The ST Guide To...

Visiting nature reserves: Dos and don'ts

Nature reserves contain unique wildlife and plants, so take care not to harm them

There is no lack of green spaces, even in urban Singapore, and the upcoming March school holiday is a perfect time to explore them.

From the manicured lawns of Gardens by the Bay to the rustic trails within the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, there is a shade of green to suit every fancy.

But while all green spaces are important, some may be more equal than others.

Parks are man-made environments that support a smaller diversity of species, as compared to nature reserves, which are original native environments that are biologically diverse.

There are certain species of plants and animals that visitors can find only in nature reserves.


Hikers on the trail along the Rifle Range Link at the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. Try to wear covered shoes when hiking for safety, and take measures to ward off insects. ST FILE PHOTO

A five-banded gliding lizard and a slender squirrel, for instance, are animals you would not be able to find in Singapore's local parks.

The Johnson's freshwater crab, discovered by Singapore crab expert Peter Ng in the 1980s, is even more unique. It is restricted to the Bukit Timah and Central Catchment nature reserves, and can be found nowhere else in the world.

When it comes to trees, the Central Catchment Nature Reserve is where Singapore's largest primary lowland rainforest patch can be found, with many of the trees from the genera Dipterocarpus and Shorea going back millions of years.

There are more than 300 parks in Singapore, but only four nature reserves, namely, the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve as well as the Central Catchment, Bukit Timah and Labrador nature reserves.


The slender squirrel (above) and Sunda pangolin are among the creatures that inhabit our nature reserves. PHOTOS: NICK BAKER, MARCUS CHUA

Nature reserves are protected areas for the conservation of Singapore's biodiversity, and visitors should take more care when visiting them. Here are some tips for planning a visit to the nature reserves.

OPENING HOURS

Unlike parks, entry to the nature reserves is restricted to certain hours, so check the National Parks Board's website, www.nparks.gov.sg, for the opening hours before making a trip down.

Take note that parts of the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve are currently closed for restoration work.

Although visitors can access the summit of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve through the Main Road from 7am to 6pm on weekends, the reserve will remain closed on weekdays and public holidays that do not fall on weekends.

ATTIRE


The slender squirrel and Sunda pangolin (above) are among the creatures that inhabit our nature reserves. PHOTOS: NICK BAKER, MARCUS CHUA

Nature reserves are less "sanitised" than parks, in the sense that the trails open to the public within the reserves are often dirt tracks instead of concrete paths, so dress appropriately.

Sturdy, covered footwear is important for navigating routes which may be littered with rocks. Long pants or tops with long-sleeves would also help visitors avoid getting bitten by insects or scratched by protruding branches.

Try to avoid using stick-on insect repellent patches, as these tend to fall off clothes and become litter.

Covering up is the best option to avoid getting bitten, but if not, use gel or spray repellents.

ACTIVITIES

Nature reserves are home to some species of animals that are elusive and very shy, such as the Sunda pangolin or birds like the chestnut- winged babbler. Mass activities such as exercise programmes, family days and organised runs tend to scare them off. Keep noise to a minimum to avoid scaring off the animals.

Soak in the cacophony of nature instead of plugging into an MP3 player. This will also help you to be more in tune with your surroundings, and is a safety precaution. Keep your ears pricked, particularly after rain, as you may hear the tell-tale crackling of branches about to fall off.

And no matter how cute or interesting a plant or animal seems, whether in a park or nature reserve, avoid touching or handling plants and animals. Doing so may harm the wildlife, and animals may also fight back in retaliation.

Remember the adage: Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 12, 2016, with the headline 'Visiting nature reserves The ST Guide To...'. Print Edition | Subscribe