Nature Society (Singapore)
With origins stretching back to 1921 when the Singapore Natural History Society was formed, the Nature Society (Singapore) is the leading non-government organisation concerned with nature conservation in Singapore. It supported the preservation of the zoological reference collection that is now held at the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, and also campaigned successfully for the preservation of many nature areas in Singapore, including the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, Chek Jawa and the Kranji freshwater wetlands (known today as the Kranji Marshes).1
The Nature Society (Singapore) (NSS) is a non-government organisation (NGO) at the forefront of the advocacy of nature conservation in Singapore. It is also one of Singapore’s oldest NGOs, with a history dating to the Singapore Natural History Society (SNHS), which was formed in 1921 by British administrators and scientists to develop “friendly intercourse between local naturalists and the increase and diffusion of knowledge concerning natural history”. SNHS, which had 66 members in 1922, produced the Singapore Naturalist journal until 1928 before it dissolved.2
In 1940, British colonials established the Malayan Nature Society (MNS). The society’s publication was The Malayan Nature Journal. The cause of nature conservation was evident at the time, with the journal’s first issue centred on the “natural beauty spots of Malaya, and the need for their preservation”.3
Over a decade later in 1954, the Singapore section of the MNS took root as the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch). This arrangement weathered and survived Singapore’s separation from Malaysia in 1965, with the administration of the Singapore branch centralised at its Malaysian branch headquarters in Kuala Lumpur. Singapore naturalists maintained common cause with their Malaysian counterparts.4
In 1991, however, as a reflection of the diverging developments of the two countries and the maturing of the Singapore nation, the Singapore branch amended its constitution and became a full-fledged independent NGO in Singapore and gained its present name. With the rapid pace of urbanisation and technology in Singapore, the NSS evolved to become more involved in the cause of nature conservation.5
NSS launched its quarterly magazine, Nature Watch, in 1993. The inaugural issue’s lead feature was about the Sungei Buloh Nature Park,6 a haven for migratory birds and whose preservation was the culmination of an NSS-led campaign.7
The aim of the journal was to “provide a voice for its members and other private groups and government agencies that wish to address nature conservation matters”.8 This underlines the policy of NSS to engage in “productive alliances” with the government, business and civil society in a tripartite partnership.9
Since the 1950s, NSS has evolved from an informal group of nature lovers coming together for occasional talks and field trips into a more professional society concerned with conservation studies and environmental impact assessments.10
After its proposal on the conservation of Sungei Buloh in 1988, the society had surfaced nine other conservation proposals by 1993, including the “Master Plan for the Conservation of Nature in Singapore” (1990), followed by the environmental impact assessment on the proposed golf course at Lower Peirce Reservoir (1992).11
In addition to the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, its other successful campaigns include projects on the relocation of coral reefs, conservation of the Chek Jawa mudflats on Pulau Ubin, the Kranji Marshes, Singapore’s accession to the Convention on International Trade and Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, and the preservation of the zoological reference collection that is now held at the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research.12
NSS claims a current membership of about 1,500, with 80 percent being Singaporean, and strives to maintain and expand its relevance to a Singapore society of high literacy, economic success and international exposure.13
The society’s work takes the form of education and research activities, as well as active campaigning, to save the increasingly vulnerable natural environment of Singapore from the pressures of urban development. NSS’s expansion is shown in the formation of numerous subgroups with concerns ranging from birds and bird ecology, butterflies, conservation, education, marine conservation to plants, nature rambles, and vertebrate study.14
In March 2015, NSS organised an event where the public votes for Singapore “national butterfly”. The event was part of NSS’s National Butterfly campaign, which aimed to increase the awareness of butterflies’ role in the ecosystem and protection of their natural habitats. More than 7,500 votes were received, and the common rose butterfly emerged as the winner from six nominated species. Other activities held in conjunction with the campaign included talks and walks related to butterfly appreciation.15
Other projects that NSS was involved in include the Singapore Land Authority Bird Watching Map, which provides information on birdwatching locations; offering information on wildlife and habitats to support the creation of a wildlife corridor along Sungei Pandan; and co-organising the Little Green Dot Student Research Grant in 2011 and 2012 for youths to participate in research projects about the environment.16
Through fundraising and several major donations, NSS became the proud owner of its own premises at The Sunflower building on Geylang Road in 2000, a milestone in its history and a landmark for nature conservation in Singapore.17
Khor Kok Kheng
1. “History,” Nature Society (Singapore), accessed 20 April 2016.
2. Nature Society (Singapore), “History.”
3. Malaysian Nature Society, Malaysia’s Environmental Voice, n.d., 1.
4. Nature Society (Singapore), “History.”
5. Nature Society (Singapore), “History.”
6. Wee Yeow Ching, “Editor’s Page,” Nature Watch 1, no. 1 (October–December 1993), 3. (Call no. RSING 508.5957NW)
7. Nature Society (Singapore), “History.”
8. Wee, “Editor’s Page,” 3.
9. Nature Society (Singapore), “History.”
10. Wee Yeow Ching, “Message,” Nature Watch 1, no. 1 (October–December 1993), 7. (Call no. RSING 508.5957NW)
11. Wee, “Message,” 7.
12. Nature Society (Singapore), “History.”
13. Nature Society (Singapore), “History.”
14. Wee, “Message,” 7.
15. “National Butterfly Campaign Voting Results,” Nature Society (Singapore), n.d.
16. “Past & Completed Projects,” Nature Society (Singapore), accessed 20 April 2016.
17. Nature Society (Singapore), “History.”
The information in this article is valid as of 2016 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the library for further reading materials on the topic.