Replanting a forest

This story first appeared in The Straits Times on Sept 15, 2014

Last month, Temasek Junior College teacher Chon Cherng Qiang spent part of his morning ankle-deep in soil, as one of 100 volunteers helping to replant 100 native trees on Pulau Ubin.

This reforestation event, organised by the National Parks Board (NParks), is the first of ongoing efforts to restore the land after about 3ha at Tanjong Tajam, on the western side of Ubin, was damaged by a bushfire in March.

Reforestation is the act of planting new trees in an area where there used to be a forest.

Volunteers, ranging from teenage Scouts to middle-aged professionals, included representatives from Outward Bound Singapore (OBS), the Singapore Scout Association and the Friends of Ubin Network.

That day, the volunteers helped to restore 0.1ha of land. NParks will work with OBS to progressively reforest the remaining area.

Mr Chon, 34, a volunteer with the OBS Alumni, said he wanted to give back to the forested area that holds a special place in his heart.

He said: "As a former OBS participant, my group spent a good amount of time in the forest navigating and communing with nature.

"The forest is really a unique space in Singapore and I've benefited so much from it."

Mr Chon also thinks that the project's benefits to the community are clear.

"The ecological impact will be quite obvious - there will be no erosion and 'good quality' vegetation, similar to the previous forest, can grow," he said.

He was one of 50 OBS Alumni volunteers, who joined the event after OBS, which has two centres in Ubin located close to the area destroyed by the fire, sent out an e-mail message looking for willing hands.

This reforestation initiative is part of the Ubin Project, which aims to preserve the spot as an enjoyable rustic destination for Singaporeans.

Started in March, the project has received many comments and suggestions from stakeholders and members of the public on how to enhance the island.

Minister of State for National Development, Mr Desmond Lee, said the suggestions had many people calling for more trees to be planted to make the area more hospitable for the wildlife there, so that the rich biodiversity on the island will continue to thrive.

"I am glad the community is doing its part to preserve these precious habitats, and I encourage more Singaporeans to join us in conserving the island's natural heritage," he added.

For the OBS Alumni volunteers, it was also an opportunity to reconnect with Pulau Ubin, where they underwent their OBS programmes.

"I can fully appreciate the adverse impact of the fire on Ubin's biodiversity and fauna... I hope that my humble effort may inspire the younger ones to be advocates of meaningful causes," said OBS Alumni volunteer and avid bird-watcher Aldwin Teo, 45.

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