PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Opening of the Learning Forest at the Singapore Botanic Gardens on 31 March 2017.
Ms Christina Ong, Chairman of National Parks Board, Prof Leo Tan, Chairman of Garden City Fund, Dr Lee Boon Yang, Chairman of Keppel Corporation and Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
Very happy to be here this bright and sunny morning to open the Singapore Botanic Gardens Learning Forest. The Botanic Gardens is a place where we all make precious memories. Parents bring children here for outings, to feed the fish, or run around the open lawns. Couples come for dates, to enjoy the breeze, and look for biji saga, seeds of the saga tree and love. On weekends, crowds gather at the symphony stage for performances and concerts. Whenever we can, my wife and I will come here for quiet walks in the evenings, or very often after dinner. It is a peaceful and beautiful place enjoyed by all.
Two years ago, we celebrated the Singapore Botanic Gardens’ inscription as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was a proud moment for Singaporeans. It is only the third botanic gardens in the world to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One key reason why we were successful is because for more than 150 years, we have taken special care of this treasure. We nurtured it, cultivated it, expanded it and developed the Gardens, not just for leisure and recreation, but also for education and scientific work. It is not just the work of the staff alone, but was done with Singaporeans, involving them, engaging them, passing on to children our love for the Gardens.
The Learning Forest builds on this legacy of conservation and improvement. NParks set out to recreate and restore the wetland and forest habitats, which used to be here long, long ago, based on detailed studies of maps and geological surveys from the 19th century. They integrated it with the Garden’s existing six-hectare Rain Forest, one of the last remaining tracts of primary rainforest in Singapore. They created a new conservation core in the Gardens, an important reference for work on conservation and restoration ecology too.
Many Singaporeans, myself included, have been looking forward to visiting this, and discovering more about our rich natural heritage. We have seen the hoardings, we have seen the pictures painted on the boards, we have wondered what laid behind them, and today we get a chance to have a peep.
There are Giant Pandans, Pulai Trees with swollen buttress roots, and sandy banks lined with Pelawan Trees sporting multi-coloured peeling bark. You can also try spotting animals commonly found in a freshwater wetland ecosystem, like the Malayan Box Terrapin, the Crab-Eating Frog and the Stork-billed Kingfisher. There is a Bambusetum, a place where you keep species of bamboos. You can see over 30 species of bamboo. At the fruit tree arboretum, there are wild relatives of common fruits, for example the Redan, a small, hairless cousin of the Rambutan.
Ultimately, our Botanic Gardens thrives not because of the interesting mix of plants, but because within it, there is life. It is teeming with activity. It is loved and nurtured by the community, by all age groups. I would like to thank everyone who have worked so hard to create this Learning Forest. Corporate partners such as Keppel and SPH. The many volunteers who spend time planting trees or leading guided walks. For them, it is a labour of love. I hope that more Singaporeans will get involved.
NParks will launch a new Citizen Science programme where volunteers can help monitor the long-term ecological health of the Botanic Gardens. This is NParks’ version of PokemonGO, with a purpose. You go around with your camera phone but instead of catching pokemons, you use the SGBioAtlas mobile app to submit sightings of animals spotted in the Gardens. Real animals which you capture on your smartphone. The data which you collect will help NParks to monitor animal populations, and improve conservation and biodiversity.
Planting a garden or forest is the work of decades. Today, the tall trees you see around us are decades, sometimes centuries old. Many of the trees in the Learning Forest are still young. But gradually, year by year, they will grow and mature. In the fullness of time, they will enrich our natural heritage. More Singaporeans will grow to love it, and I hope care for and nurture it so that future generations will also get the chance to enjoy this green gem and form lasting, precious memories of their own.
Thank you very much.
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