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Clean & Green City: The seed project that took root

When you visit Orchard Road these days, you can enjoy a brush with a butterfly along with your shopping. A 4km Butterfly Trail starts at the gates of the Botanic Gardens, continues down the premier shopping belt and ends at Fort Canning Park.

It was Mr Lee Kuan Yew's go-green campaign in 1963 - when he planted a tree at Farrer Circus - that started what was to become the City in a Garden concept which flourishes today.

Decades after Mr Lee planted that first tree, a young Indian who arrived to study here was so inspired by Singapore's rich fauna and flora that he went on to eventually work for the Nature Society, with a particular interest in butterflies and conservation.

One of Mr Anuj Jain's proudest achievements is the Butterfly Trail - a 2010 project which consists of a series of green spaces along Napier, Tanglin and Orchard roads that help butterflies spread their wings through both leafy and glitzy areas in the heart of the city.

The spaces include green areas next to Somerset MRT station and behind Ngee Ann City, and Dhoby Ghaut Green park.

The Nature Society spearheaded the project, which was sponsored by property developer Far East Organization. Mr Jain, 30, was one of the lead project officers.

He says: "A lot of companies and organisations such as Singapore Post and Ricoh (a Japanese electronics firm) were willing to help financially, in-kind or to give up some space on their property as a green area, and Mr Lee's policies over the years definitely helped foster that eco-friendly mindset."

It is a far cry from when Mr Jain moved from his self-described "concrete city" home town in India to study at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in 2003.

He recalls: "Even though India has amazing wildlife as a country, Indian cities are not very green. But when I came to Singapore, there was greenery everywhere."

He was inspired to join Earthlink, NTU's environmental student society, and also to explore the nation's nature reserves and green spaces. MacRitchie Reservoir Park remains a favourite spot.

Although Mr Jain completed his engineering course, and started work at an electronics design company, he yearned to be closer to greenery. "At my workplace we had a roof garden, and I would go there every afternoon. My colleagues laughed because I seemed very odd - the designers were all very indoor people."

In 2008, he started volunteering with Team Seagrass, a group of people who monitor the health of seagrass, and the Nature Society.

He also volunteered with National Parks Board, carrying out guided walks on Pulau Ubin and in the Central Catchment and Bukit Timah nature reserves, as well as helping with biodiversity surveys and weed eradication programmes at the reserves.

Eventually, in 2010, he quit his job and joined the Nature Society. Mr Jain was one of the founding volunteers trained by Dr Ho Hua Chew, vice-chairman of the society's conservation committee, to carry out guided walks in the Kranji Marsh.

In late 2010, Sentosa Development Corporation hired the society for a botanical and zoological survey of the island.

Mr Jain was also in the plant survey group that helped uncover tree species that are extinct on the mainland, including the Syzygium griffithii, an evergreen tree.

He became a permanent resident in 2007, and is finishing a doctorate on wildlife ecology and conservation at the National University of Singapore.

zengkun@sph.com.sg