Monday, August 22, 2011

Look before you plant

The desperate plea of biodiversity experts and ecologists to the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) whose ambitious plans of greening the city may very well cost the IT city its last surviving grassland.

The BDA plans to plant one crore saplings around Bangalore under its ‘Our Green Garland’ campaign which kick-started earlier this month and it has chosen areas around lakes, valleys and vacant government land for the purpose.

Amidst looming fears of global warming, the initiative is a welcome gesture which has been eagerly endorsed in other parts of Bangalore, but it has struck a wrong chord in Hesarghatta. According to biodiversity experts, introduction of tree cover will rob the savannah of its unique eco-system.

Located about 35 km from the city centre in Kodihalli village, Hesarghatta is the only grassland of its size remaining in Bangalore. The vast green cover spread over 300 acres is a thriving ecosystem and wintering ground for migratory birds from Central Asia.

Biodiversity expert Harish Bhat offers a glimpse into the rich ecological legacy of Bangalore’s grasslands. “According to the British gazette, Bangalore had undulating topography with rocky outcrops, scrub jungle, deciduous patch forests, plains, and in the outskirts, several patches of vast grasslands which was called ‘Gomala’ meaning grazing patch for cattle and sheep. Among the best grasslands mentioned were Hesarghatta, Malleswaram and Nelamangala. These used to be inhabited by wolves, Black Buck, the Indian cheetah (during the 1800s), the highly endangered Great Indian Bustard (also during the 1800s) and other rare fauna. Today, the Hesarghatta grassland is the last remaining one among them.”

 Elaborating on the significance of grasslands, he informs, “The grassland ecosystem is a unique type of landscape harbouring primarily grassland specific species of butterflies, reptiles and birds and animals like jackals, hares and jungle cats. It supports an entirely different food chain that needs the grassland ecosystem. To maintain this eco system, there needs to be proper maintenance of such a habitat without tree growth as naturally it is without tree cover. Planting trees will gradually occupy the openness and convert the ecosystem to wooded areas, thus depriving the dependent species from their habitat. Grasslands are under threat due to being mistaken as non-productive and barren. This negates the ecosystem, food chain and finally erodes grassland ecosystems.”

Photographer and conservationist Mahesh Bhat agrees. “Bangalore used to be typically a grassland. The trees came in much later. The grasslands are an important eco system and certainly not ‘barren’. For one, the roots of the grass here which run into hundreds of kilometers are beneficial in tilling the land, holding water and preventing silting of the top soil, while paving way for the insect progeny.  Further, since it is open, it is an ideal foraging ground for migratory birds of prey such as eagles, buzzards, hawks, harriers and vultures which come here to escape the cold climes of places like Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

In addition, this grassland is also rich in resident local birds like Snake Eagles and Black-shouldered Kites, Munias, Pipits, Larks, Lapwings, Partridges and Quails. So you can imagine the repercussions on this treasure trove of animal and bird species if this grassland is disturbed. Planting trees is good and obviously preferable to constructing buildings, but you have to know where to plant them. ”

-Remuna Rai, Raintree Media Features 

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