Hope springs eternal

ST News
Oct 30, 2011

special report
Hope springs eternal
Nature lover Ho Hua Chew still optimistic the Govt may change its mind about Bukit Brown

If Dr Ho Hua Chew, a bird specialist of more than 30 years, were a bird himself, he might be a white dove.

Like the symbol of eternal hope and peace, Dr Ho is still holding out that the Government may change its mind about redeveloping Bukit Brown.

'We should not take it as a done deal,' the veteran conservationist, who is in his 60s, told The Sunday Times.

'The Government now is more open, and I am more hopeful. There is room for more exploration and feedback.'

Dr Ho is a long-time member of the Nature Society (Singapore), having served as its president, conservation committee chairman, and now, its vice-chairman. He joined the group in 1971.

Like other heritage lovers, the former philosophy lecturer has expressed serious reservations about planned roadworks that will cut into the hilly, largely untouched, tree-strewn habitat.

But as other groups resign themselves to the inevitable, Dr Ho remains optimistic.

'Look at what happened with Chek Jawa,' he said.

In 2001, following a petition by nature groups to save Tanjung Chek Jawa, a beach at the eastern tip of Pulau Ubin that is home to rare marine creatures, the Government, in a move that surprised even the conservationists themselves, called off its plans to reclaim the area.

Dr Ho's love affair with Bukit Brown began in the early 1990s, when he first moved to the Thomson area. He would go bird-watching there, and take strolls.

'I go and enjoy a charming spot here and there. It's quite nice.'

This year, he wrote an essay on the ecological importance of Bukit Brown's natural habitat, following fears that the cemetery would yield to redevelopment plans.

He spoke of the area's 85 bird species, a few of them already endangered. The lush greenery, he said, would also help reduce carbon dioxide, ambient temperature and flooding in Singapore.

Dr Ho said he will work with other nature and heritage groups to persuade the Government to retain Bukit Brown as a cemetery-park.

'I hope they will take a holistic, comprehensive, broad view of the situation.'

He added: 'Because Bukit Brown is not just ecologically important, it's also such a beautiful place.'