Saving Singapore’s green space

Dr Ho Hua Chew - Singapore

In Singapore, where space is tight, nature conservation faces some difficult odds. And no one is more familiar with the challenges than Dr Ho Hua Chew of IUCN Member organization the Singapore Nature Society who has fought for years for official recognition of the island state’s wildlife.

Dr Ho (kneeling down, blue shirt) leading a guided nature walk

The Society is dedicated to the conservation, study and enjoyment of the natural heritage of Singapore, Malaysia and the surrounding region. As an active member of the Society’s Bird Group, Dr Ho was deeply involved in the formulation of the conservation proposal for the Sungei Buloh wetland, which was accepted by the government leading to its designation as nature reserve. When he became the Chairman of the Society’s Conservation Committee, he worked tirelessly to get more Singaporeans involved in green issues through the media, public walks and public discussions.

In 1994 he was involved in a campaign to save the Senoko wetland from urban development. This wetland was extremely important for both migratory and resident bird life, and home to many rare and endangered species. Dr Ho says he felt a great sense of urgency to save the area.

But the campaign struggled from the start. The Singapore government was known to be focused on economic development, and it seemed highly unlikely it would ‘sacrifice’ Senoko for conservation purposes in the land-scarce state.

“Prominent and professional people who were worldly-wise were very discouraging,” said Dr. Ho. “The atmosphere was tense and gloomy whenever I was with them.” 

However, with support from the Bird Group, Dr Ho pushed on. They submitted a conservation proposal to the government and launched a national petition campaign. This was the most challenging part of the project because there was limited Internet access.

“We had to spread out all over Singapore to approach potential signatories and explain the significance of the campaign using articles, photos and other materials,” says Dr Ho.

“The result we achieved was astounding for Singapore. This was the first time in its history that 25,000 signatures were collected—non-digitally—for any cause. We succeeded in raising the level of awareness of the nature that still existed in Singapore.”

Although Senoko was ultimately not saved, Dr Ho became even more determined to work harder to save as much of Singapore’s natural areas as he could.

The campaign revealed that Singaporeans are interested in the green cause in significant numbers despite the mantra of land scarcity that’s promoted among some circles, adds Dr Ho.

Dr Ho has been active in many other conservation projects. He helped develop the Society’s Master Plan for the Conservation of Nature in Singapore, which made a significant contribution to the selection of Nature Areas identified in the Singapore Green Plan published by the Singapore Government.

Dr Ho has coordinated a series of conservation proposals for specific nature areas that the Society has identified in its Master Plan as being of major biodiversity importance. Some of these proposals including Kranji Reservoir Marshes and Pulau Ubin contributed to nature areas being incorporated into the Urban Redevelopment Authority Master Plan and Development Guide Plans which make sure conservation issues are addressed in development schemes or flagged for management as nature parks.

Dr Ho can be contacted at:

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