By Alan OwYong and Dr. Ho Hua Chew.
When the Housing and Development Board (HDB) announced the building of a new town at both the Christian and Muslim cemeteries along Upper Aljuneind Road on May 2012, the green community and nature lovers were up-in-arms against the plans.
We have good reasons to do so. The loss of a verdant urban green lung of matured woodlands rich in birdlife especially for the passerine migrants during the autumn and spring seasons will be great. A Facebook page “Saving Bidadari for the Birds and People” was started to bring attention to the diversity of the place. No less than 155 species have since been recorded there. Many are globally threatened species like the Brown-chested Jungle Flycatchers, Cyornis brunneata, , that make it way to the same bush every year. Another regular visitor is the Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, Terpsiphone atrocauda. We even had a “national first” record last year, when a female Narcissus Flycatcher, Ficedula narcissina, was photographed here.
The HBD appointed Urban Strategies Inc. as the master planner for Bidadari. They proposed a “Community in a Garden” theme by preserving the hilly and lush wooded landscape and creating a generous regional park which is part of the URA 2008 Master Plan.
The Nature Society (Singapore) and its Bird Group then drew up a Conservation Proposal (Link) to keep the larger part of the Muslim cemetery as a parkland for the estate. (See Map below). It was submitted to the HDB on 7 December 2012.
Map from the 4 December 2012 Straits Times showing NSS proposed parkland and bird sanctuary.
The Conservation Committee and Bird Group members of the Society subsequently met with the HDB and National Parks Board (NParks) to see how we can meet the aspirations of both the nature and heartland communities. We were informed that the plan was to set aside 10 hectare for the parkland, a size meant of larger estates like Ang Mo Kio. Unfortunately the area chosen for the park was more open and not where most of the birds were found.
The Bird Group of the NSS then conducted a GPS mapping and survey of migrant species during the 2012 autumn migration period to find out where the migrants spent their winter and stop over. Based on the findings of this mapping survey, the Society submitted an alternative proposal to the HDB on 25 September 2013. We proposed that the 10 hectare park be sited at the densely wooded hillock and portions hugging Bartley Road. We also advocate for low rise apartments for the remaining areas especially for those facing north along Bartley Road.
This alternative proposal has help to review the location of this regional park. While it is not exactly where we wanted it to be we can confirm that the denser portions of the park will be kept untouched as a natural sanctuary for those residents who prefer the wilder greenery. The rest of the park will have the usual amenities to cater for the general park users. A new lake will be created on the other Christian Cemetery side to add a new water habitat to the park. We hope that this in turn will attract more water birds and wild ducks to the park.
For sure, Bidadari will not be the same again even though some of the older trees will be moved to create new green areas. Most if not all the Albizias, the foraging haunts of many migratory flycatchers, cuckoos, drongos, etc., will be cut down, and the species diversity in the remaining wooded patch, amidst the surrounding concrete, will drop drastically.
Reference: The Conservation Committee. Nature Society (Singapore).