As a student, Ms Rachel Tan never expected to find herself deep within the mountains of South Africa’s Cape Floristic Region, a biodiversity hotspot that is home to the highest concentration of non-tropical higher plant species in the world.
There, she acquired ecological sampling techniques and got hands-on practice as she conducted her own research project investigating the influence of roads on the spread of non- native plants in the South African shrub land. This was part of an African Biology Field Course that she took during her studies at Imperial College London.
On another trip, she ventured on a scientific expedition to Romania to conduct plant and wildlife surveys, and attended a summer session at the University of California, Berkeley, where she took courses in soil and ocean science.
With these overseas opportunities through the NParks Undergraduate Scholarship, Ms Tan was able to gain invaluable knowledge about conserving biodiversity – lessons which she now brings to her current job at NParks.
A LOVE FOR ALL THINGS GREEN
Ms Tan chose to study ecology as she wanted to deepen her “understanding of our natural world”. Upon finding out about the NParks Undergraduate Scholarship after her A levels, the young environmentalist jumped at the opportunity to study at Imperial College London, renowned for its reputable biology course.
There, she read general biology – including microbiology, molecular biology, genetics, and evolution – and delved deeper into subjects like behavioural ecology, conservation biology, and resource management.
“The NParks scholarship enabled me to pursue my passion through furthering my studies abroad in a field I care about,” she says.
SHAPING SINGAPORE’S GREEN SPACES
With her background in ecology and plant science, it eased Ms Tan into her various roles as manager in NParks, which she accepted in July 2018.
Her job includes managing the orchid nurseries of the National Orchid Garden in the Singapore Botanic Gardens. She is involved in the collection and cultivation of a wide variety of orchids species and hybrids to support the Gardens’ orchid conservation and hybridization programmes.
One of her career highlights was helping to organise the Orchid Competition at the 2021 Singapore Garden Festival Hort Show, which saw hundreds of orchid hybrids and species submitted for judging.
“It was very eye-opening to experience the whole show process, from registration and judging to the setting up of displays and getting a glimpse of the vibrant orchid cultivation and hybridisation scene in Singapore,” she said.
Another cherished achievement was being part of the secretariat working on the OneMillionTrees movement, a nationwide effort to plant one million more trees across Singapore by 2030 in close partnership with the community. Although physical tree planting events were suspended and postponed several times, due to Covid-19 restrictions, Ms Tan and her colleagues found ways to keep the OneMillionTrees movement’s efforts going.
To extend their outreach, they developed digital strategies such as producing webinars on tree-related topics, virtual tours on key habitats and ecosystems, and tutorials on nursery propagation techniques. The community response has been “encouraging” even through the pandemic, she says.
Going forward, Ms Tan is excited to become an expert in the intricate world of orchids as she learns about the numerous species and hybrids. She hopes to become familiar with their varied growing requirements and become adept at plant décor and landscaping. She also aims to reach out to even more segments of the community through the OneMillionTrees movement.
“Now that I am working at NParks, it has been very meaningful to see that my work actually makes a tangible difference to people and nature,” says Ms Tan. “I am very glad to be a part of the larger NParks family working together to manage our green spaces and conserve our natural heritage.”
|THE HEALING POWER OF NATURE
The pandemic has highlighted how important green spaces are for physical health and mental well-being, especially in urban cities like Singapore.
When the health crisis first started, Ms Tan and her colleagues who work at NParks’ Conservation Division noticed that the nature reserves saw “heightened visitorship levels”.
To ensure public safety, they had to increase safe-distancing enforcement. It was a hectic period for them as they juggled these extra tasks.
“Nevertheless, the pandemic underscored the significance of the work I do in helping to shape our City in Nature and bringing people closer to nature. This motivated me to keep going!”
Visit nparks.gov.sg/about-us/scholarships-and-awards for more information.