Causes Week 2016: They walk the talk to nurture a green future

(From left) Volunteers Debra Teng; Jaclyn Yeo; Teresa Teo Guttensohn, 53, a protocol manager; Loh Choe Hwa, 34, an outdoor educator; Rani Singam and Tan Hang Chong at MacRitchie Reservoir Park. They are among those who have come together to spread aw
(From left) Volunteers Debra Teng; Jaclyn Yeo; Teresa Teo Guttensohn, 53, a protocol manager; Loh Choe Hwa, 34, an outdoor educator; Rani Singam and Tan Hang Chong at MacRitchie Reservoir Park. They are among those who have come together to spread awareness of nature conservation.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG
(From left) Volunteers Debra Teng; Jaclyn Yeo; Teresa Teo Guttensohn, 53, a protocol manager; Loh Choe Hwa, 34, an outdoor educator; Rani Singam and Tan Hang Chong at MacRitchie Reservoir Park. They are among those who have come together to spread aw
TOMORROW: Read human 'books', break social barriers

Volunteers from green groups lead trips to nature areas to raise awareness of need to conserve them

"In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught." That line was written by a Senegalese poet in the 1960s, but it is a philosophy nature conservation volunteers share - that to get people to appreciate their environment, they first have to be taught to fall in love with it.

Volunteers from various environmental groups have been conducting free guided walks to nature areas here to raise awareness about the last few wild spaces in built-up Singapore, and the need to protect them.

The guides are from groups such as Naked Hermit Crabs and Herpetological Society of Singapore. They take interested members of the public out to various habitats in and around Singapore - from the Pasir Ris Mangroves to the forested trails of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, and even the wetlands of offshore Pulau Ubin.

They do so in the hope of making Singaporeans aware of the rich biodiversity in their own backyard.

"Bringing people to appreciate the forest first-hand will give them a better idea of what is at stake," said Mr Tan Hang Chong, 43, who is head of education and research at Better Trails, an environmental and outdoor education company.

  • Free guided walks

  • Herpetological Society of Singapore

    This nature group wants to raise awareness of reptiles and amphibians - that may not immediately appeal to everyone.

    Volunteers have started Herp Walks to places such as the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and MacRitchie to educate people that reptiles and amphibians are important to the ecosystem and are not scary.

    For more information on the guided walks, visit www.herpsocsg.wordpress.com

    Naked Hermit Crabs

    Despite the level of sediment, life thrives in Singapore's waters. Learn more about the creatures that live underwater with volunteers from the Naked Hermit Crabs, who organise walks at places such as the Pasir Ris Mangroves and the Chek Jawa wetlands on Pulau Ubin. Details can be found at www.nakedhermitcrabs.blogspot.sg

    Jane Goodall Institute (Singapore)

    There are two species of monkeys found in Singapore, although you are more likely to encounter the cheeky long-tailed macaque. The other species, the Raffles' banded langur, is reclusive and tends to stay out of the way of humans.

    Learn more about these primates with the experts at the Jane Goodall Institute on their Monkey Walks held twice monthly at the MacRitchie Reservoir Park and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. Visit www.janegoodall.org.sg for more information.

    BES Drongos

    The students from the National University of Singapore's Bachelor of Environmental Studies (BES) programme are spreading their love for nature by conducting guided walks on the Petai Trail at MacRitchie Reservoir Park. To sign up, visit www.besdrongos.wordpress.com

    Audrey Tan

"It also gives us the opportunity to share how every small action, such as going off trail, could have an impact on the environment."

When people go off trail, they trample on sensitive vegetation and disturb wildlife.

On Nov 19, a group of volunteers put together a concert at MacRitchie Reservoir Park, a gateway to the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, to raise awareness of the potential impact of the 50km Cross Island Line, which could cut through primary and secondary forests in the reserve.

Ms Rani Singam, a jazz singer who helped organise The Future of MacRitchie Concert, said: "I thought we should do something to bring people together to discuss the issue in a positive way, not just through protesting or rebelling. And music is a way to do that."

Local musicians such as singer-songwriter Farisha Ishak and musical duo Jack and Rai performed at the concert, which was attended by about 100 people.

The other concert organisers included actress Debra Teng, who is in her 40s; risk analyst Jaclyn Yeo, 31; sustainability manager Chen Dexiang, 31; and publisher Kannan Chandran, 57.

Ms Singam said she never identified herself as an environmentalist.

But after reading about the potential for the line to cause harm to native biodiversity, raised by groups such as the Nature Society (Singapore), Ms Singam found herself drawn to the issue.

The 45-year-old said she decided to act as she believes that a protected nature reserve "should not be violated".

The organisers of the concert also roped in volunteers, including Mr Tan and his colleague Ding Kian Seng, 33, who each took a group of 15 on a guided walk on the trails of MacRitchie.

They pointed out the forest denizens, including the greater racket-tailed drongo, a bird with flowing tail feathers that resemble stilts.

The organisers said that they worked for about eight months, securing permits and lining up programmes, in order to pull off the Nov 19 event.

Said Ms Teng: "This nature reserve, and all the green spaces in Singapore, belong to us Singaporeans, and I think it is important that Singaporeans have a say as to how and what we want to protect.

"This is just an opportunity to spread the message and let people know that... hey, we own it."

• For more information, go to www.lovemacritchie.wordpress.com

In our annual Causes Week, back for its fifth year, we spotlight individuals and groups that are making a difference in the community, and look at how others might pitch in too.

READ MORE

More stories at str.sg/causes2016

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 10, 2016, with the headline 'They walk the talk to nurture a green future'. Print Edition | Subscribe