The truth behind “Saving Sungei Buloh”

on 16th August 2015

Singapore’s Sunday Times of 9th August 2015 carried an article entitled “Saving Sungei Buloh” – LINK. It gave a new version of how the Nature Society succeeded in persuading government to set aside a piece of mangroves for a bird sanctuary more than 20 years ago.

I am in total agreement with the sub-caption “A feather in the cap of Nature Society, whose hard work to get area conserved succeeds.” Everything else projected in the article is questionable.

I am therefore happy that Subaraj Rajathurai, a wildlife consultant and nature guide of 34 years, has written to the Sunday Times to set the records straight. Read the letter HERE.

The man behind Sungei Buloh is Mr Richard Hale. In July 1986 he had just returned to Singapore after an absence of many years. An avid birder, he spent his weekends exploring the rural areas observing birds. In one of his jaunts he stumbled upon this particular patch of mangroves (above, 1991 scene). What amazed him were the thousands of migratory birds that were there to refuel before continuing their journey back to their breeding grounds in the north.

Richard then knew of no birdwatchers until he met up with Dr Christopher Hails who was with the then Parks and Recreation Department working to bring back wildlife to the urban areas.

Through Christopher, Richard was introduced to the Nature Society’s birdwatchers. Only then did these birdwatchers get to know of the richness of Sungei Buloh.

A small group that included Clive Briffett, Dr Hails, Dr Ho Hua Chew, Dr Rexon Ngim and Subaraj then worked for months to produce a brochure, giving details of the birdlife, pointing to the educational value and suggesting how the area could be managed. Copies were sent to major decision makers in government including the Prime Minister and President.

Richard had the personal contacts as the then Director and CEO of HSBC Singapore. And through his behind the scene lobbying as well as successfully persuading key personnel to visit the site, he got the government to respond positively to the Nature Society’s proposal.

Richard was subsequently honoured with the Green Leaf Award (individual category). This was an award given to organisations and individuals who made outstanding contributions to environmental protection and preservation.

YC Wee
August 2015

Briffett, C. (2004). The genesis of Sungei Buloh. Nature Watch 12(5):5-9.
2. Hale, R., Subharaj, S., Ngim, R., Ho, H.C., Briffett, C. & Hails, C. (1987). A proposal for a nature conservation area at Sungei Buloh. Malayan Nature Society (Singapore).
3. 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.

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

Other posts by YC Wee

4 Responses

  1. We are truly indebted to these fine nature lovers for their courage and efforts in preseving this valuable wetland for nature and our citizens. Our lives are so much richer now thanks to them.

  2. I beg to differ, Chong Hong. I had close contacts with the Gardens then. Before: It was run as a PARK, research was in the doldrums, emphasis was on greening the city, and yes the herbarium was up for sale. After: It became a real GARDENS with research, new attractions, the whole works. More dynamic, whereas previously it was on a maintenance mode.

    Sungei Buloh is a different kettle of fish. The Sunday Times article gave the impression that the person interviewed was the main player, maybe as Chong Hong says, due to “fading memory”? I wish it was so but I doubt it. You cannot steal the thunder from another and get away with it.

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