A wild bird seen at the Kranji Marshes. Photo: Koh Mui Fong/TODAY

Rich biodiversity on offer as Kranji Marshes open

SINGAPORE — After two years of efforts by the authorities, the largest freshwater marshland in Singapore was officially opened today (Feb 1), and the public will be able to take in its rich biodiversity through guided walks that will take them through conservation areas typically off-limits to visitors.

Located next to Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, the Kranji Marshes wetlands lie along the north-western shore of Kranji Reservoir and sprawl over 56.8 hectares, or about 60 football fields.

Kranji Marshes is divided into two main areas: One that is accessible to all members of the public, and a core conservation area limited to visitors who register for guided walks, due to the ecological sensitivity of the area. These guided walks will begin at the end of the month.

The marshland is an Environmental Improvement Project by the National Parks Board (NParks) and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), and is part of the third phase of the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve Masterplan.

The marshland was created when Kranji reservoir was dammed in the 1970s, flooding the surrounding low-lying areas and drawing wildlife. In 2008, the Nature Society of Singapore (NSS) began clearing dense vegetation there to build a more suitable habitat for wildlife. The task was taken over by URA and NParks in 2014, which also built amenities for visitors.

The marshland is now home to more than 170 species of birds, 54 species of butterflies and 33 species of dragonflies. Of the 170 bird species, 22 are threatened species, such as the Purple Swamphen and the Red-wattled Lapwing, both of which are rarely found elsewhere in Singapore.

Speaking at the official opening today, URA director (projects) Teo Chong Yean said one challenge of developing the marshland was understanding the environment and the birds’ behaviour, in order to avoid disrupting their patterns. “That’s how we started to look at satellite images, and flew a drone and took pictures of the area, and started to trace profiles of the previous fish ponds, then we could map (the area) out carefully for contractors to carry out work,” he said.

NParks director of conservation Wong Tuan Wah said constant clearing of vegetation is needed to keep the birds coming back. “Every month or so, we have to keep removing the water hyacinths, for example, because they grow very fast and once they cover the water area, the birds won’t come back. There’s always a constant need to remove water weeds,” he said.

As part of conservation efforts, last year, Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve staff raised and trained several Red-wattled Lapwing chicks that were rescued by members of the public. Upon their successful rehabilitation, they were tagged and released in Kranji Marshes to integrate with their wild counterparts.

Other signature bird species include the Grey-headed Fish Eagle, Blue-eared Kingfisher, and Lesser Whistling Duck. The observation points in Kranji Marshes are named after these signature species, such as the Swamphen Hide, a sheltered structure for visitors to observe wildlife in close proximity.

NParks will begin offering its guided walks on Feb 27. To be held on a Saturday evening monthly, the two-hour walk will take visitors into the core conservation area — which is not open to the general public — and educate them about the biodiversity in the marsh, woodland and grass habitats.

The NSS will also be organising three-hour morning walks, with a focus on bird-watching. These are also due to begin at the end of this month.

All walks are free-of-charge and limited to 20 participants.

Said Mr Wong: “We just completed developments and the vegetation has not grown back yet, and wildlife is still coming back. We want to let the (core conservation) area establish itself first for the next six months to a year, and assess how the conditions are like, then consider opening it to the public to see.”

Those who choose to visit on their own can take a 1km-long walk from Kranji Gate. Along the way, visitors can learn about the flora and fauna through signboards and outdoor classrooms. They can also take in a bird’s-eye view of the marshes by climbing up the 10.65m Raptor Tower.

Originally published at www.todayonline.com.