BENGALURU: The Western Ghats has been plundered over the years, resulting also in progressively hotter summers in Bengaluru. While afforestation efforts to save the Ghats have been on for years, a team of passionate and dedicated Bengalureans is trying a different approach to save the many tree species. They are planting acres-wide groves in private and public lands that fall in the range, for now focussing on Coorg and Wayanad.
Meera, Rajesh, Sheshadri Ramaswamy, Uma, Anil Panolil Chirikandoth and Dhandapany collectively form Forest First Samithi (FFS) - a society that aims to engage and empower local communities in ecological conservation by educating them about endangered and endemic plant species. What started off as a team of four has today grown into a family with ten permanent members and over 30 volunteers."FFS is trying to conserve endangered tree species by creating an eco-system where birds, small mammals and insects can also thrive," says Meera, one of the founders of FFS, adding that the organization was started in 2008, and that most of their early years were spent on learning.
FFS' vision for degraded lands in Kodagu started this May, and they have already spoken to local organizations and communities to get them on board. "Since we started work in Kodagu, we have already managed to add 35 species of endangered plants into the groves we worked on, and plan to touch 100 species," she says, adding that the lands they are focusing on are public spaces ranging between 5 acres and 30 acres.
How it all started
FFS started work in the biological hotspot that is Wayanad, where a lot of native tree species have been chopped to give way to silver oak, coffee and teak plantations. Meera says that unless one ventures deep into the forest, it is unlikely you'll come across any traditional species. "During the summer months, we noticed how trees in Wayanad were being chopped at an alarming rate for timber. That's when we decided to do something about it. We got involved in a lot of discussions with research organizations and experts on how to go about it, and also spoke to locals to get them involved," she says.
Years of hard work and research resulted in the complete transformation of a private farm land in Wayanad, where a section of it was partitioned to create what is called a 'farm grove'. This grove comprises endemic, endangered tree species, while the rest of the land can be used for economic purposes. By getting farmers and land owners involved in understanding how these endangered species will actually better their crops in terms of soil quality, water retention and pollination, FFS has managed to conserve 100 species of trees in Wayanad.
"FFS' goal is not concentrated on the number of trees we plant, but how many different species we can conserve in the given space," says Meera.
Long drawn process
The biggest challenge when it comes to conserving endangered flora was procuring the saplings, as the Forest Department does not have the resources to provide these. This is mainly due to the demand for certain species over others. Hence, they had to go to several nurseries and institutes, which also takes a lot of time."Flora conservation is an extremely lengthy process. Planting the sapling forms one minor aspect in the entire effort. From inspecting the soil, the water, the climatic condition to different levels of research to getting rid of invasive species like Lantana to tracking the growth - all this is a long-drawn process," she says.
Getting permission has not been an issue, as most of the land they have worked with has been public (occupied by religious or educational institutes, for example) or after consulting with the forest department, which has been appreciative of their efforts.
For now, funds come from friends and supporters of FFS.
To conserve Nature, don’t ‘madly’ plant trees
Meera says that when she hears people take up massive tree plantation drives, it 'scares' her, because that isn't adding to the diversity of species. Calling this 'mad' planting, she says that this is not sustainable in the long-run, as even when she was involved in urban plantation drives, the survival of the species was negligible most of the time.
In Bengaluru, she condemns the efforts being made by citizen groups to increase tree cover, but adds that in urban spaces, development has preceded conservation is terms of priority.
"Anyone getting into the Nature conservation space should first and foremost learn to slow down. The corporate way of thinking should be left behind, as meeting targets here should not be the aim. There is a lot of introspection to do, as Nature has its own pace which humans cannot understand," she says, adding that in front of Nature, we should shed our egos.