Why Botanic Garden is not the place for a scouts’ campsite

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A rifle club and a scouts’ campsite are incompatible with the objectives of a real botanic garden, writes environmentalist Dr Leong Yueh Kwong.

As a former scout myself, I have fond memories of camping (but never at the Botanic Garden). But I think what Yueh Kwong says below makes plenty of sense. The scouts, as nature lovers, should understand the need to have a protected sanctuary for endangered plants and trees.

Objections to the proposals of putting the scouts’ campsite inside the SAP of Penang Botanic Gardens

The Scouts’ Coronation Camp and the Special Area Plan of the Penang Botanic Gardens

I wish to correct some misinformation that was reported in the press over the last few months concerning the Scouts’ Coronation Camp and the SAP of the Penang Botanic Gardens. The scouts alleged that they have been evicted by the Penang Botanic Gardens and now they do not have any camp site for the youth of Penang. They have solicited and obtain the support of some politicians who are asking that the scouts be given back a place in the master plan of the Penang Botanic Gardens.

The scouts, who are asking for a place in the Penang Botanic Gardens are a special interest group, much like the Rifle Club asking to remain in the Penang Botanic Gardens. The special interest group in making these demands do not seem to care about the broader interest of the public and integrity of the botanic gardens as a botanical institution. Before the gazetted expansion of the PBG, both the Rifle Club and the Scout Camp were not in the Botanic Gardens. After the gazetting in 2004, both these are inside the central part of the Botanic Gardens. These are totally incompatible with the functions of the botanic gardens.

The misinformation used in the scouts’ case is that they have no place to go and therefore would need a place in the botanic gardens for their camping requirements. This is not true to say that they have no more place for camping and a background check would show that this version is too simplistic and does not reflect the truth

Background on Coronation Campsite and Penang Botanic Gardens

The Penang Botanical Gardens Special Area Plan and Gardens Master plan (2011/2012)

The PBG has a long history of association with the history of Penang. It was in a state of benign neglect since the 1960s after the separation of Malaysia and Singapore. However, despite the lack of funds and personnel, it was a well run garden. However, with the retirement of Mr Chiang Kok Choy in the 1970s, there was a noticeable decline in the maintenance of the gardens.

There were many public complaints from the public in the early 1980s on the deteriorating conditions of the PBG. In 1983, after a visit to the PBG Prof. Holttum, a previous director of the Penang and Singapore Gardens, Holttum wrote to Tun Lim Chong Eu on the deteriorating conditions of the gardens and how the gardens could be improved.

Tun Lim then appointed an ad hoc panel to look into the development and management of the PBG and come up with recommendations on how to improve the gardens. The panel included representatives from the university (USM), NGOs and various relevant government departments. These included Dato’ Kam U Tee, then General Manager of PBA, and the heads of various government departments (Botanic Gardens Department, JPBD, JKR and Forestry).

The panel submitted their proposals to the Chief Minister and these resulted in a series of changes such as the expansion of the scope of the gardens to include conservation, education and research. One of the key recommendations was the geographic expansion of the PBG so that there would be more space for the development of the gardens which had many more visitors and regular users.

At that time, there were already about 1.5 million users and visitors to the gardens per year. The proposed expansion was also in line with Tun Lim’s vision and plans to create a green belt from the Youth Park to the Botanic Gardens in view of the increasing urbanisation.

JPBD (Jabatan Perancang Bandar dan Desa) was instructed to come out with a concrete proposal for the expansion. The JPBD proposal was to increase the garden from 72 acres to about 592 acres and this would stretch all the way to beyond the moon gate. All the land for the expansion would be public land and no acquisition of private land was necessary.

However, there were some government quarters as well as the Scouts’ Campsite and the Rifle Club which would be in the expanded area of the PBG and which would have to be relocated as these would be incompatible with the development of the botanic gardens as a botanical institute.

The Scouts’ Coronation Camp

The scouts had asked the PBA for a camp site in the 1950s on PBA land near the front entrance of the PBG on a temporary basis. The whole area around the botanic gardens was then considered remote from the city centre and undeveloped in terms of residential units and apartments, etc., and therefore suitable for a scout camp for outdoors nature activities .

The scouts subsequently called the campsite the Coronation Camp, in commemoration of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth of England in around 1955. Over the years, the scout’s association slowly added in some infrastructure such as electricity, a common kitchen, toilets and water piping. They had held a scout Jamboree at the camp site in the 1960s. However, it was always with the understanding that they did not own the land and were there at the courtesy of PBA.

The proposed expansion of the PBG was approved by the State Planning Committee chaired by the CM in around 1986 or so. However, with the expansion of the botanic gardens, the scout camp would be inside the botanic gardens and not outside as before.

Dato’ Kam then had a number of discussions with the scouts association on the termination of their lease. The permission for the scouts to use the coronation camp site was then changed to a month to month basis, instead of a year to year basis, with the understanding that the scouts would have to move out once the expansion was legally gazetted into the new gardens.

The scouts association agreed to all these conditions but appealed to be allowed to stay as long as possible until the land was transferred from PBA to the botanic gardens. This was agreed to by PBA with the scouts association and various documents were signed.

Replacement site of Coronation Camp by PBA

Dato’ Kam then made a generous offer to replace the coronation camp site with an alternative site on PBA land which was larger in area than the coronation camp site. This site was to be located near the Guillemard Reservoir along the Vale of Tempe Road, and quite near the Federation School of the Deaf. Though there was no legal reason for PBA to compensate the scouts, Dato’ Kam did so, to give the scouts an alternative site as he recognised the need for a site for outdoor activities of the youth of Penang.

The scouts association formally agreed but there was some opposition from among some of the factions of the scouts association who did not wish to move. Some of these groups then attempted to lobby the politicians at that time without much success.

However, in the meantime, though given a new camp site, the scouts association made no attempts to develop the given site as a camp site. They complained that the site was too remote and ‘wild’ and also not flat enough.

In the meantime, the scouts association raised some money and then bought a piece of land at Telok Bahang near the Penang National Park from the late Tan Sri Loh Boon Siew at a special concessionary rate. This has been used by the scouts for the activities for the last 10 years or so.

The previous state government at the repeated requests from the scouts also agreed to give the scouts another piece of land at the Youth Park for their camping purposes. The scouts had said that the younger scouts need to be nearer the city. However, though the Youth Park had allocated the land as well as to prepare a budget, no action was taken by the scouts. This could be due to the change in the State Government in 2008. This plan for the relocation of the camp site to the Youth Park can be verified by the head of the Youth Park as the location as well as a budget had been approved.

The SAP of PBG and the scouts’ media campaign

Some scouts are requesting to stay in the newly expanded Penang Botanic Gardens and have lobbied various politicians and mounted a media campaign. They are asking the public to write to the gardens department to have the campsite in the expanded botanic gardens in the SAP. This is ignoring the fact that a scouts’ campsite inside the botanic gardens is incompatible with the development and management of a real botanic gardens. The request of the scouts and supporters shows a lack of understanding as to what a botanic gardens is.

Experience of the scouts activities in the campsite over the last few decades years has shown that there were also management problems in the scout camp, with the chopping down of trees and plants for camp fires, pollution of the stream and generally unhygienic conditions at various times.

It is therefore not true, as alleged in the press and apparently supported by some members of the government, that there are no alternatives to the camp sites and Penang is the only state without a scouts’ campsite. Besides the Telok Bahang camp site, there is the PBA site where they had not done anything as well as the camp site at the Youth Park. A site up Penang Hill has also been allocated to the scouts. Camping is also allowed in the Penang National Park.

It is not clear whether this misinformation by the scouts is a deliberate attempt to mislead public opinion or done in ignorance. The politicians should verify if the scouts are telling them the whole truth or are being extremely selective in their facts before giving their whole hearted support.

Conclusion

Having proposals of the scouts’ campsite and other incongruous facilities of the shooting club in a botanic gardens will fatally compromise the integrity of the Penang Botanic Gardens as a botanic gardens. The new master plan of the PBG has given it a chance of realising its potential of being one of the premier botanic gardens in the tropics given its outstanding natural assets and location of being in a valley with relatively pristine lowland dipterocarp forest surrounding it. All these are within the city limits of Georgetown. All botanists who had visited the Penang botanic gardens have commented on this enviable and unique setting of the PBG.

Dr Leong Yueh Kwong
13 March 2012

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John

you must be glad with yourself now that the scouts of Penang standards have dropped dramatically partly due to not having a proper campsite like Coronation Camp. Now, they can only camp at their school fields! As if being in school for 5 days a week ain’t enough, even camps and activities are also at school now. Such adventure.. Kudos to the people who closed down Coronation Camp. You’re part of how Penang youths are today.

Jolly Zhang

During our scouting days in the 60s we had camped in Coronation Camp, Jubilee Camp and makeshift sites in the hills and beaches of Penang. Time and things have changed and I urge members of the Scouting movement and the Scouts Association to change with times. Scouts should be flexible, creative, proactive and positive. After all the years we have seen little progress in the movement. It is time to buck up and take initiatives to bring back honour to the movement. Just look at Thailand! Aren’t we a shame! Forget about the Botanical gardens. Leave it to the Botanists.… Read more »

tunglang

The nearest in mainland is Gunung Jerai or BM Dam forest. Gunung Jerai has fantastic forest and great view. Hiking up is a challenge as well as fun if one knows Nature and loves its wonders. Actually one need not be a scout to love the outdoors. I for one loved to join the scout but was forbidden by my parents. My occasional hiking trips to my godfather’s farm house, some of them in the night in Balik Pulau hill ‘groomed’ my love for Nature. Plus my hobbies in fish, birds, chickens, ducks and dog breeding in my prewar house… Read more »

Kevin

Dear CPL, we are not doubting that Coronation existed for very long time. But that doesn’t mean it is right. If scouts are real scouts, they can camp in Kerachut, Teluk Bahang, Balik Pulau or even more remote areas. There is no such thing as a campsite that is too far. Why does one have to be near to go camping? I have seen blind children from st. nicholas hiking through the jungles of teluk bahang carrying their own gear and a walking stick. If they can do that, why can’t scouts do that? Sea scouts of the Penang Free… Read more »

CPL

I am an advocate of a proper campsite to replace Coronation Camp and that the campsite need not be in the Botanical Gardens. The campsite should not be for the scouts alone but for all youth/uniformed groups. I am not aware of the campsite at Vale of Tempe but know of the campsite at Teluk Bahang which is way too far. Go the SXI today and you will see that the scouts and guides are having the annual training camp in the school field. Is that a proper place to camp ? Based on my own experience at Coronation Camp… Read more »

tan, tanjung bungah

Hi everyone, I was a scout and I agree that no campsite be sited within the PBG area, even though I have camped on numerous occasions in the former Coronation Camp. Similarly, the shooting range of The Rifle Club must be relocated from the PBG area. Formerly, Vale of Tempe may be considered remote, but today, Pg Island is not that big that any place within the island can be considered remote anymore! The Scouts Association should undertake to prepare the campsite allotted near Guillemard Reservoir in Vale of Tempe. If short of funds to do so, can always appeal… Read more »

kee

Hi Tan, where have you been? Good to see you around.

I am like seeing problems everywhere, argue argue, fight fight fight…

Penang people kau peh kau boh, luan si la… a bit of jam they acted like end of the world… In fact, Penang’s traffic jam is nothing compared to KL’s and other big cities in the world.

Nice day to all !!!

syiok syiok

Anil
these days the youths spend more leisure time playing with mobile gadgets like computer games or watching movies at shopping malls.
If Botanic Garden bars scout camping, how would those young scouts get to feel the nature and grow up being more responsible to the environment ?
may be the trend is for them to camp inside shopping malls (air con) or museum after dark ???

tunglang

If they can’t find an alternative site, let me take them to Belum Rainforest. Or nearer sites at Sedim & Mahang, Kedah. Just pay for 4WD transportation, entry permission (for Belum) and make it an annual affair. If one aspires to be a scout, land scout or sea scout, one has to be ‘tough’ or train to be all-rounder survivalist. Otherwise, stay at home and sleep in parents’ room during thunderstorms. No other way which will bring girly shame to the scout movement. Nowadays, kids are so protected and manja, even a house lizard can scare the life out of… Read more »

soon be gone

sungai sedim at kulim has world’s longest metallic canopy walkways …….good camp site.

johanssmKhunPana

It is okay for the scouts to stay. But they must scale down their activities. Let them camp. But without campfire or bonfire. It is illegal to burn anything in a public garden. I believe it is under the ” Undang undang kecil – Taman Awam.” If follow the law strictly, sleeping is prohibited as well. Why must they chop trees and branches when there is something called the outdoor camp stove .. The garden might be the safest place for them and parents need not worry about their safety. The gun range will have to shift out. The general… Read more »

tunglang

This is dangerous advice for scouts.
What will happen if one thunderstorm day, they get panicky and lost themselves (individually) in the unfamiliar forest reserve. Don’t know how to use a machete, don’t know how to chop trees, don’t know how to build a shelter, and don’t know how to start a camp fire for safety. With many fundamental don’t knows, how to prepare cooked ration food?
And facing fears, don’t know where and how to s…!
May God postpone Armageddon!

Kevin

Totally support what he says. It doesn’t matter whose land it was. I am a former scout myself and we didn’t need a proper flat campsite. We made do with whatever we had. Even in the jungles and beaches with no water pipes or electricity or roads that lead right to the site. We carried everything by hand and on foot. Scouts are supposed to be adventurous and good in survival skills. Young scouts have to be trained to be such. Not pampered like a golden child. What is the point of camping then if you require a nicely laid… Read more »

Andrew I

Spoon fed, like how they’re being taught nowadays. Exam results, A+. Application skills, zero.

tunglang

Let Penang start a new generation of safe & pampered scouts. No sun burns, no insect bites, plenty of sleep in airconed hitech camps indoor, mobile stove that burns at the snap of the fingers, 180 degree flat camp beds with cotton-filled sleeping bags, insurance coverage, mobile handphone allowed for mamas to check on precious kids’ meal time, 5kg maximum for backpacks, McDonalds 24hr delivery to campsites, portable public toilets with piped-in music and water, plus soft-spoken scout masters/leaders that cry at the slightest pain or sorrows their scouts. The motto of scout movement: “Be Prepared” is a mocked statement… Read more »

Robert Teh

I totally agree with Dr. Leong and Kevin. Penang Botanic Gardens is no place for a scout camp. When I was a scout back in the 70s we had camped at Coronation Camp and I found the experience rather tame, compared to my numerous camping experiences at camps located on the beaches of Telok Bahang, waterfalls at Balik Pulau and the inner jungles of North Kedah. The Botanic Gardens have too many conveniences apart from the many vehicles and visitors during the day. At night the place is too bright to hold a decent campfire – the highlight of all… Read more »

Racheljansz

Just scrape the scout camp after all youths of today are not keen on this movement anymore!
This year scouts enrollment in many schools is worst then last year and it is not getting better as years go by!