Walking the Southern Ridges, gradually

The Southern Ridges is a lovely feature to have in the NUS backyard and I use it for the LSM1103 Biodiversity classes from NUS to Bukit Chandu over the Gap. That is a short walk of about 4km and I’ve encouraged students to walk to Harbour Front on their own, which is 8.5km away.

Last June, Catherine Chua at the University Health Centre had her staff ask me about introducing a nature element into walks for wellness, Having experienced my old MacRitchie – Bukit Timah briskwalk, she wanted to inject a nature element into their series of NUS Walks.

Since their target is the deskbound and mostly immobile office worker, I’ve suggested we try a series of walks over an increasing distance, which the Southern Ridges provide. It will be chance for camaraderie, sustainability, wellness, nature and some spatial awareness. And we have already have a few volunteers walk leaders on board from the Office of Environmental Sustainability (OES), Department of Biological Sciences (DBS), Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) and Ridge View Residential College (RVRC).

We need to recruit ambassadors to the programme, and top of the list is former Infantry Officer Seah Kar Heng who hikes all over the country, and NUS President Tan Chor Chuan who is regularly seen at Bukit Timah.

We will begin with the ~2km walk in campus next year and take it from there, slow and steady. Beyond the Southern Ridges, I am looking forward to returning to MacRitchie for the brisk walk to Bukit Timah one day, with the company of some fit NUS walkers!

Southern Ridges  gradual distances

Long-tailed macaques walking into the sun at Southern Ridges

Recently, Civetgirl Weiting and I have been walking Southern Ridges from NUS to Harbour Front weekly. We enjoy seeing people using Henderson Waves which, at 36m above Henderson Road, is the highest pedestrian bridge in Singapore [see the NParks guide]. The bridge connects Mount Faber Park to Telok Blangah Hill Park.

Henderson Waves
Photo by Brandon Chia

2014-02-24 18.43 LTM3 on Henderson Waves

What we love seeing even more are wild long-tailed macaques, indifferent to the humans around them who are behaving sensibly and enjoying the experience of watching a wild native species of Singapore.

The best signs put up by NParks about how to behave around monkeys are to be found all along the Southern Ridges. These were put up a a year or two ago, possibly in response to an aggressive male which had learnt to approach people carrying plastic bags and erm, insist on a reward for his efforts!

2014-02-10 19.22.15

A long-lasting and hopefully pre-emptive solution? Signs which educate the public clearly about how to behave around macaques. These also add a unique clear message for those who would persist in bad behaviour (inevitably resulting in the call to kill monkeys) – “please avoid this trail if you are not comfortable with the presence of wild monkeys”.

With not a single plastic bag in sight and everyone mostly keeping a respectful distance from the macaques as advised by the signs, the public stopped to admire and photograph the three monkeys yesterday evening. The long-tailed macaques ambled along the bridge edge of Henderson Waves with quadrupedal grace as the sun sank into the horizon.

2014-02-24 18.43 LTM on Henderson Waves

Thanks to Amy Klegarth for bringing my attention to that very special bit of advise on the sign earlier in the day.

Reviving the Kent Ridge Walks

Layers of heritage revealed

I came to the National University of Singapore campus in the late 80’s as an undergraduate student but only as a postgrad did I unveil some of the stories of Kent Ridge. As biology students, we learnt about the plants early, and the animals gradually over the four years.

Of the Battle of Pasir Panjang, however, I knew nothing. In the 90’s D H Murphy vaguely mentioned a battle during one of our ‘front of lab conversations’. I would unearth details in Dol Ramli’s 1965 thesis at NUS Central Library only a decade later!

So, when speaking at a class studying the trail recently, I was a little sympathetic when place names, historical markers and other happenings on the ridge triggered no response. Even with google.

I had not learnt about these things overnight myself.

Sharing stories

In 2002, in response to the URA Concept Plan in discussion, I setup the Kent Ridge Heritage webpage and began sharing the stories through a guided walking trail

Guides were recruited over the years but there were never more than 10 of us. Veteran guide Kok Oi Yee is a our gem – for she trod the ridge in the late 50’s!

At our glorious peak, this team offered four walks a year.

The Kent Ridge Heritage Trail

During our peak, the energetic Peck Thian Guan of the NUS Green Committee found me and linked up to initiate a series of markers for the Kent Ridge Heritage Trail. These were set up over time, between Clementi Road and Bukit Chandu and are available to the visitor even today.

These days, we only conduct that single annual walk to remember the Battle of Pasir Panjang. This longest version of our walk is a lovely session starting from 7.00am at the University Cultural Centre in February. Participants hail from NUS and the heritage and nature community.

An annual walk for LSM1103 Biodiversity

I reduced the number of public walks five years ago to concentrate on teaching. As I began coordinating the LSM1103 Biodiversity module, an opportunity presented itself. I modified the route of the practical which deals with the vegetation of Kent Ridge to extend from NUS to Bukit Chandu. And now some 500 students are exposed to the trail annually.


It is fascinating to observe their reaction to the view of the southern islands as they emerge on the higher parts of Kent Ridge Park. Spatial awareness is empowering and I’d like them to realise the park and Bukit Chandu is in their backyard, and not somewhere far away.

A walk for the NUS community

I remember a walk in the 90’s with Clive Briffet, conducted one morning for staff of NUS. I think it was for Earth Day and we enjoyed great weather. Adrian Loo and I were as siting to help with the botany and zoology details. The large group of us had a lovely day.

Such walks help to promote a sense of community in NUS.

So I have thought about this for many years but been too busy to make it happen. I have a few new enthusiastic partners now – Lai Chee Kien from Architecture, Yap Von Bin from Mathematics and the NUS Office of Environmental Sustainability, who have seconded an intern, Chai Su Yi, to the project.

Amongst my cohorts of students has now emerged a bird enthusiast – David Tan is a Raffles Museum Toddycat and set up The Birds of NUS after a suggestion during his UROPS exam. He can’t wait to get birding started in NUS.

Methods and equipment can be borrowed from another module I coordinate, LSM2251 Ecology and the Environment. This module includes an ecological birding field trip which has run for nine semesters. It has plenty of lessons on how to engage newbies, besides scopes, bins and bird books to loan.

Just do it

On Monday night, I met Su Yi, the OES intern and forced myself to get the first walk started by posting an advertisement on the Toddycats blog last night.

The Kent Ridge walks begin – the first NUS walk this Friday 06 Sep 2013! | Raffles Museum Toddycats!

I will rush down from my class, Chee Kien will be waiting and Von Bing hopes to join us by 6pm after his class. All in all, there will be about 16 of us, a comfortable beginning.

Eventually we will recruit and train volunteers and offer regular walks. The ridge may be less lush than from the time of Clive Briffet, but earlier this year, the Office of Estate and Development happily agreed to reduce grass cutting in several parts of the ridge.

Adinandra belukar will grow and persist naturally in these places and replace the grass monoculture. How nice! This means more and more stories to share within campus itself.

Some nights ago, I examined the vegetation lit up by orange street lights. A bat caught our attention, and then, out of the darkness, the common palm civet of Kent Ridge appeared. It crossed our path and melted into the vegetation which now covers the slope. The plants shivered briefly, and then it was gone.


Walking the Ridge

When I was a first year student, I was taken to the ridge on a botanical practical designed by Wee Yeow Chin. It was one of several which introduced us to common plants of Singapore. Our guides could be lecturers, Sam from the SINU Herbaium or an honours student.


On my ridge walk, it was an honours student who fascinated us with the names, characteristics of plants on the ridge. As we learn about their ecology and biology, the green shade behind campus became individual plants and a familiar ecosystem we would recognise elsewhere.

This continues and this Friday, we take the LSM1103 Biodiversity students to the ridge. I will have keep an eye firmly on the weather radar for August thunderstorms as usual, but we are likely to be able to complete our walk.

Battle of Pasir Panjang & LSM1103 Kent Ridge Walking Routes - Google Maps

In this version of the trail, students will walk from the Department of Biological Sciences where we will first conduct a plant tutorial to familiarise them with some 13 species from fresh specimens.

KR Prac

A little image icon on the practical schedule will help them sort the 13 species and students will brief each other about diagnostic features and characteristics.

Thereafter they will head out for their walk where they will realise the form of the plant and its appearance both near and far.


Alison Wee, LSM1103 practical

Along the way, they will realise Kent Ridge is part of Southern Ridges, the sea lies just beyond Pasir Panjang (a little further these days), view a portion of the southern islands, remember the Battle of Pasir Panjang (which they learn about in primary school these days), discover the short canopy walk which is great for viewing Tiup-Tiup, bats (at night) and Alexander Hill.

To complement this, I invite these Life Science students later in the year, to join me on a walk of the Southern Ridges.

Bukit Chandu, Telok Blangah Hill and Mount Faber are in the neighbourhood, but it may as well be a lifetime away for those without this spatial awareness.

So we have plans for short walks for the rest of campus too.

When I catch my breath!


For more about Kent Ridge heritage, see: Habitatnews.

Southern Ridges walk with Life Science Students

27 cheerful souls walked the 10km Southern Ridges route from the University Cultural Centre on Saturday morning, 22nd September 2012. The group included 16 life sciences students from LSM1103, LSM2251 and LSM3261.

We walked from 7.15am to 1.15am, a good six hours of guiding and sight-seeing! I was really glad we spent that time with the students who came, and thankful for the help of Amanda Tan, Kenneth Pinto and Kevin Lim.