Zones to protect trees in Mandai to be set up, with steps taken to ensure their health

The new Bird Park site at Mandai.
The site for the new Bird Park in Mandai.
The site for the new Bird Park in Mandai.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
The site for the new Bird Park in Mandai.
The site for the new Bird Park in Mandai.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
The site for the new Bird Park in Mandai.
The site for the new Bird Park in Mandai.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
To protect local wildlife in Mandai, animals will be shepherded away from work sites and trees will be inspected and tagged by arborists.
To protect local wildlife in Mandai, animals will be shepherded away from work sites and trees will be inspected and tagged by arborists.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - The secondary forests on both sides of Mandai Lake Road will soon make way for two wildlife parks - the Bird Park, which will move from Jurong, and the new Rainforest Park. But developer Mandai Park Holdings is taking steps to preserve some of the decades-old trees growing on both plots, by engaging an arborist - a tree expert - to do an assessment.

"We determine which trees to preserve based on a number of factors, including their size and species, based on the species status set out in the Singapore Red Data Book," said arborist Derek Yap, who was engaged by Mandai Park Holdings for the job. The Singapore Red Data Book lists species which are endangered in the Republic.

The trees will be preserved in a way that will ensure they remain healthy for years to come, Mr Yap told The Straits Times on the sidelines of an event organised by Mandai Park Holdings on Wednesday (July 26) to brief the media on its environmental protection strategies.

"The development plans set out tree protection zones that are more than the bare minimum. We also don't just preserve individual trees. As this is a forested context, we keep trees in clusters, and there will be a buffer around each cluster to ensure work doesn't encroach into these tree-protection zones," said Mr Yap, who runs a private consultancy for trees and had previously been with the National Parks Board for a decade.

A tree-protection zone is essentially about giving a tree room to grow, so its health is not impaired and its roots do not become unstable.

His assurance comes after a 270-year-old tembusu tree fell in the Singapore Botanic Gardens in February, killing a woman.

Evidence presented earlier this month (July) during a coroner's inquiry had shown that the tree was decaying from the inside, although signs of the rot had not been visible to inspectors, making it hard to predict that it would topple. Mr Yap, the tree expert who took the stand in the Botanic Gardens case, told the court that rot could have started with the roots, and raised the possibility that this could have set in as far back as 1859, when the roots were last cut. That was the year the Botanic Gardens was founded.

On Wednesday, he noted that there have been significant advances in arboriculture, the management and study of trees, over the years.

Mr Yap said: "The good thing is that the industry is learning fast... Many people understand now that there is a need for arboriculture.

"What we do is that we will screen the construction processes, to ensure works would not result in a predictable failure of trees. Whenever an arborist determines that works would result in a predictable failure of a tree, there has to be a dialogue between the parties involved. Either the works are moved elsewhere, or the tree is removed.

It is important to work with the contractor and designers - everyone has to come on board with the right mindset."