KASARAGOD: Around 6,360 trees -- many of them more than a century old -- will be felled for the widening of the National Highway 66 from Thalappady on the Karnataka-Kasaragod border to Kozhikode, found a survey by the Central University of Kerala.
The trees on the 240km stretch are a sanctuary for 32 species of birds, one species of squirrel, two species of fruit bats and the Malabar civet, said Dr P A Sinu, ecologist and assistant professor of the Department of Zoology in the Central University.
His students K Manoj and T P Rajesh counted the trees along the highway. They started the counting of trees as part of an environmental impact assessment study when the KSTP was widening the Kasaragod-Kanhangad coastal highway.
The students said that 2,963 trees will be felled in Kasaragod -- the highest among the three districts. In Kannur, 1,813 trees will be felled and in Kozhikode, 1,584 trees will be felled for the widening of the National Highway. "The trees belong to 34 different varieties," said Dr. Sinu.
Most of the trees (39%) are raintrees, while 9% of them are banyan and peepul or sacred fig trees, and 9% are mango trees, he said.
Giving a break-up, he said 2,471 raintree, 583 acacia, 543 banyan, and peepul trees, 488 mango trees, 417 Mayflower, or Gulmohar, and 375 coppercod or yellow flame trees would be felled.
The raintrees are preferred nesting places for pond herons, and devil's trees are an excellent host plant for moths, he said. But peepul trees and banyan trees are considered keystone species and felling of them can trigger the collapse of the food web, he said. "The peepul trees have a fruiting season of eight months from October to May, which are considered the driest of times. So the trees are a big source of food for birds and animals," he said.
During the survey, Manoj and Bishwanath Mahananda, another student, saw at least 22 species of birds, large fruit bats, and civets feasting on the fruits of peepal trees. "Rather than conserving rare species, the peepul trees and banyan trees play a crucial role in conserving common species such as crows, mynas, barbets, koels, treepies, sunbirds, spiderhunters, cuckoo, grey-fronted and green pigeon," said Dr Sunu. These birds were spotted during a survey by Roshnath R, another student.
What can be done
Dr Sinu said that trees would be felled for developmental projects but society can help maintain the green cover by taking proactive steps.
He said most of the trees have different varieties of orchids. The Department of Social Forestry can collect and redistribute them to schools, colleges, and the university and also to the public. It could also help the institutions set up arboretums on the campuses.
Similarly smaller trees could be transplanted elsewhere.
As part of the state government's Green Islet Mission, the Haritha Kerala Mission has planted trees on 85 acres, he said. "We can plant more keystone species in such areas," he said.
If possible, peepal and banyan trees should be re-planted on the sides of the widened road. Students of schools and colleges could be roped in to maintain the saplings, he said.