PIC: R Ayyappan
PIC: R Ayyappan 
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Towards an arboreality

S Kumaresan

CHENNAI: A transition can be really spellbinding. Once a parched and barren land is today pregnant with a verdant cloak. Residents in and around Madhavaram have seen the changeover of the site, spanning 10 fields and lying in close proximity to the Aavin bottling plant in the north Chennai neighbourhood.

Owned by the Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Science University (TANUVAS), the dry patch of land lay unused until a nongovernmental organisation Nizhal took it under its wings. V S Rajkumar, Nizhal’s coordinator for the Madhavaram area, is delighted. He declares that it has been transformed into a ‘lush mini forest’.

Nizhal, which advocates for the regreening of urban spaces and maintains them, has been working on the site since 2009. Their main focus is on the indigenous trees and regenerating local biodiversity, say volunteers. “We talk a lot about the importance of trees, but the words seldom translate into action. Nizhal came into being to bridge the gap between the idea of promoting the importance of trees and the action towards achieving the goal,” Nizhal Founder Shobha Menon tells TNIE.

Shedding light on the initiatives carried out by the Nizhal, she said that the volunteer organisation has been involved in the development of community urban forests in and around Chennai, including Kotturpuram and Madhavaram urban forests, Chitlapakkam Tree Park.

Volunteers, students from College of Fish Nutrition and Food Technology during an afforestation drive in Madhavaram | Express

Rajkumar said that around 200 saplings have been planted on the TANUVAS grounds in Madhavaram. The plants were taken care of by volunteers, and the parcel of land was fenced. In Kotturpuram, the organisation created a forest on 4.5 acres of land on the banks of Adyar river, following a request from the Public Works Department (PWD). Around 500 saplings were planted, which have now turned the area into an urban forest.

Another notable initiative by Nizhal is ‘Neer Vanam,’ which creates green corridors around waterbodies to strengthen bunds and prevent breaches during floods. The project has taken shape around several waterbodies in Chennai and Kancheepuram districts.

Speaking about the Chitlapakkam tree park (one of the Neer Vanams), volunteer N Karthik says, “On the bunds in the eastern and southern side of Chitlapakkam lake, you can find a ‘vanam’. It is indeed heartwarming to note how this once-barren section encroached with invasive shrub, now puts on display a variety of flora.”

He further added that about 100 saplings were planted in phases, because of which the area is now transformed into a Neer Vanam with over 250 native trees, and is home to 55 different species like Eluppai, Malai Vembu, Nagalingam, Poo Maruthu, Poo Varasu, Arasa Maram, Sarakondrai, Vaagai, Murukkan, Punnai, and Atthi. Under the MRTS greening projects, the organisation has improved the visual appeal of various MRTS stations such as Kotturpuram, Kasturba Nagar, Taramani, Mandaveli, and Chintadripet by planting indigenous trees. Nizhal’s volunteers have also initiated projects across the city, including ‘Palliyil Nizhal’ to widen the green canopy over schools, and conducted tree walks to acquaint citizens with local trees.

The ‘Free the Tree’ campaigns to remove sign boards from trees, tree care workshops for the staff of the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC), ‘Junior Yuva’ to spread awareness among the youth under 14 years of age, tree mapping, green prisons programs to increase green cover on prison premises by planting suitable indigenous trees, which will enhance the ambience of the space, have been taken up.

While continuing to secure the future of the metropolitan city one tree at a time, with community support, Shobana Menon likened the initiatives of the organisation to a traditional car festival, which requires the entire community to tug at the ropes. She expressed optimism that their efforts will yield fruitful results in the future, as the community support continues to grow.

(Edited by Shrija Ganguly)

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