Growing biodiversity awareness in projects
Joseph Wong 

CREATING parks in housing estates is now quite the norm, especially in huge townships or mixed developments, but some developers are now taking it to the next level.

These developers are investing time and money on researching, cataloguing and analysing the indigenous as well as migrating species of flora and fauna, which can be sustainably utilised to enhance the appeal of these parks as well as to protect and preserve them.

For example, Eco World Development Group Bhd, which recently concluded the ecological study on its 566ha Eco Grandeur project, is looking at implementing sensible and eco-friendly residential and commercial hubs within the Eco Grandeur masterplan, says EcoWorld divisional general manager Ho Kwee Hong.

“EcoWorld intends to work with various local and overseas universities to conduct research to identify the best practices in the context of Malaysian flora, fauna, social, economic and climatic characteristics.

“Collaborations with the universities would be carried out progressively to look into gaps such as low-energy architecture, water sensitivity and humanising development.

“EcoWorld has plans to activate a think-tank centre to be called ‘EW Green Hub’ to coordinate with the universities. The finer details will be revealed later when the plans become clearer,” Ho tells FocusM.

The cost of this undertaking is built into the developer’s infrastructure development cost where there is an allocation for the purpose of crafting a truly sustainable development from the perspective of community building and providing an ecologically sustainable ecosystem where human-flora-fauna can co-exist.

Another developer which has embarked on a similar biodiversity move in its projects is Gamuda Bhd.

“This is something new that we have just started so we don’t have the exact figures (of the capital expenditure),” says Gamuda deputy group managing director Mohammed Rashdan Mohd Yusof.

“To us, sustainability is not merely about ample greenery and a lush environment. It is also about delivering thoughtfully-planned developments underpinned by good locations, balancing the natural plant life and wildlife together with the public amenities in order for the community to enjoy an enhanced quality of life,” he says.

Rashdan adds that it is not about just ensuring property value appreciation but also keeping intact the development’s lush and rich natural environments.

“There has to be a balance. To date, we have created more than 404.7ha (1,000 acres) of park lands and lakes in our developments,” he says, pointing out the importance of keeping these green lungs thriving.

“As a town-maker, Gamuda Land creates places that people will call home, want to be a part of, grow up and grow old in.

“Gamuda Parks is an integral feature to achieve this timeless objective, where we shall create and sustain a balanced ecosystem of bio-diversity for the well-being of communities, at all of Gamuda Land’s towns.

“At the design and planning stage of our towns, we work with our partners, NGOs (non-governmental organisations), landscape architects, expert botanists and consultants and together we shall carefully select the right native plants and wildlife species that are aesthetically pleasing yet low-maintenance, to ensure its overall sustainability,” he adds.

Rashdan points out that a key agenda for Gamuda Parks is to formulate a Biodiversity Policy and conduct a biodiversity audit as a scientific measurement of liveability and habitability of the environment in our new towns, namely Gamuda Gardens and Gamuda Cove, representing its new land bank which is in excess of 930.8ha.

Similarly, Sime Darby Property Bhd, SP Setia Bhd and Tropicana Corp Bhd are also shifting towards this green direction. For example, Elmina Green in Shah Alam, Setia Eco Park in Setia Alam and Tropicana Metropark in Subang Jaya, projects by the respective developers, all have expansive lake parks and huge hectares of communal green space, for recreational and social activities.

There are certainly many benefits of taking the biodiversity approach, notes ExaStrata Solutions Sdn Bhd CEO and chief real estate consultant Adzman Shah Mohd Ariffin.

“I must say it’s good for developers to start looking into niche developments, thus making their offerings unique to purchasers.

“I believe sustainable features in residential development will be attractive to certain discerning purchasers who are looking for differentiation,” he tells FocusM.

Adzman says the selection of indigenous plants is logical as these species would naturally thrive in their respective environments as well as serving as aesthetic landscapes.

“These developments have a lot of greenery and are pleasant to live in. To educate the public, the developers should put up informative signages to explain the details of the flora and fauna so that they are not taken for granted,” he says.


Health benefits

A Danish national representative survey, which examines the relationship between distance to green space and the level of physical activity among the population of Denmark, shows that those living more than one kilometre from a green area had higher odds of experiencing stress than people living within 300 metres of it.

And increased stress impacts mental health, increases risks of heart attacks and diabetes, says Gamuda Parks chief operation officer Khariza Abd Khalid.

“We will continue to ensure Gamuda Land townships are firmly anchored within the context of their environment – mindfully aware of the symbiotic relationship it has with the surroundings, topography, hydrology, flora and fauna biodiversity, settlement and the impact of man,” she says.

The Gamuda Parks initiative aims to formalise how the park environments within Gamuda Land developments are managed and communicated to residents and the general public, she adds.

To achieve this, Gamuda Land is working with experts in their respective fields to carry out an independent baseline survey audit for its developments, she explains.

“A periodic (bi-annual or annual) independent audit of flora and fauna over the next five to 10 years to measure the rate and increasing biodiversity as the project develops,” she says.

Non-government organisations like Wetland International Malaysia will assist in the wetlands design, construction, management and maintenance process.

“Besides that, there will be community engagement activities so that the public can learn more about this important yet overlooked ecosystem and hopefully come to appreciate wetlands for their beauty, the life they support and the resources they provide,” Khariza says.

The approach for EcoWorld differs to Gamuda Land’s methodology. “The initial land where Eco Grandeur is located was a tract of oil palm plantation with pockets of degraded forest and swamp.

“Thus we have envisioned a masterplan that is aimed at restoring the ecological function of the landscape with regards to terrestrial and aquatic biology,” says Ho.

EcoWorld decided to use birds as bio-indicators as this method is already scientifically proven.

“The main theoretical premise behind our approach is that landscape impairment reduces or disturbs the lifecycle of species. Since various bird species possess diverse flight morphology, feeding, migration and lifecycle behaviour, the presence of each species can highlight biophysical and 3D horizontal and vertical multi-level strata quality.

“We believe Eco Grandeur would be the first in Malaysia or Asia to adopt such strategy to drive ecological housing development,” says Ho.

From the beginning, the EcoWorld Grandeur masterplan was crafted to include walking, cycling paths and community-initiative project pockets in each precinct.

“These low-impact commuting core and corridors are expected to cajole more residents and visitors to go to the outdoors to enjoy the biomimicry landscape and partake in community projects that we will organise,” says Ho.

To base its approach of using birds as measurable bioindicators, the EcoWorld team ran a widescale bird community structure study last year to familiarise itself with what species were present in the forest, padi fields, coastal areas and agriculture landscape around Puncak Alam.

“We found that the countryside in Batu Arang, Selangor, harbours a good structure of native and migrant bird diversity. We also found the wetlands nearby are frequented by a high diversity of birds,” says Ho.

“From these field data, we concluded that the Eco Grandeur masterplan should be ingrained with biomimicry landscaping based on characteristics in Batu Arang and the wetlands.

“This is the foundation of our eco-strategy and the 2017 scientific report would be the baseline of our long-term monitoring exercise in Eco Grandeur.”

The levels of diversity and abundance of bird species recorded in Eco Grandeur would be regarded as measurable for ecological well-being, says Ho.


To publish findings

“We shall publish our findings in scientific journals progressively when we amass enough field data from our in-situ biomimicry landscaping works. Done properly and progressively in years to come, we hope Eco Grandeur would be endowed with a landscape which harbours high biodiversity,” she adds.

Gamuda Land also modified its strategies as it went along as there are no tried-and-proven cases in Malaysia for the company to fall back on.

“In the past, only the inputs from landscape architects were sought but we found there is a need to go beyond aesthetics.

“We live in an era when forests and the natural environments are decreasing thus the ecosystem services they provide are also degrading, for example, micro-climate cooling, water cleansing, pollination, flood prevention, pest control and others.

“As such, there is an urgent need to run research and implementation projects to address the gaps in ecological function of landscaping,” notes Khariza.

And there have been positive signs. For one, the cicada population in Gamuda Land’s Valencia development has been growing.

Cicadas help trees by pruning the weak branches and aid in helping release nutrients back into the soil, which in turn promotes tree population, she says.

“[At the end of the day,] we are [only] custodians of the land,” says Khariza, adding that everyone needs to help keep the environment green for the next generations,

“[For Gamuda Land,] we believe we are going to leave the land in a better shape than we received it,” she says.

For that to happen, the residents and users need to be socially integrated with the community and emotionally connected with nature. FocusM

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 284.