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Rewilding of Rail Corridor (Central): Belt of native forest being restored

The 4 km stretch will serve as a passage, habitat and source of food for native flora and fauna
Friends of Rail Corridor is leading the way forward in keeping Rail Corridor rustic and natural
  Published: 20 October 2018

The National Parks Board (NParks) and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) today started on efforts to rewild Rail Corridor (Central) and restore a belt of native forest as part of enhancement works along the 4 km stretch. This belt of native forest will be an important passage, habitat and source of food for Singapore’s native fauna, particularly those from the nearby Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. By removing non-native plant species to make way for a native-dominated forest, the rewilding efforts will ensure species recovery, increase the biodiversity of native flora and return the landscape to its original rainforest structure.

Details for the rewilding of Rail Corridor (Central) were shared including a planting palette that has been designed with inputs from Dr Shawn Lum, President of Nature Society (Singapore). The palette took into consideration the stretch’s proximity to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, and includes a key native species, the rare and endangered Magnolia singapurensis.  This is a primary rainforest species, related to the Cempaka tree and there were just four known individuals that exist only at Nee Soon Swamp Forest until NParks managed to propagate it recently. It was also chosen because of its tolerance for wet conditions, making it suitable for streamside planting or water-logged areas along Rail Corridor (Central). NParks has successfully propagated more individuals after collecting seeds from the few precious wild plants and the rewilding plans will ensure the long term survival of this species.

At the same time, non-native plant species which now line Rail Corridor (Central) due to spontaneous vegetation over the years will be gradually removed to allow native plant species to be reintroduced in order to restore the belt of native forest. These non-native species, which include the Albizia (Falcataria moluccana) and the African Tulip Tree (Spathodea campanulata), have been carefully assessed and evaluated in the past year so that their removal and the enhancement planting will be done in a way to ensure minimal impact to the overall biodiversity and ecosystem along Rail Corridor (Central).

Hosting a community event at Fuyong Park today to start the overall enhancement works for Rail Corridor (Central), Minister for Social and Family Development and Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee planted the first Magnolia singapurensis. Advisors for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC Sim Ann, Christopher de Souza and Liang Eng Hwa also participated in the planting. Other native species that will be planted along Rail Corridor (Central) include the critically endangered Cengal Pasir (Hopea sangal) and Singapore Kopsia (Kopsia singapurensis), as well as the Oil Fruit Tree (Elaeocarpus mastersii) and Jelutong (Dyera costulata) which occur locally in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. More information on the rewilding plans for Rail Corridor (Central) can be found in Factsheet A [PDF, 646kb].

Friends of Rail Corridor: Custodians of Rail Corridor (Central)

Beyond its importance as a belt of native forest that will conserve and protect Singapore’s native biodiversity, Rail Corridor (Central) will also be a green corridor for the public to get closer to nature. The 4 km stretch between the Hillview area and the conserved Bukit Timah Railway Station is well-appreciated by the community for its natural surroundings, railway heritage structures, and proximity to several nature and recreational attractions.

Following multiple engagement sessions, community exhibitions and workshops led by URA from 2011 to 2016, the Friends of Rail Corridor community was formed last year to collectively champion, lead initiatives and programmes for, and shape the Rail Corridor as a shared community space. Comprising members from diverse backgrounds, such as nature, heritage and recreational groups, as well as academics, students and residents staying near the Corridor, the group has since driven ground-up initiatives to encourage a stronger appreciation of the heritage and wildlife found along Rail Corridor (Central), including experience walks for the community and collaborations with schools.

Friends of Rail Corridor continues to lead the way forward in keeping the Rail Corridor rustic and natural. Besides activating spaces along the green corridor through community-organised activities, Friends of Rail Corridor is working closely with agencies on community infrastructure and landscaping works. Today, they led the first round of habitat enhancement and stream restoration efforts, planting semi-aquatic native species such as Aquatic Ginger (Alpinia aquatica), Spiny Lasia (Lasia spinose) and the recently rediscovered Lepironia articulata, which had been presumed nationally extinct. They will be driving subsequent sessions at other sections along Rail Corridor (Central) with the support of NParks and URA. To further support the native forest restoration efforts, NParks will also be providing Friends of Rail Corridor with the seeds of native species from Pasir Panjang Nursery to plant along Rail Corridor (Central).

Friends of Rail Corridor will also be conducting a series of free guided walks from end October to December. These aim to introduce participants to the variety of flora and fauna, as well as rich heritage, along Rail Corridor (Central). Members of the public who are interested in contributing towards the enhancement of the Rail Corridor can also sign up online at https://www.nparks.gov.sg/railcorridor/be-our-friend. More information on Friends of Rail Corridor and the series of free guided walks can be found in Factsheet B [PDF, 405kb].

Retaining the natural heritage of Rail Corridor (Central)

During the engagement sessions, one common thread that surfaced was the wish to keep Rail Corridor (Central) rustic and natural. Enhancement works will focus on retaining the natural heritage along the 4 km stretch, such as protecting stream biodiversity using rocks that were previously from this area. Salvaged from developments in the Hume vicinity, these granite rocks will help to create new habitats, such as pools and crevices, suppress the growth of weeds and curb soil erosion.

This will, in turn, encourage the propagation of freshwater life and conserve several native fauna species, including the Common Walking Catfish (Clarias batrachus), the Malayan Freshwater Prawn (Macrobrachium malaynum) and the Lowland Freshwater crab (Parathelphusa maculata). Water plants will also be introduced along the stream to attract native species of dragonfly and damselfly, such as the Ornate Coraltail (Ceriagrion cerinorubellum), the Indigo Dropwing (Trithemis festiva), the Spine-tufted skimmer (Orthetrum chrysis) and the Common Parasol (Neurothemis fluctuans).

Moving forward, agencies will continue to ensure that works planned are done sensitively and in line with the community's vision for the Rail Corridor as a seamless and connected green corridor. In response to the community’s feedback, a new pedestrian underpass will be constructed next to Hindhede Bridge, to enable safe access to the Rail Corridor and the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. Works will also continue to support the corridor’s railway heritage.  Over the last year, URA has carried out structural investigations on four existing bridges and two buildings located along the Rail Corridor (Central) to better understand the existing condition of the structures and what needs to be done to prolong their life span. Infrastructural enhancement works for Rail Corridor (Central) are on track to be completed in phases by 2021, with trail enhancements to be completed by end-2019.

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