Nature-Singapore: 9. Talks, seminars and field studies.

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Nature talks were invariably requested by the various organisations and the Nature Society was ever-willing to oblige. After all, we were into nature appreciation and there was a need to increase the membership of the society. For one reason or another the Hon. Secretary or the Hon. Chairman/President of the society were regularly invited to talk to the groups. Sometimes the Chairmen of the various activity groups were involved.

Pitcher plant (Npenthes ampullaria).

One of the first such talks was requested by the British Council. It was a repeat of my talk as Secretary of the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch) to the parent body in Kuala Lumpur. The title of the talk-cum slide show was “In Harmony with Nature?” The talk was attended by about 70 people. In addition to what were said in Kuala Lumpur, new snippets were added, like what some Singaporeans wanted the relevant authorities to spray insecticides for an ant-free rambling. I also brought up the case where staghorn ferns and pigeon orchids were ripped off trees but later replaced HERE. There was even a case where someone from the Sentosa Development Authorities contacted me about whether to remove the many pitcher plants (Nepenthes spp.) growing along walkways as the pitchers were always filled with a liquid and this could encourage the breeding of mosquitoes. I assured him that mosquitoes would not breed in the pitchers as they would die and slowly digested by the liquid.

Learn about ferns: New Paper of 28th February, 1989.

In 1989 I gave a talk on ferns at the Ang Mo Kio Branch Library, dealing especially on the folklore and superstitious beliefs surrounding them. For example, in Malay folklore, the Staghorn Fern (Platycerium coronarium) is believed to harbor a Pontianak, a female vampire, the ghost of a woman who died in childbirth. The word Pontianak comes from the Malay words bunting anak, meaning pregnant with child. This belief originated from the large and rounded nest of this fern.

Staghorn Fern (Platycerium coronarium).

In May 1993 the Hon. President was again invited to talk, this time by the International Y’s Men Club Singapore (Orchid Chapter). The venue was the Metropolitan YMCA at Stevens Road. The title of the talk was “Is there a role for the Nature Society in Urban Singapore?” With the rapid urbanisation and high-rise living, many nature areas would disappear. The role of the society would then be to work closely with the relevant authorities with the aim of developing the main island into a model Garden City by 2020.

Participants of the seminar on Nature in Urban Singapore.

We also organised seminars jointly with the Singapore Science Centre. The first one-day seminar was held in January 1983 with a theme of Nature in an Urban Singapore. Speakers included Amy Tsang on bird watching, Kwan Hun on insect hunting, Francis Lim on reptiles and amphibians, Wee Yeow Chin on plants and their attractions, Gloria Lim on mushroom hunting, Leo Tan on seashore life and P.N. Avadhani on the future of nature in an urban Singapore.  The auditorium was packed. The seminar was declared open by Lady Percy McNeice, a trustee of the World Wildlife Fund, with Ken Scriven, its director, travelling down from Kuala Lumpur to attend the seminar.

Account published in Around Town on seminar, Nature in an Urban Singapore.

Due to the success of the earlier nature seminar, a half-day seminar was organised at the end of the year. This second seminar was organised by Ilsa Sharp and myself for the 13th January 1983 with a theme of Our Mangroves. Speakers included ornithologist Chris Hales from the then Singapore Botanic Gardens and botanist Richard Corlett from the Department of Botany, National University of Singapore. There was a danger of our mangrove patches disappearing as the authorities may view such habitats as muddy patches swarmed with mosquitoes. But mangroves are more than that and the speakers defended the importance of such habitats.

Mangrove at Sungei Khatib Bongsu.

We had yet another symposium in March 1984. This time the theme was Singapore’s environment. After all, Singapore had finally discarded its “cultural desert” image and could, if we were not careful, take on a “green desert” tag. This was what botanist Dr. Richard Corlett was worried about. His concern was that we may lose the biological diversity as we kept on landscaping the environment. Although he was happy with the then garden city, he worried that should over-enthusiasm develop, the campaign might end up being an eyesore. He suggested there should be room for debate over how to carry out future landscaping. “Above all, the Garden City belongs to Singaporeans. Their ideas and suggestions on how to improve the city’s landscaping should always be welcome.”

Better green than bare – The Straits Times 29th March, 1984.  

However, there was a question that need an answer: Are public suggestions always welcome or will they be rejected outright?

Nosing out wildlife in S’pore – The Straits Times 17th June, 1979.

In addition to talks and seminars, the Nature Society together with the Singapore Science Centre, organised a field study for 60 pre-university students and trainee teachers in June 1979. Participants were divided into four groups, each led by a biologist. D.H. Murphy and Leo Tan led the mangrove group, Roland Sharma the coral reef group, Lee Sing Kong and Wee Yeow Chin the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve group. This was a hands-on field study.

YC Wee

2nd April, 2023

Follow 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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