The ST Guide To... visiting Singapore's nature reserves

An aerial view of the Hindhede Quarry at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

SINGAPORE - 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 only find in nature reserves.

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 tree species from the genus Dipterocarpus and Shorea going back millions of years.

As biologist David Tan from the Love Our MacRitchie Forest volunteer group puts it: "As for the primary forest, they're primeval, and are likely as old as the soil."

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.

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.

1. Opening hours

The entrance of the Kampong Trail at the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve on Aug 23, 2013. PHOTO: ST FILE

Unlike parks, entry to the nature reserves are restricted to certain hours, so check the National Parks Board's (NParks) website at for the opening hours before making a trip down.

Take note that parts of the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve are currently closed due to 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.

2. Attire

A clouded monitor lizard scampering across the trail at the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve on Sept 11, 2014. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

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 are 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.

3. Activities

Elusive, shy animals like pangolins are easily scared off by mass activities. PHOTO: NATIONAL PARKS

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.

So mass activities such as exercise programmes, family days and organised runs tend to scare them off. When visiting a nature reserve, 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 a 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 old adage: take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time.

More askST stories here.

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