Bidadari Cemetery has been around for decades before birdwatchers discovered that the area supports an interesting mix of resident and migratory birds (below and bottom). Very few birdwatchers, if at all any, ever entered the area when it was a cemetery. This is the reason why they were unaware of the rich birdlife the area supports.
Only when the graves were exhumed in the early 2000s to make way for development did local birdwatchers slowly became aware of what the area supports LINK. And this was all due to KC Tsang, a birder-photographer who explored the area mostly on his own. His postings of rarely seen migrants LINK 1, LINK 2, LINK 3, LINK 4 and LINK 5 sent birdwatchers and photographers scurrying to the area.
Birdwatchers now claim that Bidadari is unique, an area where many rare migratory species find refuge. Because of this they want the area, or a chunk of it conserved LINK. Some even claim that this is a migratory refuge of importance and fear that when cleared, migratory birds will have no other major areas to refuel in Singapore. This is mere speculation. When any area is cleared, birds will move to another area LINK. This will also happen in the case of Bidadari. But then the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s Master Plan 2008 has already demarcated part of the area as parkland. What this means is that a portion of Bidadari will be left for the birds. And there are many such park-like areas in mainland Singapore for some of the displaced birds to find refuge.
Rare migratory species have been sighted in the Chinese Garden in Jurong LINK 1 and LINK 2. Also at the Japanese Garden there LINK. These are parks and easily accessible, thus birdwatchers are aware of their presence. The difference between these gardens and Bidadari is that the latter is a more extensive area and less visited when it was a cemetery – thus there are more birds.
Birdwatchers merely assume that the Central Catchment Reserve is not as rich in birdlife as Bididari. Is this a fact or is this because no one is adventurous enough to explore the forest, especially during migratory seasons. After all, our birdwatchers are mostly recreational birders. Their field trips are social events rather than serious outings. They only move along well-designated forest paths. If the birdlife at Bidadari, a park-like area, can remain unknown for decades, what more the forested catchment area. Should birdwatchers become brave enough explore the forest, I am sure they would be surprised to encounter more rare species.
As mentioned above, the authorities have agreed to set aside as area in Bidadari as parkland. The problem is that the Conservation Committee of the Nature Society is unhappy with the demarcated area. The Chairman of the Committee, who now designate himself as Vice Chairman (to get round the rule limiting chairmanship of Special Interest Groups to a three-year term) has by tradition been uncompromising and stubborn.
A case in point is the 1990s struggle for Senoko, an area of degraded mangrove forest, prawn ponds and grassland around Sungei Sembawang (Wee, 1993). The area was earmarked for housing and the authorities were willing to set aside a major pond as the centre piece of a town park. However, the Conservation Committee was adamant in wanting the entire area. In the end nature lost and Sembawang New Town now stands where nature once thrived (Wee & Hale, 2008). Hopefully, the Nature Society learns from its past mistakes.
YC Wee (text) & KC Tsang (images).
1. Wee, Y. C., 1993. Coping with nature and nature conservation in Singapore. In: Briffett, C. & L. L. Sim (eds.). Environmental Issues in Development and Conservation. School of Building & Estate Management, National University of Singapore, Singapore. Pp. 103––108.
2. Wee, Y.C. & R. Hale, 2008. The Nature Society (Singapore) and the struggle to conserve Singapore’s nature areas. Nature in Singapore 1: 41-49.