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Singapore-Nature: 6. Media support

on 19th March 2023

Ilsa Sharp

The Nature Society (Singapore) had full media support in the 1970s and 1980s. We were fortunate to have Ilsa Sharp on our side. She was an active member of the society and we often met up during the society’s meetings and outings. We even fought a few conservation battles together. I was the society’s Hon. Secretary then and teaching at the then Department of Botany of the National University of Singapore. In fact, the Departments of Botany and Zoology were the unofficial offices of the society as the early Hon. Chairmen of the society came from one or the other department, respectively in the form of Prof. PN Avadhani and Mr. RE Sharma.

Nature Society Officials – The Sunday Times of August 20, 1978.

Ilsa was originally a journalist with The Straits Times before she became a freelancer and set up her own company, Ilsa Sharp Editorial Services. She was then using her contacts at The Straits Times and in general media to help the society place articles in the daily newspapers as well as a number of various groups’ newsletters. That was how the society’s annually elected officials were posted in the Sunday Times of August 20, 1978 as well as other years. My first exposure to the local media was when Ilsa managed to get a small piece of news of my research on algae that dirtied building walls with reddish stains posted in the New Nation of July 10, 1982.

Straits Times of 9th August, 1982, page 27.

The next month Ilsa suggested that I write an account of Singapore’s nature attractions and persuaded The Straits Times to have it published. What appeared was a surprise three-page essay with colour sketches by their in-house artist, Leo de Silva. “More than a spot of nature in the city” gave an account of where in urbanised Singapore can one take in the sights and sounds of nature. These nature spots included the rain forest of the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, the secondary forests at MacRitchie, Peirce and Seletar Reservoirs as well as mangroves and the urban forest. It also included the offshore islands where the diverse marine life can be viewed. As far as I was aware, this was the first such lavish spread on our nature attractions that appeared The Straits Times.

Straits Times of 9th August, 1982, page 28.

Straits Times of 9th August, 1982, page 29.

Ilsa also wrote conservation-related articles for publications in the Nature Watch, the society’s magazine. A good example was her account of the Hon. Secretary (1978-1990), who subsequently became the Hon. President of a newly registered Nature Society (Singapore) from 1990-1995. And during his service as Hon. President, “led the society in a desperate battle to stop Parks and Recreation Department officers shearing trees like so many sheep of their attractive “wool” – in other words, the many epiphytic ferns and orchids that festooned them (they have then thought better of this nonsense and are now tying ferns like the Stag’s Horn back onto trees)” – see HERE.

Still Waters Run Deep, Nature Watch January/March 1996.

According to Ilsa, the Hon. President became a passionate crusader in the early 1990s when a proposed golf course threatened to excise part of the Central Catchment nature reserve at Lower Peirce Reservoir. The success in persuading government to eventually abandon its plan may have got him labelled as the Green Personality of the Day.

The Straits Times of 7th November, 1992 declared the Hon. President of The Nature Society (Singapore) “Green Personality of the Day”

All these publicities helped the society to increased its membership. In the early 1980s membership grew at an annual rate of about 26% to stand at around 400. By early 1990s this increased to around 1,300.

Subsequent to these media exposures, the society’s office-bearers and activities continued to be publicised in The Straits Times as well as various other publications. In due course I became friendly with Dominic Nathan who was The Straits Times’ writer on conservation. He used to phone me regularly for news related to the society, and I had much to interest him. The in thing then was the Conservation Committee’s harassing government to conserve irrelevant habitats as long as birds were visible as well as audible during the evening roost and the morning preparation to fly off for their food. In due course such hassle resulted in conservation becoming a “dirty word” in the news room and publicity slowly faded into the sunset. But of course Letters to the Editor on conservation issues were still welcome.

The Straits Times of 11th January, 2013.

Around 2010s or thereabout, I got to know Ivan Lim who was running the Ecos conservation group. He was then also the President of the Asian Journalist Association. Once he got to know of my close involvement with the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch) to later became the Nature Society (Singapore), he penned an article in the April 2014 issue of Magazine N, which was based in Seoul, Republic of Korea. According to Ivan, the magazine had an Asian-wide readership. The title of the article: Father of Singaporean Nature Conservationists, a title I was sure I did not deserve.

YC Wee

19th March 2023

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.

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