Speech by Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat at the Opening of Botanical Art Gallery, COMO Adventure Grove and Forest Discovery Centre @OCBC Arboretum, Gallop Extension on 13 March 2021.
Minister Desmond Lee,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Good morning everyone. I am very happy to be here at the Singapore Botanic Gardens for the opening of new features at the Gallop Extension.
New Features at Gallop Extension
The Singapore Botanic Gardens is Singapore’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Botanic Gardens was founded in 1859. In its early years, it was an important centre for research on tropical plants that played a pivotal role in the growth of the rubber industry in the region. This transformed the economic landscape of the region. Over the last 150 years, Botanic Gardens has also been a vital “green lung” for Singapore, a place where we can all enjoy nature with our friends and families, and recharge ourselves.
The inscription of our Botanic Gardens as a World Heritage Site is testament to our long-term commitment to conserve and enhance our natural heritage, and the decades of hard work by the dedicated staff, supporters and volunteers of the Gardens.
Over the years, the Botanic Gardens has expanded. In recent years, we expanded it by an additional 18 hectares with the Tyersall-Gallop Core, bringing the total size of the Botanic Gardens to 82 hectares. This new core comprises the Learning Forest and the Gallop Extension. We opened the Learning Forest in 2017. As a restored freshwater swamp forest habitat, it enables people to experience our wonderful flora and fauna first-hand. Now, we are all standing here at the Gallop Extension. The land around me was once zoned for residential and other uses. But the team at NParks and MND felt it was important to conserve the natural and cultural heritage of the area, which contains colonial houses and remnants of a swamp forest. So the Government decided to remake the Gallop Extension as part of the Botanic Gardens. This required careful habitat restoration work. For instance, we had to replace invasive plants which had grown here with native plants and trees, to restore a native forest ecosystem.
In 2019, we opened the first two features in the Gallop Extension – The Mingxin Foundation Rambler’s Ridge – a trail inspired by unique forest habitats in the tropical hills of Southeast Asia, and the OCBC Arboretum – a living laboratory of some of the trees which are key species of our regional forest ecosystems.
Today, we will be launching three new features in the Gallop Extension: Two new galleries, and the COMO Adventure Grove.
Opening of New Galleries at Gallop Extension
The two new galleries are located within two conserved colonial houses, which have been sensitively refurbished by NParks. First, we have the Botanical Art Gallery, where visitors can view rare books and botanical art from the Botanic Gardens’ extensive collection. This is Singapore’s first permanent display of botanical art. In conjunction with this, I am also pleased to launch a new book titled “Tropical Plants in Focus – Botanical Illustration at the Singapore Botanic Gardens”. The book is authored by Dr Michele Rodda, a botanist at the Botanic Gardens. It outlines the development of botanical illustration in Singapore, and showcases a selection of artworks from the Botanic Gardens’ 2,000-piece collection, which has contributed significantly to the UNESCO heritage of the Botanic Gardens. For example, the book features the collection’s oldest dated painting, which is of an orchid and dates to 1890. Readers can also view some of the illustrations featured in the book in person at the Botanical Art Gallery.
Next is the Forest Discovery Centre @ OCBC Arboretum, which showcases the different forest habitats in Singapore through interactive displays. I understand that the Centre is housed in our oldest surviving black-and-white bungalow in Singapore, which is 123 years old. I am also happy to announce that the Centre will host the Botanic Gardens’ Tropical Forest Ecology Research programme. This programme will bring together experts from Singapore and the region to develop science-based interventions for the restoration of Singapore’s forests. It is very thoughtful of the NParks team to use the oldest black-and-white bungalow of the past, to explore the future of tropical forest ecology. This is very much in keeping with the outstanding universal value of a UNESCO heritage site!
Opening of COMO Adventure Grove at Gallop Extension
I am also pleased to open Singapore’s newest nature playgarden – the COMO Adventure Grove. Kids can swing, slide and climb on structures resembling parts of trees and fruits found within the Gardens. Play, including outdoor and physical play, helps children develop not just psycho-motor skills, but a whole range of social skills and interests. It also stimulates their curiosity. And most of all, it is fun! The COMO Adventure Grove is a valuable addition in our Botanic Gardens for our young to play and develop a love for nature and the outdoors. We will continue to nurture the Botanic Gardens so that it remains a glowing green gem at the heart of our city. The Gallop Extension will also be seamlessly connected to the rest of the Botanic Gardens via a 200-metre bridge, the HPL Canopy Link, which will be ready in 2022.
Singapore Green Plan 2030
The Botanic Gardens exemplifies Singapore’s commitment to build a liveable and sustainable Singapore. We recently announced the Singapore Green Plan 2030, or Green Plan. This is an ambitious national movement to advance our agenda on sustainable development. A key pillar of the Green Plan is to transform Singapore into a City in Nature. We are adding more nature parks, intensifying greenery and nature in our parks and gardens, restoring nature into our urban areas, and strengthening connectivity between our green spaces. What we have done here in the Botanic Gardens is a good example. These efforts will strengthen our island’s ecological resilience.
At the same time, we must also balance retaining natural areas with developing our lands to meet various needs. Such tensions are inherent to land-use planning in any country, but are particularly acute in Singapore, given that we are a city-state with limited land mass. We will continue to carefully balance our land use between our different needs. Where there is potential impact on the environment, we will study and mitigate the effects. We will also be upfront with you on the trade-offs and difficult choices.
As Minister Desmond Lee announced recently, we will engage stakeholders, including the nature community, further upstream in the planning process. And we will discuss these issues with Singaporeans as part of our national conversations on long-term land use planning. We invite everyone to join these conversations and to partner us in action. I am confident that we will be able to find the right consensus as a society.
To conclude, let me thank all the sponsors of the Gallop Extension: COMO Foundation, Hotel Properties Limited, Mingxin Foundation, and OCBC, for your generous contributions. Indeed, without your partnership and the support of our volunteers and other members of the community, the Botanic Gardens would not be what it is today. I am confident that everyone will continue to work with us – to enable the Botanic Gardens to flourish and blossom, and to transform Singapore into a City in Nature.
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