Turn Alexandra Woodland into public park, don’t redevelop site: Nature groups

A fallen tree in Alexandra Woodland that residents in the area have converted into a recreational deck they call The Lost Ark. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Nature groups here are proposing that a largely forested 26ha site known as Alexandra Woodland be designated a public park instead of being used for development.

Located across the Rail Corridor from Alexandra Hospital, the site, which is the size of about 36 football fields, serves as an important ecological link between the nature reserves in central Singapore and the Southern Ridges, said Nature Society (Singapore) and Cicada Tree Eco-Place in a new book. Titled Alexandra Woodland: Haven Along The Rail Corridor, it was launched last Saturday.

The site has been zoned for residential use, subject to detailed planning, since 1998. About 15ha of it is vegetated, said the book, noting that the site contains a lake and a seasonally flooded patch, which both have the potential to be freshwater habitats.

A road that cuts across the site, linking two future public housing projects in Queensway – Queensway Canopy and Queen’s Arc – to Portsdown Avenue has also been part of the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) masterplan since 2019, raising concerns that part of the woodland could be cleared. A Housing Board map showing Queensway Canopy’s location that was published in 2022 indicated that the road cutting across the site is subject to review.

In their book, Nature Society (Singapore) and Cicada Tree Eco-Place said the woodland is of heritage and ecological value.

Jalan Hang Jebat and Warwick Road – the only two roads leading to the woodland – are lined with colonial-era homes that are currently tenanted. Hang Jebat Mosque, which has its roots in a prayer hall built in 1952, is also in the area.

Dr Ho Hua Chew, vice-chair of the Nature Society (Singapore)’s conservation committee and the book’s co-editor, wrote that the woodland is estimated to be at least 40 years old. Part of the site was occupied by Normanton Oil Depot, which was taken over and demolished by Singapore’s port authority around the 1970s.

Dr Ho wrote that the woodland serves as a home and foraging ground for wildlife species, some of which are nationally threatened. For instance, a biodiversity survey conducted there by volunteers from the Nature Society and Cicada Tree Eco-Place identified 97 species of birds, of which 12 – according to the second Singapore Red Data Book (2008) – are endangered or critically endangered, such as the spotted wood owl (Strix seloputo) and the grey-headed fish eagle (Haliaeetus ichthyaetus).

Nine mammal, 20 reptile and eight amphibian species were recorded during surveys by volunteers. Sixteen plant species of conservation significance were spotted, including a critically endangered native orchid, the Neuwiedia veratrifolia.

The woodland is a stepping stone for wildlife dispersal from Bukit Timah Nature Reserve to the Southern Ridges, and vice versa, via the Rail Corridor, wrote Dr Ho.

A lake within the woodland, photographed on Nov 29. Nature groups are proposing that the lake should be cleared of non-native predatory fish and replaced with native ones, which will be a food source for wetland wildlife. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

In response to queries, the National Parks Board’s National Biodiversity Centre group director Ryan Lee said on Wednesday that the board’s ecological profiling exercise – a study on ecological links among Singapore’s green spaces – has identified Alexandra Woodland as a connectivity habitat along the Rail Corridor.

“In view of the ecological sensitivity of this site, agencies will carry out environmental studies to guide any future development plans, and engage stakeholders, including the nature community,” he added.

A URA spokesman said there are no immediate plans to develop the area.

Asked about the Singapore Land Authority’s plans for the colonial-era buildings in Jalan Hang Jebat and Warwick Road – it was previously reported that residents and heritage experts were concerned that they may be redeveloped – a spokesman for the authority said the buildings will continue to be tenanted for residential use in the immediate future.

Colonial-era accommodation in Warwick Road, pictured on Nov 29, 2022. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Mrs Teresa Teo Guttensohn, co-founder of Cicada Tree Eco-Place and co-editor of the book, said the historical and ecological significance of the site should give pause for thought to those overseeing future plans to develop it.

“In Singapore’s perennial search for a historical anchor to bridge past and present, Alexandra is as rich and authentic as it gets,” she said, citing the area’s association with military history, British rule in Singapore, Malay legends and its present function as a green space well loved by the community.

The 156-page book is available from the Nature Society and at Kinokuniya.

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