A long term project aimed at the restoration of natural grasslands following the removal of exotic wattle plantations was started at Pampadum Shola National Park in Munnar Wildlife Division on 06-11-2015 under the leadership of Kottayam Nature Club (KNC) and Munnar Wildlife Division. The exotic plantations were raised during the late eighty’s as part of plantation forestry initiative were later recognised as unscientific and with high negative impact on that ecosystem as they exploit the water resources for their faster growth and prevent further establishment of the native species. The removal of wattle plantation was started earlier in sample plots to study the impact and this area was affected by a forest fire in March this year. A total area of 39 hectare was burnt and the present restoration activities are done in the same area. The volunteers of KNC are helping in the rehabilitation of the original ecosystem along with the forest department staff.
The felled and burnt trees are used to make contours for reducing the washing off of soil. The wattle seeds which are present in the seeds are germinating now at a brisk pace as the fire triggered their emergence. The group of volunteers are also involved in the uprooting of these seedlings. The project is supposed to reclaim the original ecosystem and water resources of the area. It will help in solving the problem of scarcity of fresh water in the nearby villages of Koviloor and Vattavada.
After about 2.5 decades the Forest departments in Kerala and Tamil Nadu are changing their management perspectives. In 2003 the state has declared few Shola National Parks and sanctuaries in Munnar, Devikulam, with the motto of protection of Sholas, grassland and the unique Flora and fauna of these areas. Tamil nadu has declared the Kodaikanal Wildlife Sanctuary adjoining our shola national parks. But the foe to all these are common, the fast growing exotic trees which were introduced for industrial purposes in the Nilgiris and Munnar, Devikulam areas. Those trees include the Wattle, Eucalyptus and some pines. These trees are now growing wild and have attained a status of invasive exotic species. Wattle and Pines are the most terrifying species in the Nilgiris and Munnar. All these trees have leaves or needles (as in Pines) which contains some chemicals which prevent the germination of seeds of other species. This is an adaptation of the secrets to solely occupy the land and invade fresh tracts making the name invasive more relavant. During the recently conducted wildlife surveys, the experts were shocked to observe that inside the wattle plantations there was absolute lack of any vertebrate or invertebrate life and needless to say not even leaches were observed there. They have also observed that wattle is slowly encroaching from Marayur side into border with Eravikulam National Park through the Chinna-Poovar region; this is a fast growing threat to the fauna of this unique National park. The distance between this plantation and the national park is now less than 3 kilometers, It is high time that a management strategy is evolved to curtail this menace” says Dr. Kalesh Sadashivan of Travancore Nature History Society. (These are wattle trees arising from the wind dispersed seeds of Marayoor wattle plantations)
The present managers are keen in removal of these exotics. Wattle (Acacia mearnsii) has another peculiarity. The seeds will remain in soil for very long decades and will sprout vigorously after a fire. The scarification of the sea is done by fire. So management of these wattle and reclamation of grass lands is a herculean task before the wildlife managers. Recently the Munnar wildlife division had turned a portion of 45 ha in Pampadum Shola National Park to a favourite foraging ground of Indian gaur and is now famous as Bison swamp. (Photos attached)
Similarly the managers of the park are now trying to resume the grassland ecosystem with help of NGOs and conservation experts. The wildlife managers are experimenting fire as a management tool in reclamation of wattle planted grasslands. The fire which accidentally happened 7 months before is now a blessing in disguise for the grasslands. Trials done in Bison swamp are providing confidence to the Warden and team. The step by step processes are
- Demarcation of the burnt area
- Alignment and planning of contours
- Alignment of a bridle path for easy movement of volunteers using Ghat Tracer
- Identification of sprouting wattle seedlings
- Identification of exotic weed invasion areas (Eupatorium sp, Solanum sps, Pteridium ferns etc.)
- Identification of grass growth and shola growth
- Identification of ravines, rills and gullies and explore any possibility of water body or water source.
- Arranging the felled tree logs (burnt) across the slopes along the contours to prevent surface erosion, rill erosion and gully formation
- Arranging the plucked out seedlings perpendicular to the logs with roots exposed up
- Picking the selected native grass clumps and planting then on the outer side of the log to strengthen the soil accumulated in future.
- Repeated removal of wattle seedlings and other invasive weeds from the treatment area using volunteers or paid labour depending on the condition of the target plants.
( Photos attached)
Mattock designed by Mr. Siby Munnar will be used for easy plucking and removal of Eupatorium. The official inauguration of the function was done by Mr. G. Prasad, the Wildlife Warden of Munnar Wildlife Division in the presence of Mr. E. K. Sibi, Assistant Wildlife Warden, Shola National Parks and Dr. Unnikrishnan of KNC. “The process is planned to continue for a period of 2-3 years as the wattle seeds remains viable for a period of over 50 years and regular uprooting will be done.” said Mr. G. Prasad. All the environmentalists who wish to join the move are welcomed for their voluntary services in removal of the exotics and reclamation of these grasslands. Interested please contact Wildlife Warden, Munnar 9447979093.