The man behind Sungei Buloh

It was Mr Richard Hale, an avid birdwatcher, who in 1986 first came across the area of mangroves that the Nature Society successfully lobbied to conserve as the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve ("Saving Sungei Buloh"; last Sunday).

He was impressed with the thousands of migratory birds using the area, which had arrived to refuel before continuing their journey back to their breeding grounds in the north.

He knew of no other birdwatchers there at the time, until he met Dr Christopher Hails, who was then with the Ministry of National Development's Parks and Recreation Department, working to bring birdlife back to the urban environment.

No one else knew of the area until Mr Hale got together a small group of Nature Society members that included Dr Clive Briffett, Dr Hails, Dr Ho Hua Chew, Dr Rexon Ngim and myself, to spend eight months preparing an illustrated booklet highlighting the richness of Sungei Buloh's birdlife.

The document detailed the potential of the area as "a veritable microcosm of culture and natural history interest" and pointed out its educational value.

Included were suggestions on how the area could be managed, including a visitors' centre and a programme of guided walks.

Copies of the proposal were sent to permanent secretaries, ministers, MPs, as well as the prime minister and president, and anyone who could be of help.

Mr Hale worked tirelessly behind the scenes. With his network of contacts, he persuaded key decision-makers, including then President Wee Kim Wee, to visit the area . Perhaps as a result of the behind-the-scenes lobbying and Mr Hale's personal touch, the Government responded positively.

By 1989, Sungei Buloh Nature Park (now Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve) became a reality, and it was officially announced by then National Development Minister S. Dhanabalan.

At the closing ceremony of the 1991 Clean and Green Week, the Nature Society was presented with the Green Leaf Award.

This complemented the previous year's award when Mr Hale won under the individual category. This was an award given to organisations and individuals who had made outstanding contributions to environmental protection and preservation.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 16, 2015, with the headline The man behind Sungei Buloh. Subscribe