National Parks Board
MND Cluster | NParks

A Garden of Possibility

NParks Scholars like Zestin Soh keep our City in a Garden growing green.
National Parks Board

Soh Wen Wen, Zestin, NParks Undergraduate Scholar, has a Bachelor of Sciences (Joint Honours) Biology with Business Management from Imperial College London. He is currently a Senior Manager in Horticulture & Operations with Singapore Botanic Gardens, managing the plant collections in the Bukit Timah Core alongside several cross-divisional projects.

The Singapore Botanic Gardens is our first UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the only tropical garden in the list. Locals and tourists from all over the world visit to appreciate the 9,000 species of flora spread over 82-hectares of lush greenery, and celebrated attractions like the National Orchid Garden.

The Gardens also plays a vital role in conservation, as Soh Wen Wen, Zestin, Senior Manager in Horticulture & Operations, knows well. He not only ensures the plants are healthy and happy, but participates in various cross-divisional projects promoting biodiversity. His portfolio includes working on the One Million Trees movement.

As an NParks Undergraduate Scholar, he spoke about his role keeping our city green and beautiful.

Why did you take up the NParks Scholarship?

My parents and teachers saw my interest in the natural world at an early age and encouraged me to consider a career in this area. Fresh out of National Service in 2012, I decided to take up a seven-month internship with the National Biodiversity Centre to experience what working at NParks was like. My time there gave me a heightened appreciation for the joys and challenges of biodiversity conservation.

I admired the work that NParks was doing, as well as the organisation's ability to attract a skilled and driven workforce. These two factors convinced me to apply for the scholarship and a future career with NParks.

Tell us more about your work as a Senior Manager in Horticulture & Operations.

Mainly, I manage and enhance the living collections in the Bukit Timah Core of the Singapore Botanic Gardens. I am responsible for ensuring that the landscapes are well maintained, aesthetically pleasing, and enjoyable places. I also work with colleagues to protect the natural heritage of the Gardens, preserve the scientific value of the plant specimens, and conserve threatened species.

Beyond my core work, I get to be part of various cross-divisional project groups. For instance, I am part of the team working on the One Million Trees movement, which aims to restore nature back into our city through planting more than a million trees in partnership with the community.

Soh Wen Wen, Zestin

Soh Wen Wen, Zestin

So what would you say is your greatest career achievement?

I am proud to have completed A Guide to the Bees of Singapore, a book published by NParks in collaboration with NUS. It is particularly significant as the first comprehensive guide on bees for any Southeast Asian country.

Bees are a key part of Singapore's natural heritage and biodiversity. It is thus especially meaningful to see nature enthusiasts of all ages pick up the book, grow in their appreciation for these pollinators, and begin documenting the species found in their local green spaces.

“There are many opportunities for scholars to be challenged, exercise their creativity, and develop professionally through milestone programmes, job rotations and inter-agency projects. Altogether I am sure that these will make for a fulfilling career.” Soh Wen Wen, Zestin

And we understand you gained some of this in-depth knowledge during your school days at Imperial College London?

Yes! Pursuing my education at Imperial College London granted me the privilege of learning from international lecturers who are experts in their fields. There, I learnt practical techniques to study and conserve bee species from some of the world's foremost bee experts.

Since returning to NParks, I have applied this knowledge to spearhead research on Singapore's native bees and even co-authored the first paper on their diversity within the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. In 2018, I worked with colleagues to develop the Bee Trail at HortPark, the first space in Singapore designed to allow people to safely watch native bees up close and learn about them.

The NParks Scholarship opens the doors to such specialised learning opportunities! Do you have any other examples?

The NParks Scholarship allowed me to gain experience and knowledge outside of the classroom. For instance, I spent two weeks during my second year at the Durrell Conservation Academy on Jersey Island. There, I gained unique insights into practical considerations for enhancing the success of ex-situ conservation of endangered species. Jersey Island has the third largest tidal range in the world, so it was also an excellent location to learn about marine ecology in the intertidal zone.

Discovering Green

Zestin is knowledge about plants, but had not kept any at home until circuit breaker started. Then, he had the chance to learn about home gardening!

I am continually learning as part of my job too. For instance, last year I had the privilege of being part of the team to develop the high-tech OCBC Arboretum in the Gallop Extension of the Singapore. The arboretum conserves more than 200 species of threatened Dipterocarp trees. I researched and implemented drones that would detect tree health at light wavelengths invisible to the naked eye. I was thrilled to see the project I had planned ‘take flight' with the launch of the first drone at the arboretum's opening!

Other than the educational gains, why should aspiring scholars join NParks?

Aspiring scholars with a keen appreciation for nature are likely to find meaning and purpose in NParks' vision of restoring nature in our city and bringing about tangible, positive impacts to the lives of people in Singapore. There are many opportunities for scholars to be challenged, exercise their creativity, and develop professionally through milestone programmes, job rotations and inter-agency projects. Altogether I am sure that these will make for a fulfilling career.