On Singapore’s north western coast, overlooking the limpid waters of the Straits of Johor, Sarimbun has been the location for the city-state’s main Scout camp for 50 years.
Sarimbun has hosted some of the Singapore Scout Association’s most important events including the National Scout Jamboree and the facilities have been gradually improved over the years. In the mid-1980s, it got new dormitories, a hall and central kitchen. A decade later, a climbing wall, A-frame huts and campfire circles were added.
Now, Sarimbun’s being remade again - this time as a centre for biodiversity.
“The Sarimbun Scout Camp is a place for wildlife, and by showing the Scouts that we have a lot of wildlife and birds that come to the camp we can teach them about the importance of nature and why we should preserve it,” says Karl Png, 21, one of the five Rover Scouts who are leading the project.
As a city-state, Singapore is known more for its skyscrapers, shopping malls and housing estates than its nature, but areas of forest and wetland have managed to avoid the march of development, and the country has four designated national parks. In recent years, rivers have been cleaned encouraging animals – including a family of otters – to return. The waters around the island are home to more than 250 hard corals, about a third of the world’s diversity.
In Sarimbun, the Rovers plan to transform the eight hectare camp into an eco-friendly site by replanting native flora and fauna, establishing a composting centre using the food remains thrown away by campers, developing nature trails and conducting aquatic and wildlife surveys. They’re working with environmental experts from across the island including the Nature Society Singapore.
“We hope to make an impact on our community by imparting environmentally-friendly practices and knowledge to all our Scout sections, and members of the public,” says 21-year-old Rover, Rishab Patwari, who’s also part of the project. “We want to make this campsite into an environmental hub for education.”
Singapore Scouting’s first campsite was set up in the island’s east in 1932. Twenty years later, it was moved to Jurong Park on the other side of the growing city, and when that site was earmarked for an industrial park, the Scouts were given Sarimbun as a replacement.
Last September, the team held its first expert meeting to work out how to document the flora and fauna that live in and around Sarimbun and then headed out into the field. Armed with cameras, a plant database and record sheets, the Rovers and a group of experts from the Nature Society documented 47 species of plants in and around the camp, including wild aquatic ginger that was thought to have been lost to Singapore’s rapid development.
They were also surprised to spot some nests of the white-bellied sea eagle – jumbles of twigs and small branches - high in the forest trees surrounding the main site, and hear the call of the straw-headed bulbul, a songbird unique to the Malay peninsula and parts of Borneo that was moved from “vulnerable” to “endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s “Red List” in 2015.
Reforestation is a key part of the project, with more than 300 trees and shrubs to be planted. The Rovers have planted some, but have enlisted more Scouts to get the job done. Tree and shrub planting days planned from the middle of June and into July, culminating in a a residential weekend workshop where participants will learn more about conservation, food composting and wildlife surveys. The Rovers are also designing a butterfly trail to attract native species, and nature walks through the neighbouring forest, with the aim of nurturing a greater appreciation for nature among the country’s 8,000-strong Scout community.
The first phase of the project will come to an end with the workshop in July, but the effort to turn Sarimbun into a centre for biodiversity will continue over the longer-term. Patwari hopes the initiative will encourage not only Scouts, but also ordinary Singaporeans, to adopt more eco-friendly lifestyles in line with the Singapore Scout Association’s support of World Scouting’s Vision 2023 through Community Scouting.
Patwari says protecting the environment around the camp will ensure “one of the last remaining natural areas in heavily-urbanised Singapore” is preserved; a small, green corner in a modern Asian city that is the third most densely-populated country in the world.