With over 350 parks, more than 300km of park connectors, 3,347 hectares of nature reserves, and the famous Singapore Botanic Gardens, Singapore is well on her way to becoming a City in a Garden. But to balance the needs of the environment with economic growth is no simple feat. It takes passion for nature, patience and a nuanced understanding of the green spaces around.
Rising up to the challenge is NParks, an organisation dedicated to helping the flora and fauna flourish.
Within their ranks is Sheryl Koh Yi Ting, Manager of the National Orchid Garden and an NParks Overseas Undergraduate scholar. She shares about how her time with NParks has enabled her to contribute to this transformation.
Why did you choose the NParks scholarship?
Sheryl Koh Yi Ting: I have always loved being active outdoors and so I wanted a job that would let me do that, while still giving back to society. I also loved biology and conservation during my Junior College days. I really identified with the vision and mission of NParks, especially how efforts are being made to conserve our precious biodiversity in Singapore, a highly urbanised island-state. I did some research and felt that a scholarship with NParks would give me invaluable opportunities in the fields of conservation and horticulture.
Tell us more about the internship opportunities you have experienced with NParks.
Sheryl: I had the opportunity to participate in two very rewarding internships which enabled me to understand the role NParks plays within the Ministry of National Development. During my first internship stint, I was attached to several big regional parks like Ang Mo Kio Town Garden East and West. It was an eye-opening experience to be part of a team doing a pilot study to reintroduce the Oriental Pied Hornbill back into our parks and gardens. Today, many residents can spot these majestic birds flying and roosting in their neighbourhood!
During my second internship, I worked with the events team in the Singapore Botanic Gardens. I was mainly involved behind-the-scenes, conceptualising, planning and carrying out different events. Back then, we were also actively involved in gathering data and doing research for the bid to get the Gardens inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Having witnessed the amount of hard work and effort the team had put into this, I was very thrilled when the official result of our successful inscription was announced!
Through these internships, I was able to better understand the work NParks does, and the rationale behind the decisions that were made. I also witnessed the impact our work has for the public and our environment.
Sheryl Koh Yi Ting
NParks Overseas Undergraduate Scholar
National Orchid Garden
What is the most meaningful experience you have had?
Sheryl: Organising the Singapore Garden Festival 2016 - the event was the biggest of its kind so far. As part of the Horticulture and Operations Branch, our team was directly involved in the set-up of the general displays at the festival. The process included coming up with concepts and design, choosing plants and preparing the necessary structures, and the actual set-up, maintenance and teardown at Gardens by the Bay. It took a year and the work was demanding, but it was also very rewarding to be able to pull off such a large event successfully.
How has NParks helped you further your professional development?
Sheryl: NParks has always been very supportive of my professional pursuits and has afforded me many opportunities to nurture my interests in Singapore’s biodiversity. I have been actively involved in several projects where I can apply the knowledge I have learnt. For instance, I have been a part of the habitat enhancement project to restore degraded forests and reintroduce several species of birds and butterflies in Kent Ridge Park.
In addition, there have been opportunities to pursue my interests in herpetofauna (amphibians and reptiles) conservation. I am currently part of a survey team working with the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore to research the impact of the chytrid fungus on herpetofauna in Singapore. I joined NParks to better understand its role in Singapore’s public service and how Singapore balances the importance of nature conservation with catering to the needs of an increasing population.
What are some challenges you face at work, and how do you overcome them?
Sheryl: People often envy horticulturists, thinking that our job is relaxing as it appears to just involve walking around and looking at plants and flowers. This cannot be more wrong! Although plants are not mobile and react less quickly to environmental stressors, they are nevertheless living things. Working with them requires an immense amount of thought, planning, and sensitivity. Being a good well-rounded horticulturist requires years of experience and knowledge. Thankfully, my team of experienced colleagues is more than willing to teach and help, and having good teamwork really speeds up processes.
Could you offer some advice for aspiring NParks scholars?
Sheryl: You should love nature. One common quality NParks officers have is their love for nature. Building, restoring, simulating, and conserving the natural environment is a large part of what we do, and affects the decisions we make.
Also, never say “no” to any opportunities before giving it a chance or doing enough research. It is important to do adequate research to understand the work of an organisation.
Finally, keep an open mind. It is good to speak to previous scholars to find out about their experiences as a scholar, and to understand that there are always lessons to learn at every opportunity.