Shrinking grasslands !
Between 1973 and 2017 (44 years), about 127,506 acres of Grasslands and 15,567 acres of forest were lost in the Shola Sky Islands of Western Ghats due to expansion of Exotic trees such as Eucalyptus, Pine, Acacia, expansion of Agriculture, Tea Plantations, Cane and Human settlements. Conversion of grasslands into woody areas has serious consequences on the survival of species confined grasslands and on the water retention capacity of the landscape.
Palani hills (Kodiakanal-Munnar Ranges) lost 60 percent of its grassland and Nilgiris lost 24 percent of its original grasslands during the period. It was observed that there was an increase in the fragmentation of grasslands from 1973 to 2017 as the exotic trees expanded. This invasive spread from commercial forestry plantations has proved to be a larger problem than agro-forestry plantings such as tea. The overall loss of grasslands is about 40% of the landscape.
Key species that suffered these landscape changes are Nilgiri Pipit, an endemic bird whose global distribution confined to the grasslands above 1800 meter elevation in Western ghats, Nilgiri Thar, Indian Guar, Asian elephants and numerous small and micro-organisms that evolved and depending on these grasslands.
What is our larger goal?
Restoration is a humble, heeling effort to bring back the original ecosystem with assisted regeneration. Hume Centre along with IISER, Tirupati is planning to initiate a long term restoration project in the sky islands of Western Ghats where shola grassland mosaics were converted to exotic woody plants.
This is a collaborative effort of a group of Researchers, Conservationists, Restoration Ecologists and Citizens to bring back the native vegetation/Ecosystems back in place enabling many threatened endemic species to survive. The process will rebuild the hydrology of the micro watersheds and help in soil binding and restore natural springs that disappeared due to landscape change!
In a time-frame of 10 to 20 years, we should be able to restore 10% of the landscape to grasslands.
Why are we focussed on grasslands, not forests?
Shola forests are very critical components of the Shola habitat, and we do include this where possible. However, the Shola forests are resilient, and data shows that the extent of loss of Shola is not that high in the last four decades. Grasslands, however, have been lost at a large pace and need urgent help.
What are the immediate goals?
To develop a few demonstration sites of grassland restoration where we gather scientific data to monitor ecological components. To develop a grassland nursery to supply such restoration efforts To build capacity in grassland restoration and build capacity in grassland nursery propogation techniques These restoration sites should be >5ha and spread across Kodaikanal, Munnar and Nilgiris