Creating Ways for Nature to Travel


Imagine the roads in our urbanised country, enriched with plantings, where birds and butterflies can travel between nature habitats along these corridors.

That in a nutshell is the idea behind Nature Ways.

What exactly are Nature Ways?
Nature Ways are linear, green corridors along roadsides that have been developed to connect areas of high biodiversity to urban areas. The aim is to attract birdlife and butterflies from nature areas and parks to areas where people can appreciate them, and be more aware of the beautiful natural environment around them.

How is this done?
Nature Ways are designed to replicate the natural structures of forests as far as is possible. Trees, shrubs and groundcovers would be planted on available roadside planting strips to re-create habitats similar to those found in the emergent, mid-canopy, understory and undergrowth layers of natural forests.

The plantings at Tampines Ave 5 are an attempt to recreate the natural structure of a forest.

The emergent or canopy layer would consist of trees that include Dipterocarps, which are the dominant species of trees found in tropical rainforests. When fully matured, these trees provide food for canopy-dwelling insectivorous birds, and nesting sites for eagles and raptors.

The mid-canopy layer would generally be existing roadside trees which form the middle layer of the roadside ‘forest’. These trees provide shelter and food for insectivorous as well as nectar-loving birds and butterfly species, as some of these trees are flowering species such as Cassia fistula and Tabebuia rosea.

The understorey layer would consist of smaller fruit-bearing trees. These trees produce small berries that are food source for frugivorous or fruit-loving birds. Such trees include those from the Syzygium or Memecylon species. Some of these trees are also host plants for butterflies. For example, the Flacourtia inermis is the host plant for the Leopard butterfly.

Finally, the undergrowth layer is the shrub. This generally would comprise flowering shrubs that provide nectar for butterflies and some nectar-loving birds. Some of these shrubs are also host plants for various species of butterflies. This layer also provides a habitat for the insects and spiders that birds feed on. As most of these shrubs are colourful flowering species, and because of the wildlife they attract, this layer would also provide a visual treat to pedestrians and road users.

The Nature Way at Kheam Hock hopes to provide a green corridor for birds and butterflies to travel between the Central Catchment Nature Reserve and the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

One example of such a Nature Way is the Kheam Hock Nature Way, launched in early February this year. Other Nature Ways are being developed at Admiralty, Tampines and Yishun.

Community in Action – Kheam Hock
An initiative involving NParks, Nature Society (Singapore) (NSS), community gardening volunteers and the Kheam Hock community, the Kheam Hock Nature Way was designed to encourage the community to come together to create a quality environment for both wildlife and residents. NParks facilitated the participation of the residents, schools, clubs/associations and private condominiums in the Kheam Hock area in the project.

One of the schools participating in the project is the Singapore Chinese Girls’ School, which is developing a nursery within the school’s premises. Plants grown in the nursery will be sold to residents living in the neighbourhood. The Kheam Hock project has also attracted corporate partners. UBS has pledged to collaborate with residents to maintain the greenery in the area, while City Development Limited, has specially selected plants to attract more biodiversity to its development in the area.

Prior to the development of the Nature Way at Kheam Hock, NSS helped to carry out bird surveys of the area and sharing the list of birds recorded. As part of the outreach activities to engage communities’ involvement in the Kheam Hock project, NSS gave a demonstration on the usefulness of the NSS Bird Guide iPhone app to the community. This is so that the residents, students and partners would be able to use the app to record birds sighted in the neighbourhood.

The Kheam Hock Nature Way project involved NParks, NSS, community gardening groups, private organisations as well as the Kheam Hock residents.

Why Kheam Hock?
Kheam Hock was considered a suitable pilot for such a project because the existing vegetation supports common animal life such as birds and butterflies, and can also serve as a potential green connector linking the Central Catchment Nature Reserve to the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Thus, increased planting in the area would help to attract more varieties of wildlife to the area and enhance wildlife connectivity, and hopefully encourage these wildlife to move beyond Kheam Hock.

Within Kheam Hock, NParks has identified opportunities for enhancing greenery in three possible areas:

  1. Road reserves along Kheam Hock Road;
  2. Patches around areas such as Command House, College Green, University Road Park, areas abutting Japanese Association and areas abutting PIE; and
  3. Private residential area and condominiums

Planting has been selected to attract a combination of fruit and nectar-loving, as well as, insectivorous birds to the area.

Some of the bird species recorded from the area include the brightly-coloured and attractive sunbirds such as the Crimson (shown in the photo), the Olive-backed and the Brown-throated.

The Oriental Magpie produces a delightful and melodious whistle, and can sometimes be found feeding on insects in gardens. The conspicuous Collared Kingfisher with its loud call can be heard from afar. Not to be missed is the Black-naped Oriole with its bright yellow body and contrasting black nape from which it derives its name.

Butterflies that will be attracted by the plantings at Kheam Hock include the Common Grass Yellow, which is distinctive with its bright lemon-yellow wings, and Horsfield’s Baron, which is dimorphic, that is, the male and the female have different forms. The male has a velvety, black upperside with a bright blue marginal border on its hindwings, while the female is greyish-brown. 

The Common Grass Yellow

Other butterflies to look out for include the Common Bluebottle, which has a bluish-green band running from its forewing to the hindwing and the Plain Tiger which has white spots on its black body. Occasionally, a large number of butterflies will congregate at one spot.

It is hoped that when the planting along Kheam Hock matures, birds such as the Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot will be attracted to the area.

As the planting along the Nature Way establishes, blending well with key patches of existing greenery in the vicinity, the area will become more attractive to a wider range of birdlife such as the Pied Triller, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, and Dark-necked Tailorbird.

By Kenny Khoo and Cheryl Chia
Photos of birds by Cai Yixiong.

The "NSS BirdGuide iPhone" app is available free for download from the Apple iTunes Store.

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