Nature Conservation and Nature Society (Singapore): 2. Sungei Buloh

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Earlier post: 1. Introduction.

Richard E Hale, 2010 (Photo credit: YC Wee)
Richard E Hale, 2010

In 1986 avid birder Richard E Hale stumbled upon an area of degraded mangroves and prawn ponds around Sungei Buloh rich in birdlife. Not well-known to birdwatchers at that time, the area served as a roosting and feeding site for mainly migratory wading birds. As it was scheduled for development, he approached birdwatchers from the then Singapore Branch of the Malayan Nature Society, now Nature Society (Singapore) who assisted him in preparing a detailed illustrated conservation proposal.

Straits Times, 16th August 2015
Straits Times, 16th August 2015

The proposal detailed the potential of the area as a “veritable microcosm of culture and natural history interest”. It also suggested how the area could be managed: a visitor centre, staffing and a programme of guided walks and farming tours. Birdlife consisted of 126 species of which 40 were typically wetland birds, many of which were birds on migration from northern Asia.

Sungei Buloh report, 1988
Sungei Buloh report, 1988

Not satisfied with simply circulating the document to major government officials, he worked tirelessly behind the scene and personally escorted key government officials like the late President Mr Wee Kim Wee, then Deputy Prime Minister Mr Goh Chok Tong (below) and the then Minister of National Development Mr S Dhanabalan. The strategy worked and in 1989 the 95 hectares Sungei Buloh Nature Park came into being, later gazetted as Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. This was the first Nature Reserve to be created since Singapore’s independence.

Straits Times, 19th February 1989
Straits Times, 19th February 1989

For this Richard Hale received the Green Leaf Award (Individual Category) from Government in 1991. And Sungei Buloh remains until today the one and only case in which government acceded to a request by the Nature Society to conserve a nature area.

Visitor Centre, Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (Photo credit: Dr Chua Ee Kiam)
Visitor Centre, Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (Photo credit: Dr Chua Ee Kiam)

The success of the Sungei Buloh proposal found members of the Nature Society suddenly thrust into the role of environmental advocacy. By then Richard Hale’s role as Chairman of the Conservation Committee was overtaken by Dr Ho Hua Chew, a local whose knowledge of nature conservation was not as keen as his ability to identify birds.

Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (Photo credit: Wang Luan Keng)
Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (Photo credit: Wang Luan Keng)

I was then Hon Secretary and remained so until 1990 when I became the Founding President of a newly formed Nature Society (Singapore).

YC Wee
Singapore
3rd April 2017

Secretary, Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch) 1978-1990; Founding President, Nature Society (Singapore) 1990-1995

References:

1.
Francesch-Huidobro, M., 2008. Governance, Politics and the Environment: A Singapore Study. ISEA, Singapore.
2. Hale, R., S. Subharaj, R. Ngim, H. C. Ho, C. Briffett & C. Hails, 1987. A Proposal For A Nature Conservation Area At Sungei Buloh. Malayan Nature Society (Singapore).
3. Hale, R., 2004. From backwater to nature reserve. Nature Watch, 12(1): 2–4.
4. Wee, Y.C. & R. Hale, 2008. The Nature Society (Singapore) and the struggle to conserve Singapore’s nature areas. Nature in Singapore 1: 41-49. (PDF)

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