The map of Singapore’s ravaged 19th century forests in H. C. Hill (1900)

Maps are critically useful in any examination of Singapore’s landscape, and Hill’s (1900) report is shocking in the account of the extent of forest loss, after 81 years of colonial rule.   Hill1900map

Report on the present system of forest conservancy in The Straits Settlements with suggestions for future management by H. C. Hill. Singapore, 1900.


In May and June 1900, H. C. Hill, the Conservator of Forests of the Indian Forest Service, studied published reports and visited forest reserves in Singapore with H. N. Ridley (Director of the Botanic Gardens) and W. L. Carter (Collector of Land Revenue). 

He includes a map in his report which is available online. It reflects the extensive exploitation which the Singapore landscape suffered at the time. His language too reflects the insult on the landscape, and he makes recommendations for management, relevant to the land use at the time. 

For an idea of subsequent changes to the landscape, see NUS’ Historical Maps of Singapore. 

For Natalie Quah, who asked for this in the midst of her lecture preparation.

“A High-Resolution Map of Singapore’s Terrestrial Ecosystems” (Saw, Yee & Richards, 2019)

Gaw, L. Y. F., Yee, A. T. K., & Richards, D. R. (2019). A high-resolution map of Singapore’s terrestrial ecosystems. Data, 4(3) [link].


The classified map of high resolution images of Singapore from 2003 to 2018 is shown in Figure 1. The map has a maximum spatial resolution of 30 cm (as per the panchromatic resolution of WorldView-3). The area of each map class is shown in Table 1. The total non-marine area classified was 742.22 km2, of which 359.06 km2 (49 %) was covered by vegetation and 46.63 km2 (6 %) was covered with surface freshwater features. The remaining area was unvegetated land; consisting of built-up impervious sDuatrafa20c1e9s, 4o,f121684.10 km2 (38 %) and pervious surfaces of 53.00 km2 (7 %).

Grab the PDF of the paper for a better resolution than the image here.

NUS’ “Historical Maps of Singapore” portal

I was glad when SLA-NHB introduced One Historical Map in 2015 which now allows users to compare six street maps between 1966 and 2017. We first had that facility first via iRemember in 2009 but it disappeared, and so I was glad to see it return. And the site is easy to use – after an alumni reunion, we could validate our observation of how crowded the Faulty of Science in NUS had become! 

Topographical maps were not available as yet and so it was with great excitement that the community greeted NUS Libraries announcement that they had mounted a “Historical Maps of Singapore” portal, consisting of topographical maps from between 1846 – 2018, which had been digitised with great effort, by a team from the Department of Geography.

You may view the maps online or stream them on Google Earth or other WMS (web map service) viewer. This is a treasure trove for teaching, research and an exploration of our landscape, and the changes it has experienced over time. A good place to start is your very own neighbourhood! Review the introductory guide by NUS Libraries here

For example, in the Sungei Mandai Mangrove cleanup project, we will invite the volunteer Site Captains to trace the rivers from the mouth to their origins at the foothills. These topographical maps before the relentless pace of urbanisation in the 1960’s and 1970’s will prove to be an eye opener for us all,. I love how it’s available for close examination on our desktops – it will sure make for some exciting tabletop exploration by the LSM2251 Ecology class! 

Sungei Mandai Mangrove 1966

Bukit Mandai

“It’s become so crowded…” – visual comparisons of street directories with One Historical Map

When looking over the Faculty of Science from the Science Library, my former classmates from 30 years ago looked over the faculty against their mental images and remarked, “It’s become so crowded”.

Our BSc class year graduated in 1990 and One Historical Map has street maps from 2017, 2007, 1995, 1984, 1975 and 1966. The webpage allows a side by side comparison and I picked the 2017 and 1995 maps. Yes, it has become crowded indeed.

Click for a larger view. fos2017_1995
Street map comparison of Faculty of Science in 2017 (top) and 1995 (below); screenshot from One Historical Map

In addition to building density, student numbers have increased too, especially amongst grad students. There were 4,977 students (4,594 u’grads + 383 grads) in 1994/5 and this had increased to 6,675 students by 2016/17 (5,126 u’grads + 1,549 grad students).

Oh well, during this time, the population density in Singapore increased from 4,814/sq. km to 7,796/sq. km. These are different times indeed.

NParks Pulau Ubin and Chek Jawa webpage – the improved new map (2015) and tide tables

Pulau Ubin is a small island of about 10km by 2km of the northeast of Singapore. You can’t get lost as all roads lead back to the village and jetty, but a copy of the latest map will enhance your discovery of the many places and sites nestled there.

You can download the 2015 map of Pulau Ubin from NParks’ Pulau Ubin and Chek Jawa webpage. Tide tables for Tanjung Changi are also available to plan your inter-tidal activity.

Pulauubinmap jpg 6 496×4 007 pixels

This 2015 map is a great improvement on the 2010 version. Placenames are comprehensively indicated, all facilities and trails are named, as are points of interest including shrines, and intertidal and mangrove habitats are differentiated.

Pulau Ubin is very well signposted and large versions of this map are available around the island at the huts, so you can reference the map during your explorations, and take a photo of specific portions of interest to help you find your way there or to learn names of places you visited.

The ongoing Ubin Project will provide additional points to update the map, so we can look forward to seeing it enhanced meaningfully. For example, we should eventually include the Ubin Way:

  • Relive and experience the kampong lifestyle
  • Appreciate and conserve our cultural heritage
  • Discover and cherish the diversity of nature
  • Respect one another and bond with the community
  • Care for Ubin, and be considerate towards its environment

What would I wish for in future? Without crowding the map, the identification of secondary forest types, as a lot of forest is regrown over various ex-plantations (with their old names) and reforestation sites (with dates), which NParks has impressively planted over the years. Also, an indication of habitat types on Chek Jawa.

How will I do this? Well, anyone can submit ideas about Pulau Ubin through the eCitizen portal.

Happy trails!

Cat in my chair

I dug up this book, “Slide:ology” by Nancy Duarte (2008) to compare its contents with the procedure I used for the Evening of Biodiversity speakers these past couple of weeks.

Cleared the chair, found and unwrapped the book, turned around and found the chair claimed by Xylo the Cat.

Drats! Np, cats!


Written with the WordPress iOS app.

Map of Life – what is the distinctiveness of birds in your area?

“The Map of Life assembles and integrates different sources of data describing species distributions worldwide.” See the About page.

You can navigate to any location to discover the bird diversity recorded in the area.

Map of Life

Click the species to see its global distribution map! MOL integrates IUCN and GBIF data so there are links to taxonomic information, status and distribution data. Students will appreciate the birds they observe during the LSM2251 Ecology and the Environment Pulau Ubin field trip all the more. It will certainly help enhance conservation awareness with our help.

Map of Life

Map of Life - Species Evolutionary Distinctness

In other news, see the OneZoom visualisation of the new Edge of Existence conservation ranking of birds using evolutionary distinctiveness:

OneZoom Tree of Life Explorer