Singapore-Nature: 11. Membership

During the early 1960s most of the members of the then Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch) were Caucasian expatriates. These members came mainly from the then Raffles Museum, Botanic Gardens and the University of Malaya that was then based in Singapore. The few local members, other than those affiliated to these institutions, were mostly unschooled in biology but hungry for guidance and eager to learn.

The Straight Times of 1st October, 1983 – Night Watch on the Flight to the South by Ilsa Sharp.

Towards the 1980s there were frequent mentions of the society’s activities in the local dailies. This was made possible by Ilsa Sharp, a member who had contacts at The Straits Times and in general media. Thus the society’s activities as well as feature articles on nature were regularly featured in The Straits Times. In addition, the local television was also running a popular series on nature called Naturama.

Number of members from 1991 to 2021.

Membership in the 1980s was estimated to have increased at a rate of about 20% per year. The total members then was around 400, of which about 60% were locals. Most Singaporeans were then living in high-rise apartments and growing up in an environment generally devoid of nature. In 1991 we had 1,020 members. This rose to a high of 2,715 in 1994. Twenty-seven years later in 2021 the number was reduced to a low of 1,180.

Presidents of the Nature Society from 1986 to 2023 (Note: 2018-2023 continues with the same President, not shown here).

I was curious to find out how the membership was when I was the Hon. President from 1991-1994. Well, I was pleasantly surprised to note that the highest number of members was in 1994, the year I stepped down as the Hon. President of the newly constituted Nature Society (Singapore). The membership of the society gradually decreased for the next 24 years from a high of 2,715 to 1,180 in 2021. The current Hon. President who has served for more than 15 years was elected on the promise of increasing membership. Apparently, he failed in his attempt. This is one reason why it is detrimental for any society to keep on electing the same leader year in and year out.

Current Hon. President promising to increase membership when he was elected in 2008

One thing puzzles me on this gradual membership decline. One does not need 24 long years to see the trend and do nothing about it. A good leader should be able to spot it after a few years and take appropriate action to curb it. Can it be that the society failed to provide interesting and challenging activities to members? Yes, there were yearly bird races and similar recreational activities. How about intellectually challenging activities? Were there any attempts to organise talks, debates, seminars and symposiums? Did no one think of organising a brain storming session to find out the cause or causes of the membership decline?


Nature Society (Singapore) calling for support in its webpage.

Obviously a new and dynamic team needs to replace an ageing one that lacks ideas to create exciting activities in order to increase membership.

YC Wee

9th 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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