NParks to improve efficiency and management of trees under new technology-focused master plan

NParks will focus on leveraging technologies to improve three main areas - tree management and inspection; nursery management; and nature conservation and biodiversity management.
NParks will focus on leveraging technologies to improve three main areas - tree management and inspection; nursery management; and nature conservation and biodiversity management.ST PHOTO: SYAMIL SAPARI

SINGAPORE - The inspection and maintenance of Singapore's two million trees on roads and in parks and gardens by the Government is set to become more rigorous and efficient in the next three years, with greater use of technology.

For instance, the National Parks Board (NParks) is testing an electronic tilt sensor placed on mature trees to help detect any signs of a tree leaning too much, which could cause it to become unstable and topple.

With the sensor data, NParks officers can take better measures to prevent accidents.

This was one of the projects that NParks unveiled on Wednesday (July 18) under a digitalisation master plan that seeks to use more technologies in greenery management and nature conservation in the next three years.

Under the plan, announced at the International Federation of Landscape Architects World Congress (IFLA), NParks will also consolidate its various technology and research initiatives in one database.

This database, dubbed Maven, stores information such as park planning and facilities data, tree information, biodiversity data, vegetation maps and satellite maps.

Information in the database can be accessed by NParks officers on mobile devices to get updated data on trees, parks and gardens on the go.

NParks will focus on using technologies to improve three main areas - tree management and inspection; nursery management; and nature conservation and biodiversity management.

The tree management and inspection thrust also focuses on analytics and modelling.

One project in development is a model which will provide arborists with an additional tool to determine the maintenance needs of a tree such as estimating how much force is needed to break or uproot the plant.

A fleet management system is also in development that will consist of global positioning system (GPS) trackers, sensor devices, and video camera recorders installed on vehicles used by NParks contractors performing greenery work.

The cameras can stream live and record videos so that managers can gain critical, time-sensitive information when needed. Video footage can also be used to verify that greenery tasks have been completed, and this reduces the need for staff to do physical verification.

These projects will complement NParks' existing technology initiatives for tree inspection and management.

One recent project is the use of tree inspection microdrones since last year. The light-weight drones are being used as quick and effective tools to inspect tree crowns from the air.

This allows NParks to get valuable images and videos from perspectives which would not have been possible without having a trained arborist physically climbing the tree.

For nursery management, NParks is testing a system linked to weather and soil humidity sensors that can trigger the watering of plants during dry weather conditions.

On the nature conservation side, NParks is in the midst of developing a prototype forest fire detection system to continuously monitor Singapore's nature reserves.

The system is expected to be able to differentiate varying fire conditions, to pre-empt changing weather patterns.

While forest fires are not common in Singapore, the use of such a risk management system would cut the manpower needed for patrolling nature reserves, especially during dry seasons and allow timely deployment of resources needed for fire-fighting.