wildflowers in the city (c) Stanley Quek

Singapore’s Nature Ways

Stanley Quek

Stanley Quek, an MPhil student focusing on assessing the effectiveness of the Nature Ways network in Singapore, writes:

Singapore is an island country in the biodiverse region of Southeast Asia. Singapore is also a large city, with urban landscapes dominating the island.

In the past, Singapore was completely covered with dense primary forests and mangroves, however, much of that has been lost with the development of the city. Unsurprisingly, many animals have since gone extinct, or are now restricted to the nature reserves within Singapore.

Some conservationists have called Singapore the worst-case scenario in South East Asia with regards to habitat loss and extinction.

Smooth-coated otter seen in Gardens at the Bay, Singapore (c) All rights reserved by fascinationwildlife

However, not all is lost! There have been attempts to secure the remaining biodiversity we have, with recent success stories of some animals returning to Singapore.

For example, the once extinct oriental pied hornbills and smooth-coated otters are now found across the island nation.

This led to the making of the “Nature Ways” network, which was envisioned to replicate the structure of a rainforest within the city and create ‘stepping stones’ for wildlife throughout the urban matrix. It also allows city dwellers to get in touch with nature.

A typical street side scene in Singapore, with young shade trees planted between roads and footpath (c) Stanley Quek
Street side scene in Singapore with Nature Way planting between the footpath and the road (c) Stanley Quek

Nature Ways have been created along roads. They include shrubs and smaller trees planted below the normally planted shade trees which has led to some stretches of roads to be adorned with voluminous shrubs under majestic, mature trees. This beautifies the environment and provides more habitats for birds and butterflies.

This was first launched in 2013 and has now expanded to a network more than 100km in length permeating through most of Singapore.

My research focuses on assessing the biodiversity on the Nature Ways and trying to find out how they can be improved.

It is hoped that this series of habitat corridors will allow certain birds and butterflies to move between the various parks throughout Singapore, and subsequently be appreciated by more people. While these corridors show great promise in improving biodiversity within the city, you can already find many species in the urban areas of Singapore.

Nesting birds

The Javan Mynah, one of the more common bird species found everywhere in Singapore except for the densely forested areas (c) Stanley Quek

One of the more common bird species in Singapore is the Javan mynah. Not native to Singapore, it was brought over accidently around 1920 and their population has expanded greatly with increasing urbanization.

Whilst the population in Singapore and most of peninsula South East Asia is large and expanding, the native population in Java is on the verge of extirpation (local extinction) due to overwhelming poaching for the songbird trade.

They usually forage for insects, grains, and small animals on grass fields, but are also attracted to food waste near human habitation.

Yellow vented bulbuls and chicks (c) Singapore bird group blog

Another common bird species is the yellow vented bulbul. Check out this blog post by the Singapore Bird Group which talks about the food the parents bring back to the nest for their chicks:

In first part of the day, the parents will usually feed the chicks with insects. As the day progressed, they would start bringing back figs and berries to the chicks, for desserts?

The Singapore bird group blog is written by many enthusiastic individuals and contains plenty of stories about experiences with our local birds.

Wildflowers in the city

Wildflowers in Singapore (c) Stanley Quek

Landscape maintenance was temporarily stopped island-wide due to the impact of COVID-19. This let the roadside grasses and wildflowers grow and bloom at a level not seen for a long time. The pandemic has had a surprising impact on local butterflies:

“The explosion of these flowering weeds and nectaring sources has a trickle-down effect on butterflies” – Butterflies of Singapore, May 2020

The diminutive grass blue butterflies and the rapidly spreading tawny coster butterflies are commonly spotted along the Nature Ways. The tawny coster is actually a new species in Singapore, having arrived here in the early 2000s.

Tawny coster (c) Khew SK

Unlike Javan mynahs, the tawny costers arrived naturally from India, flying south through the peninsula through Thailand and Malaysia. You can read about the life histories of many Singapore butterflies in Butterflies of Singapore and see stunning photographs too.

Following an outpouring of nature awareness in Singapore, it has been announced that Nature Ways will now be intentionally left in a less maintained state. It is hoped that this will lead to a better environment for both birds and butterflies.

The proliferation of wildflowers to such unprecedented levels was truly marvelous to see, and it seems that wildlife was enjoying this to a great extent. If more of our cities and towns were covered with wildflower meadows rather than uniform lawns, surely this can only be good for the urban animals around us.

Find out more about this research on the Insect Ecology Group Site or follow them on Twitter: @InsectGroup

Discover more about Singapore’s Nature Ways and other projects with National Parks Singapore

Explore Singapore’s many butterfly species, including a ‘Butterfly of the Month’ for more scaly-winged inspiration

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