Transforming Singapore Into A City In Nature: NParks Volunteers

Two public officers share their love of nature and what they have learnt as volunteers with the National Parks Board.
NPark volunteers play a key role in making Singapore a more nature-friendly city
Public officers Ng Guan Ing (left) and Susanna Ho (right), both from the Ministry of Education, enjoy nature and volunteer with the National Parks Board to contribute to nature conservation and education outreach efforts.

Being a nature guide at the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, it turns out, is no walk in the park – especially for someone without a background in botany.

Visitors would point at “random patches of green” and ask what it was, says Ms Ng Guan Ing, a volunteer with the National Parks Board (NParks) since 2003.

“I knew ‘A plant!’ was not the answer they were looking for,” she jokes.

A chance encounter sparked her interest in volunteering with NParks. On her usual morning walk at the nature reserve, she saw a big group of people spilling out of a meeting room at the Visitor Centre, moving towards the reserve.

“It looked like a volunteer briefing, so I went online to see how to sign up as a volunteer,” says Guan Ing. “Since I enjoy nature walks, why not make it more meaningful rather than just ambling around in the forest?”

But to do nature guiding well, there was “a lot of homework to be done”, she says. She picked up tips from more experienced guides, studied about plants and read up on the history of the places where she did guiding to weave personal, human interest stories into her sharing. “Having the hard knowledge is one thing. It's another to make them come alive with stories.”

At the nature reserve, she was able to explore many other volunteering opportunities, from tree planting, nursery work, public outreach and, her favourite, forest patrol.

Guan Ing soon branched out to other parts of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve and Pulau Ubin, discovering new opportunities as diverse as jungle fowl survey, monkey survey, more forest patrols, Operation No Release (to encourage the public not to release animals into the wild), and public education. 

Over the years, her time spent volunteering has ranged from taking part in activities every fortnight to just one day a month, depending on how much time she can spare.

She now spends most of her time on Citizen Science projects, where individual citizens count the number of wildlife and contribute to showing the richness of biodiversity in Singapore by adding data points. Guan Ing counts butterflies, garden birds, dragonflies and herons on a regular basis.

“It's not the individual effort that counts, but the collective one that creates that impact.”

Bridging Work as an Educator with Volunteering

Like Guan Ing, fellow NParks volunteer Susanna Ho has intertwined nature and conservation into her personal life, going on nature walks and exploring Singapore’s biodiversity in her free time.

She started volunteering with NParks in 2008 as a Chek Jawa nature guide. Susanna had already been involved in saving Chek Jawa in the early 2000s, having volunteered with academic and non-government groups such as the Nature Society (Singapore).

Being part of NParks’ outreach programme was “a good opportunity” to do her part in nature conservation and educating the public, says Susanna, a Lead Specialist (Outdoor Education), MOE.

She then went on to join the Friends of Parks groups, which include the Friends of Ubin, Friends of Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and Friends of Rail Corridor. On the weekends, Susanna supports outreach events such as World Migratory Birds Day at Sungei Buloh or community events such as International Coastal clean-ups and biodiversity surveys.

As Susanna’s work at the MOE involves infrastructure development projects, such as the OBS@Coney Island project, her experience as an NParks volunteer has come in useful.

“I have a unique opportunity to be the ‘bridge’ between governmental agencies and nature advocates,” she says. “I could provide insights from both angles to help key stakeholders broaden their perspectives and navigate the complexities.”

A Fellowship of Volunteers

For both volunteers, the interaction with other volunteers and NParks staff has been uplifting and inspirational.

Guan Ing says: “What kept me going is not just my love for nature, but the dedication of the staff and volunteers.”

She lists several people who have left an impression on her: “I recall vividly a staff who lived near Tuas but makes the journey every day to go to work on Pulau Ubin, a volunteer couple who trudged out their heavy lens to photograph insects, and the artist who taught us how to sketch as dusk falls, creating shadows of trees in Taman Negara.

“I remember the activist who put on knee support to climb Bukit Timah, and the next moment, I see her on the mudflats talking about anemone.”

Susanna is also encouraged by other volunteers and NParks staff being willing to share their knowledge and expertise. Having learnt a lot from volunteering, she says: “We should never wait till we think we know enough before we come forward to be a volunteer. I have received much more than I have given as a volunteer.”

Find out more about how to be a volunteer with NParks.

    Jul 16, 2020
    Ng Guan Ing
    Susanna Ho
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