Monday, July 9, 2007

ISA HK/China --- The Singapore Experience (Episode 1)

Dear All,

As per promised before, this Station has the duty to submit a brief report on our visit to the National Park Board (Npark) of the Singapore Govt from 5 - 8 Feb., & what a wonderful experience it has been. I am sure all participants are still suffering from the hangover of this beautiful country & all have broadened our knowledge in landscaping & arboriculture of which Npark has so honestly & enthusiastically provided to us.

This report is trying to gather memories & impression of key events & information during our visit. I am sure every participant will have something to add if you see each one of them. Therefore, please do not forget to come to our next ISA activity so that you may learn something this report has missed out or carelessly recorded during our hectic three day event in Singapore.

All in all, my personal impression of the visit is that Npark was taking the HK arborists very seriously & had given us the respect & protocol to more than we would deserve. We must not forget that HK arboriculturte is still in its infant stage & we could feel Npark is lending us a helping hand with its expertise & resources to develop our own. The 3 day programme was packed with seminars, site visits & discussions. There was a frank exchange of views between the two sides & we have found Npark officers very skillful & knowledgeable in their fields. Those of you who have learned about Singaporeans from our media should go on our next trip to Singapore to see for yourselves whether what you have been told are really factual. I am sure your image of this advancing country may need re-orientation after you have met with their officers & see development there with your own eyes.

To gather from fragmented memories, we shall begin as follow:

1. Npark's role in the landscape industries in Singapore

Npark is the leading govt agency to coordinate all landscape related industries in Singapore. More detailed information about Npark's role & activities can be obtained through the website . Npark is directly under the Ministry of National Development which in turn is under the Prime Minister Office. This means Npark, in reality, can have convenient access to the highest decision body in the country which we HK counterparts can only dream & hope for. The past & current attitude in the Singapore Govt have always been supportive in developing the landscape industries there. The orientation of ' Garden City' was conceived in the 1960's by the P.M. Office & by now, Npark has been taking leadership in executing this process all the way.

In Singapore, Npark has the duty to review all tree work in any development project so submitted to the Ministry of National Development for approval. Npark has the right to refuse approval if the tree design or preservation is not up to their requirements in the land under their juridiction, & will give recommendation if outside their control. The attitude of Npark is to educate & set examples for the public, & would only use legal or administrative measures if persuasion fails. For a country with limited land resource which is constantly under fierce competition from various deparments, Npark has done a very good job on maintaining their role.

The area of Singapore is about 682 sq. km with just over 4 million residents & it has over 300 parks & 40 Regional Parks for Npark to maintain. Yet Npark only has a staff of around 800 personnels to carry out all these work on a daily basis. This is about 2.7 personnels per park! Npark has now approx. 1,300 species of trees to look after as compared with about only 5 species in 20 years ago. There are about 830,000 no. of Roadside Trees & about 1.3 million trees under record in Npark at present. 300 species are classified as common species & 50% as exotic. Any tree spcies not exceeding 15 no. in quantity is calssified as Rare Species. 90% of the palm species in Singpore are introduced species. Trees are marked under a GIS program in the computer for inspection schedule instead of Tree Tagging & there are only 0.25% of tree failure rate causing injury in Singapore at present. Although being a tropical country, Singapore does get 'Freak Storm' with wind up to 150 km/h which is as strong as our typhoon occasionally. Such wind can cause tree failure even for healthy trees.

Npark is now embarking on a Tree Replacement Program to substitute for old species such as Andira & Bauhinia which have high failure rate. Whereas in HK we are still busy planting proned species, Npark has gone one step ahead to identify dangerous species by their arborists & have taken the approach to mitigate the risks. On the Tree Valuation Program, Npark has fully taken the ISA standard of Trunk Formula Method for compensation & punishment measures.

It is the intention of the Singapore Govt to green all concrete structures in their tropical country. Being the leading govt agency, Npark has proposed a Streetscape Greenery Master Plan by producing regional characteristics in plant species for colour & fragrance. Npark has also proceeded with the Park Connector Network to link the housing areas & transport routes to parks to form green coridoors. This same concept was conceived in HK during the British era but somehow never seen action in HK so far. In order to achieve cost effectiveness, Npark has built strong partnership with local communities such as schools, uniformed groups, community centres, etc. to work on community gardening projects which will enhance pride & sense of belonging to the community. Such programs include the Heritage Tree evaluation where the designated tree would be proposed by the public with Npark committee making the judgement at the end.

Npark has a division called the Singapore Garden City Pte Ltd (SCG) which provides landscape & arboriculture consultancy to the world. Current clients includes China & some Middle Eastern states. SCG has the full support & experience gathered in Npark with over 40 years of tropical landscaping. Maybe our govt depts would like to make contacts with SCG on common ground of interest for some of our current major developments in HK ( .

2. Arboriculture in Singapore

Trees, being the most prominant feature in soft landscape with potential destructive power, has been set aside as a specialist field in many governments in the world. There is no difference for this in Singapore. The Singapore Govt has understood that landscape architects are not specifically well trained to conduct tree related matters & would leave all tree work to the arborists. This is a smart move indeed. Now Singapore has trained over 100 no. of ISA Certified Arborists (CA) in the past few years. This is the highest percentage per land area in the world. All tree related matters like design, specifications, supervision, preservation, maintenance, etc. in Npark will have to go through the Arboriculture Branch for examination & approval. Landscape architects will have to submit their design to Npark for tree work approval for any development where Npark has juridiction upon. In Singapore in general, landscape architects will work in harmony with the arborists to tackle problems with tree work. Arboriculture is a recognized & respected profession in Singapore & Npark is full of qualified arborists. When HK people come to admire trees in Singapore, have they realized who are doing the tree work there?

The Arboriculture Branch in Npark was officially started in 1996 to specifically look after the tree related matters in Singapore. In 2001, Npark also started the ISA Arborist Certification Program in conjunction with ISA. ISA is currently the only arborist training program adopted by the Singpore Govt after comparing with all other similar programs in the world. Npark arborists will also conduct training modules for all other govt depts & the public for tree knowledge.

Unlike HK, tree transplantation is not a common or encouraged practice in Singapore. All arborists understand the harmful effects & astronomical costs involved in properly moving large trees. Npark will only consider transplanting large trees if there is a very good reason for it & also if cost is available, e.g. Rare specicies or trees with great sentimental value. Any transplantation for govt work in Singapore these days can only be carried out under the direct supervision of arborists, not landscape architects, in the field. Npark can provide training modules to the landscape contractors for carrying out proper tree transplantation.

In Singapore, tree selection is based on the ISA principle of the ' Right Tree for the Right Place', & not like in HK which many a times based on personal preference of certain individuals. The Singaporesans may be surprised to see HK planting so many Bauhinas whereas they are replacing them hard in Singapore. They may not understand that we have a lot of tree experts in HK but indeed very few arborists. If one thinks tree experts can determine success in any tree design, well, compare the trees in Singapore & HK, & do not just blame it on the climate.

Under Npark administered projects in Singapore these days, Certified Arborists are required to be employed in the bidding for any govt work & is strongly recommended to have Certified Arborists employed for private development. Both landscape architects & arborists have not yet gained statutory status in the Singapore legal system, but arborists are put into the administration system as a requirement for govt jobs. For any court cases requiring testimony on trees in Singapore, it is also the arborists who will represent Npark for the proceeding & not their landscape architects. The role of arborist as compared to landscape architect is set very clear in the Singapore operating systems. This is something we HK can learn.

3. Accreditation Program for the Singapore Landscape Industries

While there has been talking in HK for years, Singapore is going to release its Specialist Professional Accreditation Program by their Worker Skill Qualification Board by end of 2006. A Workforce Development Agency (WDA) has been set up with statutory status by the Singapore Govt to legally recognize the registered personnels in the program. This step is to set professional recognition for personnels in the landscape industries in tenders & employment, with major distinction as follows:

a. Certified Arborist
b. Certified Practicing Horticulturist
c. Certified Nursery Professiona
d. Certified florist Designer/Advisor
e. Certified Practicing Landscape Architect
f. Certified Irrigation Auditor

Each certified personnel belonging to the above grouping must produce proof for the qualification which will be screened & scrutinized by the WDA, before the certification can be granted. For the Certified Arborist category, ISA Certified Arborist is acceptable along with that of a few other countries.

The path of advancement in the Accreditation Program will be:

Landscape Technician Grade 2 --- Landscape Technician Grade 1 --- Landscape Supervisor --- Landscape Manager --- Certified Professional

The Npark Landscape Industry Division is responsible for the coordination & development of the program. It is aimed to upgrade existing skill levels & improve the image of the landscape personnels in Singapore. Landscape personnels in HK, especially among the landscape contractors, have little recognition as any professional by statutory status or even much social status. In the recent HK Construction Worker category, none of the landscape professions is listed in & landscapers can only be regarded as casual labour. This Singaporean program can serve as a guideline to our govt to upgrade our own landscape industry in HK.

4. Training in the Landscape Industry in Singapore

Singapore is soon to open its own Institue of Tropical Landscape to conduct training to meet their Accreditation Program by end of this year. It was said that the institue can hold between 100 - 200 students at any one time & Npark hopes to intake students from around the region.

For arborist training, ISA is the only chosen partner with the Singapore Govt to conduct arborist training in Singapore. Since tropical trees do have variation in compartmentalization & pruning recovery as compared to temperate trees, the Singapore authorities will modify some of the ISA teachings to fit in with their own experience. This institue will offer the ISA Certification Programs for anyone interested to become Certified Arborists, & will become another ISA exam centre in the region. Therefore, besides HK & Hawaii now, our Station Members have one more choice to go to Singapore to take their CA exam. Therefore, do stay close to this Station for periodical announcement on ISA training progress in around the region.

Besides arborists, the Singaporean institue will also train for landscape architects, horticulturists & landscape professionals in other fields. Please kindly enquire directly with Npark for the other areas of training.

5. Other information

a. Singapore has by now about 160 Heritage Trees voted by their committee.

b. Npark has only 3 no. of qualified Nursery Suppliers for trees in Singapore. Npark tree standards comply with that of ISA with variation for tropical species.

c. Npark's topsoil mix ratio is 3 parts soil, 2 parts compost & 1 part sand.

d. Wood chip is the common mulch used by Npark.

e. Singapore has about 130 no. of Govt Registered landscape contractors for govt work.

f. Singapore has about 18 no. of practicising landscape architecture firms for govt work.

g. Singapore is now facing competition in the concept of 'Garden City' image from other cities in the world.

h. The width of the tree planting strip in the central divider of highways in Singapore is adopted to be 4m by Npark.

i. Npark records all movement in their landscape like planting, tree failure & gardening maintenance by computer database.

j. An International Flower Show will be held at the Suntec City in Singapore in Dec 2006. Participation from this Station is encouraged. Organized visit can be arranged by this Station if enough interest is obtained.

In conclusion, this trip was jam packed with useful information not available by literature. It is our cordial thanks to Npark who has given us more than we would ask for. The Npark officers were all friendly & knowledgeable. All participants have good image of Npark & the beautiful country of Singapore. We do hope this is the beginning of cooperation between our two similar regions because we do have a lot to share & lean form each other, although it seems to be unilateral at present. HK can become a gateway to China for our Singaporean counterparts. Singaporeans can find partners in HK for the vast China market. Our experience in dealing with the Mainland Chinese in unofficial ways can be of benefit to our Singaporean seniors.

After this visit, we arborists in HK/China have a lot of questions to ask ourselves. Is it necessary to develop arboriculture in our HK/China Region? Why is it arboriculture can successfully be developed in Singapore? How far ahead they are as compared to us? Are we going to catch up? How? Can we rely on our govt to help us?

This report is not meant to be exhaustive & my personal recording can have mistakes. I do welcome comments & correction from

It has indeed been a wonderful experience for all of us over there; the Singapore experience.....

best regards,

Sammy Au
Station Manager
ISA HK/China Station
ISA Certified Arborist no. ML-0174A
ISA Certified Tree Wroker (Climbing Specialist) no. CTW-1645C
Member of the International Palm Society
Member of the Royal Horticultural Society, UK
Life Member of the Institue of Horticulture, HK

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