Remnants of a lost forest

9 10 2014

The first Sunday in October had me paddling a kayak through what turned out to be a surprisingly area of mangroves in a part of Singapore where nature has long abandoned. Described by the Nature Society (Singapore) as “the most extensive mangrove forest in the southern coastline of mainland Singapore”, the mangroves line the banks of a stretch of Sungei Pandan where the industrial march that has all but conquered Singapore’s once wild southwest is quite clearly evident.

Kayaking through the Sungei Pandan mangroves.

Kayaking through the Sungei Pandan mangroves.

JeromeLim-1398

JeromeLim-1366

The Sungei Pandan mangroves, found along the stretch of river that lies between the Pandan Tidal Gates and the Sungei Pandan Bridge, is perhaps the last remnants of the lush mangrove forest that had once lined much of the banks of the Pandan and Jurong Rivers that had been offered protection as the Pandan Forest Reserve. The reserve covered an area of 542 acres or 219 ha. in 1966 and may have covered an even larger area before that – a newspaper article from 1928 had put the area of the reserve at 639 acres or 259 ha. and had been one of 15 forest areas that was protected under the Forest Ordinance enacted in 1908, and later, the 1951 Nature Reserves Ordinance.

The Pandan Tidal Gates.

The Pandan Tidal Gates.

A 1945 Map showing the extent of the Pandan Forest Reserve.

A 1945 Map showing the extent of the Pandan Forest Reserve.

The death knell for the mangrove reserve was sounded in the 1960s when land was needed for the expansion of Jurong Industrial Estate. An amendment to the Nature Reserves Ordinance in 1966 saw it lose the 186 acres (75 ha.) on the west bank of Jurong River and that was filled up to create much needed land for the fast expanding industrial zone. The reserve was to lose its status altogether in 1968 when a further amendment to the Ordinance removed the reserve from its schedule of protected forest areas to allow what was described as the “rapid growth of Jurong Industrial Estate”.

JeromeLim-1259

JeromeLim-1385

JeromeLim-1376

The mangrove forest, besides being home to a rich diversity of flora and fauna, also hosted human inhabitants, many of whom were fishermen who depended on cast net prawn farming in the vicinity of the river mouths and the islands for a livelihood. One of the isolated villages that was found at the edge of the watery forest, was Kampong Teban, described in an article from The Singapore Free Press dated 13 January 1958 as “a village of 135 people living in 27 cottages, some built on stilts over the ooze and slime on the river bank”. The villagers were to see their lives altered by developments n the early 1960s, when part of the area was given to prawn farming.

Kampong Teban, 1958 (source: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline).

Kampong Teban, 1958 (source: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline).

JeromeLim-1328

The original mouth of Sungei Pandan, was where the Republic of Singapore Yacht Club (RSYC), then the Royal Singapore Yacht Club, moved its premises to, on land reclaimed from the mangroves, in 1965. The club, which traces its origins to 1826, moved in 1999 sometime after it lost its seafront to land reclamation. Its former clubhouse is now occupied by the Singapore Rowing Association – close to where the kayaking trip started.

The entrance to the grounds of the Singapore Rowing Association, formerly the site of the RSYC.

The entrance to the grounds of the Singapore Rowing Association, formerly the site of the RSYC.

The start point for the kayak trip.

The start point for the kayak trip.

Paddling through the greenery offered by the mangroves, nipah palms and mangrove ferns, the sounds of tree lizards and birds were most evident. Beyond the distinct calls belonging to the ashy tailorbird and the pied fantail – birds that often are heard before they are seen, the likes of grey and striated herons, and white-bellied sea eagles gave their presence away flying overhead. A special treat came in the form of an Asian paradise flycather – a particularly beautiful avian resident of the watery forest, dancing across the mangrove branches. Besides the lizards and the birds, the forest is also plays host to fauna such as mud lobsters, mudskippers, horseshoe crabs, mangrove snails and the dog-faced water snake.

The dance of the Asian paradise flycatcher...

The dance of the Asian paradise flycatcher…

JeromeLim-1411

JeromeLim-1427

A grey heron in flight.

A grey heron in flight.

Another grey heron in flight.

Another grey heron in flight.

A striated heron perched on a fallen trunk.

A striated heron perched on a fallen trunk.

The Sungei Pandan mangroves is all that remains of a once rich mangrove forest. What the crystal ball that is the URA Master Plan tells us is that the area in which it is situated has been designated as a park space. It would be nice to see that the mangroves remain untouched, not just to remind us of the lost forest, but more importantly to protect an area that despite its location and size, is a joyously green space teeming with life.

Minister of State Desmond Lee - an avid bird watcher.

One of the kayakers was Minister of State Desmond Lee, who is an avid bird watcher.

JeromeLim-1307

 





Surviving the tidal wave of development

24 12 2013

Among the many highlights at the URA’s Draft Master Plan 2013 exhibition at the URA Centre (which has been extended to 17 January 2014), is one which relates to the house over a beautiful house over sea in the beautiful and undisturbed world at Lim Chu Kang. Referred to as Cashin House and also known as “The Pier”, I had a chance to see the place, a former home of the late Howard Cashin, back in 2011. It is a house that is said to have played host to teatime visits from the Sultan of Johor and a place in which one is taken back to days of leisure by the sea in times we have well forgotten. It is nice to see that the life of the house, and its rustic surroundings, are being extended and not built around – as too many conserved buildings have unfortunately been. It will be a western gateway to what will be an expanded Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve that will link pockets, such as the Lim Chu Kang East mangroves adjacent to the Cashin House, up, along what is a mangrove dominated northwest coast with the first phase of the reserve east of the Cashin House.

The Pier (Draft Master Plan 2013)

More on the Cashin House can be found in a previous post: A lost world in Lim Chu Kang.

The Pier.

A Lost World in Lim Chu Kang.





A lost world in Lim Chu Kang

19 07 2011

Deep within a world that is now missing from much of Singapore, lies a reminder how life might once have been; one of carefree days spent by the sea, and of quiet nights gazing at the stars. It is a world that doesn’t exist anymore and one that many would find hard to go back to.

A reminder of carefree days in the sun, accompanied by the sand and the sea … a world that doesn’t exist in Singapore anymore?

This reminder, takes the form of the former residence of the late Howard Edmund Cashin, a prominent lawyer and sportsman in his time. Perched on a pier like structure that stretches over mud flats from an area of the mangrove dominated the north-western shores of Singapore, The Pier, as Mr. Cashin referred to the residence, was one that also boasted of an expansive garden from which one can be serenaded by the songs of the sea. Left vacant following Mr. Cashin’s passing in 2009, “The Pier” reminds me of gentler days, of times when the escapes to or taking up residence in seemingly far-flung and idyllic coastal locations across our island seemed the fashion. And, with most of these places since been lost to land reclamation, these are moments and places that we can never again see.

A lost world that reminds us of a Singapore that doesn’t exist anymore can be found in Lim Chu Kang.

The lost road to the lost world …

“The Pier” had served Mr Cashin’s for close to 50 years. Based on newspaper articles and oral history interviews, I understand that the Cashins, Howard and his wife Gillian, moved in to “The Pier” in the 1960s. It was however well before that that the pier had been constructed, the pier itself having been put up in 1906 by Mr Cashin’s father as a means to move rubber from his vast Cashin estate in Lim Chu Kang to Kranji from where it could be transported by road. The house we see on it, was largely added in the 1920s.

The Pier was the home of Mr and Mrs Howard Cashin and was built over a pier which fell to the invading 5th Division of the Japanese Imperial Army in the dark days of February 1942.

The Pier in the 1920s (a scan from The Singapore House, 1819-1942).

The Pier in the 1920s (a scan from The Singapore House, 1819-1942).

“The Pier” is significant from a historical perspective, having been on of the sites where the Japanese Imperial Army’s 5th Division first landed on the north-western coastline in the dark days of early February 1942 that was to lead to the eventual fall of Singapore. The site was where the Japanese invaders out-fought the Australian 22nd Brigade. This despite the Australians defending valiantly and having inflicted heavy casualties on the Japanese. The battle, fought over the night of the 8th of February, was to see some 360 Australian troops losing their lives in the relatively small area of land around “The Pier”. The Japanese were to erect a war shrine at the site. This was something that Mr. Cashin had difficulty removing after the war as it was not easy to find workmen willing to demolish the shrine. Mr. Cashin, in an interview, said that the stone from the pedestal the shrine had stood on was used to construct the road to the house that Mr. Cashin was to add before he moved in in the 1960s.

A view of The Pier from the expansive gardens.

A view of the gardens.

One of the things I was to learn from N. Sivasothi or Siva, who had been kind enough to ask me along for a recce he was conducting of the mangroves close to “The Pier” (see my previous post), was that the then Sultan of Johor (the late father of the current Sultan) was a frequent visitor. His Highness would drop in on the Cashins for tea, coming over by boat across the Straits of Johor; the first of his visits was at low tide and this required the assistance of a huge man in the Sultan’s entourage to carry His Highness on his shoulders over the mud of the tidal flats. This, a reminder of times when borders did not exist, both in the physical sense of the word as well as in the minds of many who lived on either side of the Causeway.

The Pier.

A look through the gates ….

With that gentle world now lost, “The Pier” stands as one of the few reminders left of that world. Now vacant, the ownership of “The Pier” has been passed on to the Singapore Land Authority and thankfully, it is not one we would soon be saying goodbye to as often is the case with many abandoned homes that eventually, would fall into decay, the initial word was that it could see use as a field station. I know at least that it will be there to return to. And, while it may not be a return to a place that I once knew, it will be to a place from which I can be transported back to places and times forgotten that would otherwise exist only in the dreams I have of yesterday.

A peek through the grilles at the entrance to the house …

Signs of abandonment.

Windows.

A peek inside … what would have been the kitchen and dining room.

The living room.

The balcony.

View of the mangrove dominated coastline.

A stariway to the sea … probably one that the Sultan of Johor would have used to ascend from his boat on his visits to the Cashins.


Update on status of the house (source: URA Draft Master Plan 2013 exhibition in Nov/Dec 2013): The Pier (Draft Master Plan 2013)






The forgotten shores

18 07 2011

Lying in the (somewhat) remote and relatively undeveloped north-western corner of Singapore is a world that we seem to have forgotten. It is a world that I had in my younger days, visited on occasion, distracted in my forays into what had seemed like the ends of the earth by the purpose with which I had visited it, first as a boy scout and later as a National Serviceman. It probably has been close to two decades since I last visited the area, and when an opportunity arose to revisit the area over the weekend – the man instrumental in the efforts to cleanup some of the neglected coastal areas in Singapore, N. Sivasothi of the National University of Singapore (NUS), was doing a recce of mangroves in the area which will be the focus of his efforts come August and September of this year and extended an invitation to me to join him, I decided to have a look. I was glad I did, finding that the area was as I had imagined it to be – a lost world that seems far from the Singapore that I have grown accustomed to.

A forgotten world lies along the north-western shores of Singapore.

The forgotten north-western shores of Singapore.

Much of the coastal region around the northwest of Singapore are still dominated by the mangroves that had extended around much of the island’s original coastline, a coastline that lies forgotten and somewhat neglected over the years. Access to the mangroves of the area are through roads that lead to the north-west of which the main thoroughfare is Lim Chu Kand Road which ends at an area that seems as remote as one can get to in Singapore, one that is now dominated by a large Police Coast Guard base and a pontoon jetty that is used by fishermen. One of the mangroves that was surveyed was the one that is adjacent to this jetty, accessible over the mud flats that reach out to sea just by the jetty, which is well known for it’s giant mud mounds built by the mud lobster. This will be the focus of clean-up efforts on the 6th of August this year, something that Siva does for Singapore around every National Day. The extent of the litter that has washed up and become entrapped within the mangroves was clear just from having a look around and it is wonderful to know that there are efforts to clear the area of all that.

A mangrove forest at the Lim Chu Kang area. Much of Singapore's north-western coastline is still dominated by mangroves that had lined most of Singapore's original coastline.

Mud flats adjacent to the pontoon jetty at Lim Chu Kang end.

Saturday's recce through the Lim Chu Kang mangrove.

Litter washed ashore and entrapped by the mangroves was evident all around. The area will be the focus of clean-up efforts on 6th August 2011.

Another area that was surveyed was a little further to the east, accessible through Lim Chu Kang Lane 9, close to where the late Howard Cashin had his incredible retreat by the mangroves, a building that is built on stilts over the sea and is still there. This I would devote another post to. Adjacent to the plot of land where Cashin built the retreat, runs a stream through the mangroves that would be the focus of attention on International Coastal Cleanup Day on 17th September 2011. Here, the extent of the fouling by debris is again evident, with much of it washed up the stream together with renovation debris that has apparently been dumped there. Although much of the efforts involve volunteers amongst the staff and students at NUS, others are also welcomed to join in. For the effort on 6th August, sign-ups for volunteers can be made at this link.

A view of the mangroves off Lim Chu Kang Lane 9.

Siva in his element ... the mangroves that are very close to his heart.

Siva and Jessica Ker surveying the stream off Lim Chu Kang Lane 9.

Being in what is an area that is abundant with greenery, I was able to also spend a little time to have a look around me and take in some of the joys that the greenery brings. The area is rich in butterflies and my brief visit allowed me to watch a few dance around the abundant flora of the area. I certainly am thankful to Siva for opening a door for me to an area that I have forgotten about and one that I would now certainly have more encounters with.

A male Painted Jezebel.

A female Leopard Lacewing.

A Plain Palm Dart.

A weaver bird's nest.