Heritage Tree Scheme
The Heritage Tree Scheme is an initiative by the National Parks Board (NParks) to promote the conservation of mature trees in Singapore.1
Announced on 17 August 2001 by then Minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan, the Heritage Tree Scheme is one of two conservation schemes – the other being the Heritage Road Scheme – proposed by the Garden City Action Committee (GCAC).2 The GCAC, which comprises officials from various government agencies, oversees policies for the greening of Singapore and coordinates the activities of the government bodies involved.3 The Heritage Tree Scheme advocates the conservation of mature trees, while the Heritage Road Scheme seeks to conserve the scenic and significant tree-lined roads of Singapore.4
Both schemes aim to recognise mature trees as part of Singapore’s natural heritage and as important landmarks that provide Singaporeans with a sense of rootedness and continuity amidst rapid redevelopment.5
The schemes extend tree conservation beyond the two green spaces in the south central and eastern parts of Singapore that have been officially demarcated as Tree Conservation Areas (TCAs) on 2 August 1991: the Central and Changi TCAs, respectively. They total some 4,900 ha of protected greenery.6
Launch of the scheme and public nomination of heritage trees
The Heritage Tree Scheme was officially launched on 23 September 2002 by then Minister of State for National Development Vivian Balakrishnan.7 At the same time, NParks introduced the Heritage Tree Nomination Scheme to engage the community in the initiative.8 The scheme allows anyone to recommend a tree to be designated as a “heritage tree”.9
More than 270 nominations were received within the first year following the launch of the scheme.10 The qualifying criteria stipulate that the nominated tree should have a girth, or trunk circumference, of more than 5 m as well as possess botanical, social, historical, cultural and/or aesthetical value. NParks arborists would assess the nominees before submission to the Heritage Trees Panel for decision.11 The Heritage Trees Panel comprises NParks officials, representatives from other government agencies such as the Urban Redevelopment Authority and People’s Association, as well as arborists.12
The scheme commenced with an initial list of 36 trees endorsed by the Heritage Trees Panel. Among the selected were some of the oldest and most iconic trees in Singapore such as the well-known tembusu tree in the Singapore Botanic Gardens which is featured on the Singapore five-dollar note and the angsana tree on Upper Serangoon Road near the former Bidadari Cemetery. The latter was at risk of being cut down to make way for a road-widening project, but because of the Heritage Tree Scheme and the cooperation of NParks, Public Utilities Board and the Land Transport Authority, an alternative solution was found that allowed the tree to be conserved by rerouting the drain and realigning the road.13
In support of the Heritage Tree Scheme, the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) established a Heritage Trees Fund with an initial amount of S$125,000 to kick-start the conservation programme.14 The fund goes towards constructing lightning protection for the trees, information panels that accompany each tree and community outreach programmes to spread awareness about the conservation of heritage trees.15
Conservation of heritage trees
The conservation programme presently covers the installation of lightning conductors to protect trees from lightning strikes, information panels that detail the botanical and historical significance of the heritage trees, along with the nomination scheme.16
Moreover, NParks may adopt measures to prevent excavation or soil compaction around the root zone as well as work with other government agencies to ensure that developmental projects are sited away from heritage trees. These trees would also be inspected and maintained through a regular tree care programme.17
Heritage trees located within areas managed by NParks or existing TCAs are already protected under the Parks and Trees Act and the National Parks Board Act.18 For example, the felling of a mature tree with girth exceeding 1 m in the TCAs without prior approval from the commissioner of parks and recreation may be subject to a maximum fine of S$50,000.19
Heritage Tree Dedication Award
NParks dedicates Heritage Trees to recognise any organisation or individual who has contributed to the making of Singapore as a garden city. Each Heritage Tree Dedication is for life, and recipients will be presented with a dedication plaque at the tree as well as a photo of the tree.20
The first Heritage Tree Dedications were made in 2004 to Yuen-Peng McNiece, Shaw Foundation, HSBC, Hotel Properties Limited, Chevron Oronite and ST Microelectronics.21 This was followed by dedications to Margaret Lien, ExxonMobil and FCL Pte Ltd in 2010 and to City Developments Limited, Sembcorp Industries and Singapore Press Holdings in 2014.22 These organisations and individuals were honoured for their significant donations to the Garden City Fund, which was launched in December 2003 to encourage greater public involvement and participation in the greening of Singapore.23
Heritage Trees Register
By April 2006, there were 161 heritage trees. In order to track the growing number of heritage trees in Singapore, NParks launched an online register of heritage trees on 22 April 2006.24 Members of the public can learn more about the trees through information available in the Heritage Trees Register. The register is not only aimed at raising awareness of heritage trees, but also highlighting the achievements of this community-driven scheme to strengthen conservation efforts, environmental consciousness and civic-mindedness.25
As at February 2015, there are over 200 heritage trees in Singapore, with more than half concentrated in the central part of the island.26
1. National Parks Board, Annual Report 2002/2003 (Singapore: National Parks Board, 2003), 36. (Call no. RCLOS 333.783095957 SNPBAR-[AR])
2. Mah Bow Tan, “The Official Opening of Hindhede Nature Park,” speech, Hindhede Nature Park, 17 August 2001, transcript, Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts (From National Archives of Singapore document no. 2001081702); Neo Hui Min, “New Laws Protect Local Trees,” Straits Times, 18 August 2001, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Timothy Auger, Living in a Garden: The Greening of Singapore (Singapore: National Parks Board, 2013), 28. (Call no. RSING 363.68095957 AUG)
4. Neo, “New Laws Protect Local Trees.”
5. National Parks Board, Annual Report 2002/2003, 36.
6. “Tree Conservation Areas,” National Parks Board, accessed 5 January 2015.
7. Vivian Balakrishnan, “The Official Launch of Heritage Trees Scheme,” speech, Singapore Botanic Gardens, transcript, 23 September 2002, Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts. (From National Archives of Singapore document no. 2002092302)
8. National Parks Board, Annual Report 2002/2003, 36.
9. “Heritage Trees,” National Parks Board, accessed 4 February 2015.
10. National Parks Board, Annual Report 2002/2003, 36.
11. National Parks Board, “Heritage Trees.”
12. “Heritage Tree Panel,” National Parks Board, accessed 11 June 2015.
13. Balakrishnan, “Official Launch of Heritage Trees Scheme.”
14. Sim Chi Yin, “Plan to Save Old and Rare Trees Bears Fruit,” Straits Times, 24 September 2002, 6 (From NewspaperSG); National Parks Board, “Heritage Trees.”
15. National Parks Board, “NParks Announces the New Heritage Trees Register,” press release, 22 April 2006.
16. National Parks Board, “Heritage Trees.”
17. “Do Heritage Trees Need Any Special Care Programme?” National Parks Board, accessed 21 September 2015.
18. “Are the Heritage Trees Legally Protected under Any Legislation or Act?” National Parks Board, accessed 21 September 2015.
19. National Parks Board, “Tree Conservation Areas.”
20. National Parks Board, “Three Heritage Trees Dedicated to Companies for Contributing to Greening of Singapore,” press release, 7 November 2014.
21. Glenys Sim, “Shaw Foundation Head Has ‘Own’ Tree in Botanic Gardens,” Straits Times, 2 July 2004, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
22. National Parks Board, “Three Heritage Trees Dedicated to Companies”; National Parks Board, “Heritage Tree Dedication,” media factsheet, 7 November 2014.
23. National Parks Board, Annual Report 2002/2003, 16.
24. Jean Loo, “NParks Starts Register to Track Rising Number of Heritage Trees,” Straits Times, 23 April 2006, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
25. National Parks Board, “NParks Announces the New Heritage Trees Register.”
26. National Parks Board, “Heritage Trees.”
Clara Chow, “Trunk Services,” Straits Times, 29 September 2002, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
Jamie Ee Wen Wei, “House Owner Fined $6,000 for Cutting Down 3 Trees,” Straits Times, 5 July 2009, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
Lea Wee, “Leaf Those Trees Alone,” Straits Times, 4 November 2001, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
Shee Zhi Qiang et al., Tall Tales: Singapore Botanic Gardens Heritage Trees Trail Guide (Singapore: Singapore Botanic Gardens, 2014), 60. (Call no. RSING 582.16095957 SHE)
The information in this article is valid as of 27 September 2015 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.