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Planting partnerships in Singapore

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Nathan Hunt
Former Director of Sustainability

Nathan Hunt was Director of Sustainability at UWCSEA, a post recently created to help align to the College's Learning Programme and operations more closely with the UWC mission. Alongside this, he is the Environmental Stewardship Coordinator on Dover Campus and teaches the IB Diploma Environmental Systems and Societies course.

Until 2016 Nathan was Head of the IB Theory of Knowledge course at Dover Campus. Nathan left UWCSEA in Singapore to teach at UWC Maastricht.

Planting partnerships in Singapore

A focus on reforestation and maintaining biodiversity

It is in the spirit of the College’s Global Concerns programme to follow the old adage ‘Think global, act local,’ and this is certainly the case for the Rainforest Nursery GC. With a mission to tackle the global issue of rainforest loss, the group raises indigenous trees (native to Southeast Asia) from seed for planting locally—on both our campuses and elsewhere in Singapore. With only a tiny fraction of its original primary rainforest remaining, our aim is to play a part in reversing the trend and reforesting the nation. This may seem a tall order given the country’s continued rapid development, but our GC is committed to working with its partners in the government and NGOs to finding new areas for afforestation and regenerating the many degraded forest areas around the island.

To this end, we have been working hard on several projects. The first is a continuation of planting our on campuses (see April 2012 Dunia), providing trees for sponsorship events for alumni and parents. These are organised by the UWCSEA Foundation, and several opportunities still remain for those that would like to commemorate loved ones, celebrate events or contribute to developing a greener, more interesting campus. Interested families and groups can contact the UWCSEA Foundation.

Secondly, this term we have extended our planting to partner with neighbouring schools such as Dover Court Prep and are making plans to offer trees to as many schools as we can in the area. We have also planted out in the gardens of two parents and would welcome more opportunities in private gardens or institutions.

It has been extremely fulfilling to be able to share our deep interest in conservation with the wider community; we have nurtured these trees on a sometimes precarious journey from seeds and to be able to offer them as gifts and see them flourish in the grounds and gardens of others is especially rewarding. It seems that getting sweaty and dirty and very close to nature in the process somehow adds to the enjoyment. To date, we have planted out well over 50 of our trees, almost all of them indigenous species. These include species that demonstrate the value and importance of conserving biodiversity such as Callophyllum inophyllum whose coumarin chemical compounds are being tested in anti-retro viral drugs for HIV. We have also recently teamed up with the Grade 12 students who run the Budden Initiative composting project. Using the waste from the Dover Campus canteens to fertilize the trees on campus is a genuine mark of progress in the College’s plans to live up to its sustainability goals.

Our next project is an exciting venture with the Singapore Botanic Gardens and NParks, who are keen to get students involved in reforestation research by sharing the considerable workload of raising seedlings for large plantings. We are already raising highly endangered Shorea timber species in the nursery and intend to plant these and others in a disused palm oil plantation in the Central Catchment Reserve. If the project proves successful, this trial will be extended to return a large area of Singapore’s degraded forest back to the highly bio-diverse primary rainforest it once was. It will be a fascinating turnaround to see a palm oil monoculture being replaced by native forest!

This work would not be possible without the support from some key people. We are supported by the great Facilities teams on both campuses who somehow always find time to help us despite the huge demands on their services. We are currently working with them to extend the nursery at Dover and to create a new facility at East so we can scale up our work and get more students involved.

We've also had a lot of help and advise from East Campus parent David Neidel, a UWC alumnus who is a reforestation specialist in this region. David has given up considerable time to develop our working partnership with the Botanic Gardens and others, and to help design our nursery expansion plans. Likewise we need to thank UWCSEA Foundation Trustee Kirtida Mekani who has provided valuable moral and financial support.

Working with the students in the nursery is always highly enjoyable – we learn a great deal and feel we are making a genuine contribution to a global problem – albeit on a very small scale.

Regular updates on these and other environmental initiatives at UWCSEA Dover an be found on our Sustainable Campus blog.

15 Nov 2016
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