Defending National Parks Board: Different Approaches to a Common Goal

National Parks Board (NParks) was founded in 1967, as a statutory board of the Government of Singapore. They are responsible for enhancing and managing the urban ecosystems of which our Singapore government calls a City in Nature. They fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of National Development.

In our short life span as a Forest School in Singapore, we have our run-ins with Nparks since our first year of Forest Schooling. We function in the greens of Singapore, so naturally we are in the legal vicinity of NParks. Singapore is famed in the past few decades to be a country state with plenty of laws, rules and regulation. All these are said to allow us to be a safe country. It is not surprising that even in our parks and forest areas, we have many rules and regulations that detail what and how the citizens of Singapore can enjoy in the forest.

All these are good and all right, serving as a foundation and guidelines to allow better management and support of our amazing forest and Nature’s ecosystem. But in a country like Singapore, where our public sector is required to respond to every complaint and feedback regardless of their reasonability, we run into many misunderstandings with NParks due to public complaints.

(Personally, I am not against NParks, but I have my dissent against the few public individuals who only whine/complain cowardly and do not endeavour to support meaningfully. We don’t need to go far to see this, just turn on our Facebook newsfeed and scroll the comments. Whoever gets annoyed or offended by this paragraph, are probably the same individuals that I personally dislike.)

So after so many years of crossing swords with NParks and the general public opinions, this little article probably comes at a right time to show where we stand and how we hope to support the meaningful journey that most of us embark on.

We are here to speak up for our fellowships in the authority. I know some of them may find us quite tough to handle because of our outspoken community and the way we stand up for our beliefs about the connection with Nature through the organic aboriginal-local way. But we also understand the struggles and challenges that they face on a day to day basis (We have friends who are/were with NParks too). Many of them have a high level of passion that goes beyond a member of the public service.

Parks Vs Wild Forest

In a small city island like Singapore, where land is sparse, we struggle to keep our forest as we develop economically with our increasing population size. A wild forest left as it is without any urban structure with ownership tends to be slated for development. If no visitor centre or structure is installed in the area, the battle to conserve the land will be harder.

Our general corporation and industrial driven decisions see value in exploitation-profit over conservation-value. (This is a century old issue, since the beginning of industrialisation, one that many of us in the Nature community are fighting hard to address with good balance).

When a forest space is given a title of park or reserve, they have a higher value in the eyes of the decision maker to be protected, as there are structures owned by NParks or other MND establishment, that would give the agencies a high fighting chance in the battle for the space.

The space will also have more public engagement. The public who often use the space, build a connection with the space, such that they will stand up for and champion for the protection of the space when development arrives at the doorstep.

It is a tough balance to manicure or not for a particular forest space, but we hope more people understand the struggle, and would stand behind the passionate Nparks team in their battles as well.

Nature’s Law Vs Human Perceived Kindness

When you spend enough time in the Forest and Nature, you develop a deeper understanding of Nature, than just the beauty and serenity that she has. We also understand that the deaths, destruction and the seemingly cruel side of Nature is also part of the experience and meaning of being part of Nature.

By Nature’s law, death and destruction is important for the regenerative effect of the ecosystem. Without death and destruction, there will not be enough nutrients into the soil and ecosystem to provide for the plants and therefore animals. It is all a cycle. I know we often hear the words, “Loving Nature to death”, but if we do understand Mother Nature and her personality beyond the Sciences, maybe a balance of forces between life and death is actually what we all need together as an ecosystem.

In tropical island Singapore, where very few apex predators exist, the environment will be heavily imbalanced if we humans do not take on that role of the apex predator, which is to “hunt” our prey. Now in heavily populated Singapore, if we do allow hunting, I’m pretty sure unlike our aboriginal folks, we the urban folks would not be able to manage the population with balance (Even with all the control and sciences we have), we would likely wipe out the population for the self-serving interest which we were generally educated with in Urban Living.

However, the closest we can get would be a periodic management by NParks which we should as people living on this land support reasonably. Human perceived kindness, says that we protect and keep every living being alive. That is great in all its intention, but just like many charity projects and work, great intention doesn’t necessarily mean that we will get it right. Sometimes we have to listen to our fellowship and beneficiary, and in this case, Nature herself. What is the balance? I believe it is found in listening to Nature. The folks in NParks with their time spent in Nature, would be the closest we get from any other government agencies in Singapore.

Public Agency Responsibility to the Public

Now with all the talks about Nature and the Environment, we then ask, what about humans? What about the people living on this land? Do we not listen to them? Are they not also Nature (humans are mammals)?

We have to understand that NParks is a statutory board, meaning that all the expenses are tax funded. Tax that has been collected from the economical effort of the people living on this land and the associated establishments. NParks will have to be accountable to the humans as well.

In Modern Urban Singapore, where most of the population wouldn’t understand what it means to live together with Nature (many people freak out getting mosquito bites in the forest), it is difficult for both the challenges mentioned above to be comprehended by the general public.

While protecting the vast dynamic greens of Singapore, they also have to answer to every possible feedback and complaint that comes their way from people like ourselves. Sometimes the load of being responsible to every single feedback, on top of the existing red-tape synonymous with a typical Government agency can be so overwhelming that many of the individuals working in the agencies would be burnt out.

Yes, they are accountable to the public, but not because “they are taking tax-payer” money. But because it is a collective effort to love, respect and protect the space we call home. I believe we can contribute together not just in words, but in actions taken.

I hope in this short sharing, everyone can be kinder to NParks officers, and likewise the officers to us. We are in this together. This journey together, may very well represent a symbol of our collective national psyche.

Dancing to the flow of reasonable tensions and dynamic collaboration, through Nature’s guidance, we can show the way for everyone in Singapore, how the people and the agency can exist not in full harmony, but in balance for ages beyond.

Written by
Forest School Singapore

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