Man who 'raised' the young of endangered tree wins President's Award for the Environment

Dr Shawn Lum, president of the Nature Society (Singapore), received the award for his significant involvement in biodiversity projects in Singapore.
Dr Shawn Lum, president of the Nature Society (Singapore), received the award for his significant involvement in biodiversity projects in Singapore.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - In little plastic cups, he "raised" the young of an endangered tree, and cared for the seeds like they were his children.

This was in 2002 when Dr Shawn Lum, then vice-president of the Nature Society (Singapore), learnt of the illegal felling of the endangered giant - Hopea Sangal - in Changi Village.

Fortunately, seeds were collected prior to the felling and Dr Lum, an American and permanent resident here, helped them grow into strong saplings over the next eight years.

"I don't have any children of my own, but I know where those Hopea Sangal are planted," he said at a media conference recently, after being named one of three recipients of the President's Award for the Environment (PAE) this year.

The saplings, including those grown by the National Parks Board, were planted at the Singapore Zoo, Changi Airport, Botanic Gardens and Changi museum.

Dr Lum, who is now president of the Nature Society (Singapore), received the award for his significant involvement in biodiversity projects in Singapore.

This includes a long-term study of the Bukit Timah forest, which involves monitoring up to 20,000 trees in 4ha of forest.

Professor Leo Tan, director of special projects at the science faculty at the National University of Singapore (NUS), and one of the nine judges of the awards, said: "Dr Lum should have won this award long ago."

Anchor Green Primary School won the award in the institution category.

The school collaborates with firms such as Ikea and Brother, as well as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Singapore and NParks, to promote recycling and conservation. The school also includes water education and cleaning in their everyday learning.

A "buddy clean system" is one such initiative, where pupils from Primary 2 and Primary 4 work together using tips provided by the cleaning staff, to keep the classrooms clean.

"If children are sensitised from a young age, they will gravitate naturally towards environmental education," said Madam Norliza A. Rahim, the school's principal.

Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH) picked up the award in the organisation category for its "hospital in a garden and a garden in a hospital", as Mrs Chew Kwee Tiang, chief executive officer of KTPH and Yishun Health, described it.

The hospital's nature-friendly design includes large gardens in and around the hospital which boast 70 species of butterflies and 100 species of fish.

Fruits and vegetables grown in the gardens are sold as well.

"I'm quite sure that when you enter Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, you don't feel stressed," said Mrs Chew of the calming effect nature has on those who visit the hospital. "The best view is reserved for patients in the Intensive Care Unit," she added.

This is the second time a hospital has bagged the organisation category. Alexandra Hospital won it in 2008.

Dr Lum said although the three winners are from different fields of work, "the three of us have an overlapping theme - nature is a part of everything. By taking care of the local environment, we make sure there's space for people but also for nature".

The awards were presented by President Halimah Yacob at the Istana on Tuesday (Nov 21) night. The PAE, now in its 12th year, had 48 nominees this year, and the three winners were selected by a panel of judges.

From next year, the awards will be a bi-annual affair to better cultivate potential nominees.

Having germinated the Hopea Sangal, Dr Lum now wants to plant the seeds of environmentalism.

He said: "The next step is to make those clearer connections between the groups that focus on energy, resources, waste management and those who look at green issues, biodiversity and nature, like myself.

"If nature's important, we need to lead more sustainable lifestyles, we need to get people to work across this divide."