Coronavirus: NParks using drones to monitor number of visitors in nature areas

National Parks Board officers with a drone at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve yesterday to monitor visitorship.
National Parks Board officers with a drone at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve yesterday to monitor visitorship.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

With schools and most workplaces shut on Day 3 of Singapore's circuit breaker mode yesterday, some people have turned to nature areas for exercise and recreation.

Dr Leong Chee Chiew, commissioner of parks and recreation at the National Parks Board (NParks), said the board is tapping technology to help monitor visitorship at certain parks and nature areas in Singapore.

"A total of 30 drones will be deployed in selected parks and nature areas that are larger, with more ground to cover, such as Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, East Coast Park and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve," he told The Straits Times.

Last Saturday, NParks launched its Safe Distance @ Parks portal to allow members of the public to check visitorship levels at Singapore's major parks, gardens and nature areas, so that they can choose a less crowded green space near them to exercise safely, minimising travel.

Dr Leong said NParks updates the portal by collecting real-time data from staff on the ground and from visitor count systems.

He said: "The use of drones provides us with a high vantage point to obtain visitorship updates quickly, complementing ground observations."

Aerial photographs taken by the drone are reviewed every half hour, and areas with a large number of visitors will be temporarily closed to ensure safe distancing, he said.

While the number of people at the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve yesterday did not seem unusual for a regular weekday morning, there were indicators that times have changed.

A pavilion at the summit of the hill where visitors usually gather to rest after the hike up was fenced off with a bright orange net.

A sign said: "In view of the Covid-19 situation and the latest advisories from the Ministry of Health, group activities and/or gathering are not permitted."

Human resource manager Yap Lay Eng, 42 - who was at the reserve with her two daughters Abby, 20, and Ivy, 21 - was among others there for a respite. "We don't get much exercise while working from home, always eating and sitting. So must come out and sweat," she said.


Most of the visitors The Straits Times saw kept their distance from one another or formed obvious family groups.

Retiree Simon Lee, 64, who regularly visits the reserve for exercise, welcomed the measures.

"It's good to contain the spread, if not, the situation will just get worse," said Mr Lee, who used to work in an engineering company.

About 1,000 NParks staff are being rostered to enforce safe distancing measures at all parks, gardens and nature reserves managed by NParks, as well as parks managed by town councils.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 10, 2020, with the headline 'NParks using drones to monitor number of visitors in nature areas'. Subscribe