Singapore is unusual within ASEAN. Whereas forestry is important but distant for many citizens of ASEAN countries with much higher forest cover, in Singapore the daily comfort of every resident depends on the city’s trees. With a land area of about 714 km2 and a current population size of over 5.3 million inhabitants, Singapore is one of the most densely populated countries in the world.

First Botanic Garden

When the British established Singapore in 1819, the island bore dense primary lowland forest with extensive mangroves and coastal forests along the coastline. The population consisted mainly of seafaring communities who practised fishing and other sea-going activities. The British established the first botanic and experimental garden was created on Government Hill (now Fort Canning) in 1822, long before the premier Singapore Botanic Gardens existed (now located in a different location from Fort Canning). In 1882, the severity of deforestation prompted the colonial government to commission a study that resulted in the creation of forest reserves in 1886. These formed the basis for nature conservation as it is now conducted within the Nature Reserves.

Urban Forestry of Singapore

  • During the Second World War (1941 – 1945), much of Singapore’s infrastructure including rubber estates and other crop plantations were destroyed. Fortunately, the Singapore Botanic Gardens was spared and even enjoyed legal protection.
  • After independence from the British rule and from a short-lived merger with Malaysia, the Singapore government saw a transition from an agrarian and farm-based society to a more high-density urban society. There was a shift from agriculture to manufacturing and service-based industries, and much of the abandoned agricultural lands were converted for such land use.
  • The first Prime Minister of Singapore (Mr Lee Kuan Yew) was also the driving force to transform Singapore into a Garden City. He gave the mandate to green the island with as many trees as possible as shade providers and to soften the landscape of the fast industrialised country.
  • In 1975 through legislation like the Parks and Trees Act, urban greenery and urban forestry were established. It became a standard to set aside land for trees and other greenery to be planted around residential and industrial developments, along roadsides and many other areas.
  • From 1996 onwards, the National Parks Board (NParks) under the Ministry of National Development (MND) has managed this task. As part of its responsibilities, NParks monitors around 1.4 million park and roadside trees, as well as manages the four nature reserves, two national parks (Singapore Botanic Gardens and Fort Canning Park), a network of over 300 km of park connectors, and some 300 coastal, riverine and community parks, totalling about 10% of Singapore’s land area conserve representatives of key natural ecosystems including lowland dipterocarp forest and coastal hill forest, freshwater swamp forest, mangroves, as well as sandy, rocky and muddy shores.

Planning Procedures 

  • Singapore has a long-term land use planning which is updated in Concept Plans that are prepared approximately every ten years and Master Plans that express these in detailed planning approximately every five years. Within this planning system there are mechanisms for community inputs and feedback, including public forums and consultation with community representatives and non-governmental organisations.
  • Planning on conservation was started ate the first nationwide tree planting campaign was launched in 1963.
  • In 1967 a Garden City Campaign when the Public Works Department (PWD) set up a specialist Parks and Trees Unit.
  • Around 1968, the Garden City Action Committee (GCAC) was formed to oversee policies for greening the whole island and to coordinate the activities of the various government agencies. Chaired by the Ministry of National Development (MND), this committee includes representatives from various government agencies like the National Parks Board (NParks), the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), Building and Construction Authority (BCA), Housing Development Board (HDB), Jurong Town Corporation (JTC), Land Transport Authority (LTA), Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), Public Utilities Board (PUB) and Singapore Tourism Board (STB). The community is represented by the People’s Association (PA).
  • Since 1971, an annual Tree Planting Day has taken place every first week of November.
  • On 12 June 1992, Singapore signed the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and became a Party to the Convention on 21 December 1995. As a Party to the CBD, Singapore has prepared a 4th National Report as well as our National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) titled ‘Conserving Our Biodiversity’.
  • Singapore will soon embark on its 5th National Report following the latest decision of the Conference of Parties of the CBD. The NBSAP sets out Singapore’s overall plan for biodiversity conservation, recognising its constraints as a densely populated country with no hinterland.

Community Involvement 

  • The NParks ‘Community in Bloom’ programme creates green awareness by involving the community in gardening projects to enhance their natural surroundings. To date, there are some 600 active gardening groups throughout Singapore. Community-initiated gardens sprouting flowers, herbs, vegetables and even trees can be found in public and private estates, schools, as well as public places such as hospitals. These gardens are taken cared by volunteers from all walks of life including residents, students and even staff or employees of the various organisations.
  • The Garden City Fund (GCF) project launched in 2003 as another channel for preserving Singapore’s natural heritage through community partnerships, with the aim of sustaining the Garden City for the benefit of future generations. The government provides funding support for the basic green infrastructure, while community involvement through individuals and corporations are encouraged to express their ownership in sustaining Singapore as a Garden City with various greening initiatives.
  • City In A Garden. NParks’ mission has evolved from creating a Garden City to that of a City in a Garden (CIAG). A public engagement exercise was launched in August 2011 to encourage Singaporeans to contribute their views based on the following six key areas, namely:
    • Establishing world-class gardens
    • Rejuvenating urban parks and enlivening  streetscapes
    • Optimising urban spaces and infrastructure for greenery and recreation
    • Enriching biodiversity in urban environment
    • Enhancing competencies of landscape and horticulture industry
    • Engaging and inspiring communities to co-create a greener Singapore.
  • Ideas submitted are publicly available at the CIAG website (www.nparks.gov.sg/ciag/).
  • 50 years of Singapore’s dynamic greening.  To commemorate this occasion, schools have been invited to participate in planting trees in their school compounds.  Singaporeans are also invited to plant 1,963 trees from June to November 2013. This number commemorates the start of Singapore’s greening efforts in 1963, and funds raised will be used to enhance the biodiversity and heritage value of the Singapore Botanic Gardens.
  • Community In Bloom.  A project that started in May 2005 at Mayfair Park Estate, a residential housing estate outside of the city, had residents getting their fingers dirty and working together to create roadside planting within the vicinity of their housing estate. Known as the “Community In Bloom” (CIB) programme administered by NParks, there are now more than 600 gardening groups, consisting of both young and old enthusiasts, working hand in hand in sprucing up their respective residential estates.
  • Community In Nature. NParks has embarked on a new programme known as “Community In Nature” (CIN). The simple idea behind this programme is to connect the community at large with nature by:
  • Encouraging the understanding, appreciation, and protection of nature and biodiversity
  • Cultivating champions within the community in protecting Singapore’s natural environment
  • Fostering and supporting community groups and organizations to reconnect people with the natural environment.
  • Create nature awareness and appreciation
  • Provide opportunities for participants in nature conservation and nature-related activities
  • Create a sense of ownership and leadership over Singapore’s natural environment.
  • Skyrise and Rooftop Greenery. Singapore’s greening campaign, after 50 years, is systematically moving skywards with progress in skyrise greenery, green infrastructure and vertical greenery. Currently, Singapore has over 50 hectares of rooftop greenery island-wide in public and private buildings such as housing estates, schools and shopping centres.
  • This puts Singapore among the leading cities in skyrise greening. Neighbourhoods at two residential areas, Jurong East and Dover Crescent, are examples of how rooftop greenery is helping residents revive the kampong (village) spirit, where neighbours get together to plant flowers, herbs and vegetables.  To date, the HDB has built 108 new multistorey carparks with rooftop greenery, adding about 20 hectares of green space. Another 111 new multistorey carparks with rooftop greenery are currently under construction.
  • Plant-A-Tree. Members of the community, as individuals or as a group, or as staff members of an organisation, can participate actively by planting a tree under the Plant-A-Tree programme initiated in 2007 by the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) and the Garden City Fund (GCF). Since its inception, over 13,000 trees have been planted under this programme involving some 20,000 people from the general public and corporations.
  • Every Child a Seed. In February 2013, every Primary 3 school student (40,000 students in 183 schools nationwide) received a free seed-planting kit to pique their interest in plants, and build their appreciation of the work involved in greening the nation.
  • Heritage Tree Scheme. Majestic mature trees are part of Singapore’s natural heritage and serve as important green landmarks. To highlight their importance, the Heritage Tree Scheme was announced in August 2001. A Heritage Trees Fund was established to initiate the programme and promote appreciation of our natural heritage. To date there are close to 200 Heritage Trees, nearly all of species native to Singapore.
  • Green Wave. The Green Wave is a global biodiversity campaign to educate children and youth about biodiversity. Each year, The Green Wave contributes to worldwide celebration of the International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB). It also supports other national, international and global tree planting initiatives such as the UNEP-led (United Nations Environment Programme) Billion Tree Campaign.
  • Recreation and Education. Singapore’s nature reserves, parks and gardens receive huge visitorship. The four nature reserves, namely the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Central Catchment Nature Reserve, Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and Labrador Nature Reserve, each have 150,000 to 400,000 visitors per year. The Singapore Botanic Gardens caters for 4 million visitors a year (10,000 to 12,000 visitors per day).
  • There are currently around 800 volunteers conducting or promoting green activities together with NParks. In addition, schools and companies also volunteer with NParks. The activities cover five main areas involving nature areas in Singapore and a biodiversity survey: Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (mangroves), Central Nature Reserve (lowland forest), Pulau Ubin (secondary forest, plantations, village and coastal environment), Singapore Botanic Gardens (guided walks and Rain Forest Walking Trail), and the Comprehensive Marine Biodiversity Survey – a survey to take stock of Singapore’s marine ecosystem, species diversity, distribution and abundance. The Nature Society (Singapore) has a ramblers group, a fig interest group, and a plant group.  Other interested stakeholders include the Wildlife Reserves Singapore (operators of Singapore Zoo and Night Safari), and ACRES (Animal Care and Rescue Singapore).


  • Visitor surveys are conducted regularly to assess levels of appreciation amongst different sectors of the community.
  • Feedback is received through various channels, including telephone hotlines, public e-mailboxes, by letter, and direct interaction at events and roadshows. Public views are continuously solicited through the NParks’ website.  More specialised views from particular interest groups and science-based groups can be fed to government through the Biodiversity Round Table.
  • Regular Inspection to address safety and any public concerns about trees, all roadside trees are conducted by teams of trained arborists. Poor performance, misshapen or damaged trees are handled promptly. Cases of tree falls are dealt with immediately with rigorous standard operating procedures to allay public concerns and minimise risk and damage.
  • National Red Data Book of Singapore is a list of threatened species of fauna and flora, which is a resource used by various sectors of society for monitoring rare plants and animals. NParks has a Plant Conservation Programme, which aims to reduce the bio diversity loss of Singapore’s flora. This is in turn linked to the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation, a programme under the United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
  • The Singapore Index on Cities’ Biodiversity, a tool available for use under the CBD, is a form of self-assessment for cities to monitor their performance under three main headings: Biodiversity, environmental services, and governance.

Long-Term Implications

Singapore strives to ensure that 85% of residents will live within 400 metres of a park. To truly realise Singapore’s vision of a City in a Garden, it is important that the community shares and takes ownership of this vision and is actively involved in the greening efforts. Many efforts have been made to ensure that NParks’ work is supported by the 3P sectors: people, public sector agencies and private corporations.***

***Synthesized from  Singapore Chapter of ASFCC Publication “The role of the community in urban forestry in Singapore”, National Biodiversity Centre, National Parks Board, 1 Cluny Road, Singapore 259569, Republic of Singapore.