Satellite images show Kranji woodland destroyed as early as March 1, 2020

Pandemic halted the clearing.

Belmont Lay | February 18, 2021, 11:52 PM

Satellite images of Kranji woodland reveal that forest-clearing activity started as early as March 1, 2020, refuting claims that the deforestation activity only began in December last year.

The images of the unauthorised clearance of the land parcel around Kranji Road and Kranji Close has refuted claims made by JTC Corporation, which said two days earlier on Feb. 16 that the "erroneous" clearing started in December 2020 before environmental assessments were complete.

The images and data are courtesy of Global Forest Watch, a monitoring service run by World Resources Institute that uses satellite data.

Work halted during pandemic

The footage clearly showed work had to be halted between March and August 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The area cleared remained the same throughout those months and more progress was only made starting from September 2020.

By Jan. 25, 2021, green patches of at least 8 hectares - or 11 football fields - were cleared, according to satellite Sentinel-2B used as part of the European Union's Copernicus Earth-monitoring project.

Other evidence

Other evidence that suggested that clearance took place earlier than stated was a sign saying "proposed site clearance and earthworks at Kranji Road for Plot 9" at the deforested land next to Kranji Road were up by September 2020, according to Google Street View footage.

Home to many species of birds

The forested area cleared is part of Kranji Woodland-Scrubland comprising about 70 hectares.

A survey from the rail corridor found 47 resident and migratory bird species that account for 12 per cent of Singapore's total records.

The destruction of some 8 hectares of land by early 2021 is more than 10 per cent of the 70ha woodland area.

This represents a third of the site slated for the Agri-Food Innovation Park that would take up 33 football fields.

What JTC has said

A JTC spokesman said on Feb. 16 the mistake was discovered on Jan. 13, 2021.

That was when JTC ordered all clearing works to stop and issued a stern warning to the contractor.

Aerial images of the deforestation were posted on social media on Feb. 14, which prompted JTC's response.

JTC said a Biodiversity Baseline Study was to be carried out in December 2020 to work out an Environmental Monitoring and Management Plan.

It was to be completed in April 2021 only.

Development plans were to be discussed with key stakeholders, including nature groups.

The National Parks Board (NParks) said it was investigating the unauthorised clearance.

It is illegal to fell a tree with a girth exceeding 1m growing on any vacant land, whether within or outside a tree conservation area, except with the approval of NParks, according to the Parks and Trees Act.