicly that the project should not be located at the existing "nature area" with justification given (The Straits Times, 16 February). NSS's concern was also emphasised in subsequent informal meetings with NSRCC, with a request for NSS's involvement in the project planning process. NSS submitted a feedback report to NSRCC in March 2002, after conducting a rapid survey of the birdlife in the project area (see map).

NSS is not averse to the construction of the golf course per se. It was looking for a win-win solution, where national servicemen can have an extra golf course while nature lovers as well as countryside enthusiasts can still continue to enjoy a rare, interesting and beautiful heritage. To avoid any severe and irretrievable damage to the ecosystem of the North Kranji Bund Marsh, the chosen site for the golf course, NSS had requested NSRCC to consider more carefully siting the golf course at one of the three other options that were also offered by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

These sites were: 1) An area in Ama Keng; 2) an area in Choa Chu Kang near the new Warren Golf Course; and 3) an area south of the Tengah Airbase off Choa Chu Kang Road. Another alternative NSS had proposed was to move part of the golf course into the URA-designated 'Reserve Area' south of the Kranji Radio Transmitting Station so that a larger marshy zone from the shoreline could be saved. The breadth of this zone advocated by NSS being about 200 m from the shoreline as opposed to NSRCC's initial 100 m from the Bund. These sites are, from current knowledge, less ecologically sensitive sites (Ho, 2000).

It is most unfortunate that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) that is relevant to the selection process was conducted only after the leasehold was conferred to NSRCC in May 2000. In this regard, the EIA has no bearing at all on the site selection process, which should not be the case given that the area chosen for the project is designated a "nature area in the Singapore Green Plan and that there are other officially available sites worth considering as alternatives.

The NSRCC's EIA yielded about 140 bird species in the area, which is an impressive record, constituting about 40 per cent of the total number of species (350) recorded for Singapore. (NSRCC's total coincides with the NSS record of 140 species for Kranji Reservoir environs since 1985. The NSS's recent rapid survey result of 93 species is restricted to only the North Kranji Bund Marsh and does not include past records. The EIA findings here are obtained from NSRCC's statements at the press meeting on 22 April 2002, as the document itself was not available from NSRCC).

Five species recorded in the NSRCC's EIA were highlighted as worthy of mention by the spokesman for NSRCC in the press meeting. These are: 1) the White-chested Babbler (Trichastoma rostratum); 2) the Lesser Whistling-duck (Dendrocygna javanica); 3) the Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio); 4) the Oriental Magpie-robin (Copsychus saulauris); and 5) the Greater Painted-snipe (Rostratula benghalensis). Except for the Magpie robin, these species are affiliated to wetland habitats. The White-chested Babbler, the Lesser Whistling-duck and the Greater Painted-snipe are Nationally Threatened Species with both the first and the last-mentioned being rare, while the Purple Swamphen is a Nationally Near-threatened Species (Lim, 1999).

Although these species, as well as the others that are also threatened such as the Purple Heron, can be found elsewhere, it must be said that their small overall population and endangered status in the Singapore context warrants that the Kranji Bund Marshes be protected for their survival - given that it is ecologically unsound to put all your eggs in one basket. That said, it must be pointed out that NSS's basic position is this: Given that the freshwater marshland habitat is 'fairly rare" in Singapore and Peninsular Malaysia and given that the Kranji Bund Marshes are one of only two extensive stretches of such habitat in Singapore, with an impressive known record of wetland bird species, rare or common, resident or non-resident, it deserves to be fully protected as befitting its status as a "nature area" in The Singapore Green Plan.

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