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Before the early 19th century, most of Singapore was covered in lowland, primary forest. Between 1820 and 1870, a substantial portion of virgin forest was cleared to develop the island as an important trading post. By 1886, only 10% of the original forest cover remained. The development of MacRitchie Reservoir (then known as the Impounding Reservoir) in 1868 brought the forest devastation around the area to a halt. The forest around the reservoir was protected as a water catchment reserve. The reserve retains one of the largest tracts of primary rainforest left in Singapore. Bukit Timah is also home to Singapore's highest hill at 163.63 m. Composed mainly of granite, Bukit Timah Hill was once an active quarrying site in the mid-1900s.

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