Shola-Grasslands of the Sky islands

Shola-Grasslands of the Western Ghats are one of the unique ecosystems in the world, that usually seen at elevation above 1800m in southern India. Shola is the local name for stunted tropical montane forest. These ecosystem harbours many endemic species such as Nilgiri Thar, Nilgiri Pipit. Numerous rivers of the southern India originate from these mountain tops. So the ecosystem services of these landscape is invaluable. Bababudangiri, Brahmagiri, Nilgiris, Palani hills,Munnar, Agasthyarmalai are some of the key mountain ranges having Shola-Grasslands. Skyislands is the term used to denote the isolated mountains separated by a radically different lowland habitat. Millions of years of isolation reflected in the evolution of many endemic species.

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

I have a piece of land / estate where I would like to try restoration. How can I do this?

Please get in touch with us, and we are happy to help you.The best locations are those with an elevation of about 1800m - that's where several grassland species thrive. However, in some locations, slightly lower elevations also could be attempted. For grassland nursery, if you have about 25 to 50 cents of land with a water source about 1700 to 1800 m elevation, for grassland restoration if you have >5ha or > 10acres, about 1700 to 1800 m would be appropriate.

Who are we? Who are the team members?

We are a collective / working group of motivated people from various walks of life and institutions who have come together for restoring this habitat Institutions: HUME Centre is at the centre of these restoration activities, and plays a pivotal role. CK Vishnudas and Vasanth Bosco are the team members from Humes. IISER Tirupati helps collect scientific data on plants and animals, and use remote sensing techniques to assess and guide restoration efforts Citizens and local residents: Arun, Mohan, Balakrishnan in Kodaikanal.