Experts call for community participation, restoration works to protect Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve


Threats ranging from invasive species to unregulated tourism and land use changes have altered the natural balance of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve (NBR) which requires immediate restoration plans, according to experts. Involving local communities, including the tribals in conservation and restoration activities is pivotal in protecting NBR from further degradation, they said at the 59th annual meeting of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation at Kumaraguru College of Technology, Coimbatore, on Tuesday.

Raman Sukumar, Honorary Professor with the Centre for Ecological Sciences at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, said Lantana camara, one of the top 10 invasive plant species, have spread across NBR. “The spread of another exotic species, Senna spectabilis, is underestimated. It grows into trees and nothing grows under its canopy”, he said.

The montane grasslands, which supports the endangered Nilgiri tahr, and shola forests are likely to be highly sensitive to global warming. Spread of wattle (Acacia mearnsii) is a major threat to grasslands. The mid elevation tea plantations have wiped out the rain forests in NBR and restoration of these places was extremely important, Mr. Raman said.

Vivek Menon, founder, trustee and executive director of the Wildlife Trust of India, said NBR should be declared as a mixed cultural heritage site, taking it beyond the UNESCO’s biosphere reserve tag. He also stressed the need to engage local communities in forest management activities such as the removal of invasive species.

Stating that the health of the hills is the wealth of plains, N. Krishnakumar, former Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Head of Forest Force, Tamil Nadu, stressed the need to regulate construction, mining, etc., outside the forests which are taking a toll on conservation. “Environmental impact assessment should be done for every developmental activity in and around NBR,” he said.

John Innes, professor and dean, University of British Columbia, drew parallels in conservation activities and generic issues faced in India and Canada. “Climate is changing rapidly. We have to adapt to restoration,” he said.

 K. Kalidasan, president of Coimbatore based Osai environmental organisation, stressed the need to control land use changes around NBR and wanted the gap between society and conservation. “We must not forget that the rivers that we depend on for water originate from the forests of NBR. Conservation of NBR is everyone’s responsibility,” he said.

P. Arun Kumar, Deputy Director of MTR (Buffer Zone); Pramod G. Krishnan, Additional PCCF (Vigilance & Forest Intelligence), Forest and Wildlife Department, Kerala; N. Badusha, president of Wayanad Prakruthi Samrakshana Samithi; M. Aluwas, Toda community leader from the Nilgiris; Rajkumar Devaraje Urs of Wildlife Conservation Foundation, Bengaluru, spoke at another session on stakeholders reflections on human-wildlife interface. 

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