Conservation of Tropical Dry Evergreen Forests Through Community Participation
The coastal area in Vedaranyam is rich in biodiversity, with many unique species of animals and birds apart from religious, historical and cultural diversity. Many ecologically sensitive areas such as mangroves, lagoons, tidal mudflats, swamps and tropical dry evergreen forests are present. The Point Calimere Wildlife Sanctuary near Vedaranyam is a unique mix of grasslands, mudflats, backwaters, sand dunes and Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest (TDEF). The Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest is a unique forest found only in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. It is distribution is restricted to the narrow coastal strip from Vishakapattinam in Andhra Pradesh in the north to Ramanathapuram in Tamil Nadu in the south. The dissymmetric climatic condition of this region, where rainfall occurs both during summer and winter monsoon and extended the dry season from March to September, favors development and sustenance of the Tropical Dry Evergreen forest in this narrow strip. The TDEF has a mixture of trees, shrubs, lianas, and herbs and form a complete canopy in pristine condition and provide habitat to a wide variety of animals including insects, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. However there is hardly any of this forest in pristine condition and most of them are little more than degraded thorny thickets, lacking the inherent nobility of the climax vegetation. The TDEF is currently preserved in the Point Claimer Wildlife Sanctuary and in the coastal sacred groves. In the ICZM project in Vedaranyam, an attempt has been made to establish the TDEF in about 66 acres of village common land with the active participation of Panchayat Raj Institutions and the local community.
Salt Satyagraha Memorial Site
Around Vedaranyam Salt Sathyagraha memorial site the TDEF has been established in about 30 acres of land. Some area of identified land in this area was slightly elevated quite similar to the environmental settings of the natural TDEF in the Point Calimere wildlife sanctuary but these areas were infested with Prosopis juliflora. In these areas, Prosopis trees were uprooted without damaging the Palmyrah and other TDEF plants found naturally there. In some other areas adjacent to the Salt Satyagraha memorial site, the land was relatively low lying and inundated by seawater during 2004 tsunami and thus, they were slightly saline. In these areas, salt was partially leached out by storing rainwater during the monsoon season and draining it out at the end of the monsoon. This was done seasons and after this, small mounds were created in the tsunami-affected lands by bringing non-saline soil from outside and in these mounds trees of TEDF were planted. As the soil is sandy with poor nutrients, planting site was enriched with nutrients before planting. Pits of size 3 x 3 x 3’ were dug and filled with a mix of farmyard manure, red soil and sand (1:1:1). This helped to retain the moisture and also prevent the salt stress. About 2,116 saplings belonging to 54 species (80 cm tall) were planted with 3 m spacing. Shallow trench was made around the saplings for watering. Mulching was done around each plant during summer. Two rainwater harvesting ponds were dug nearby, to store rainwater for watering the plants. Intensive watering during summer, regular weeding and maintenance were done. The knowledge of the local community played a significant role in identifying the local species and its sylviculture practice. The plantation is being managed by a joint committee consisting members of the Village Development Council (VDC) of the participating villages, namely, Poovanthoppu, Kadinalvayal, Kovilankollai, Kovilthavu and Adhivasi Colony.
A total area of 8 acres of land belongs to the temple of the local deities (Vempadai Iyanar Pidari Amman) and cemetery and also patches of land located around village pond ( Vettukulam) were provided by the Kadinalvayal Panchayat Raj Institution for taking upon the plantation of TDEF trees. These patches of lands were fenced and a total number of 1,066 saplings of timber value, fruit trees, and TDEF species were planted after careful land preparation. These plantations are now being maintained by the Kadinalvayal Panchayat.
Restoration of Coastal Sacred Groves with TDEF Trees
The coastal sacred groves, located around Vedaranaym, act as repositories of TDEF flora and fauna and houses of endemic species of the coastal region. More than 65 woody species have been identified in these coastal sacred groves and nearly 60% of them are evergreen. Apart from this, sacred groves are also rich in medicinal plants. A study in the sacred groves of Cuddalore coastal tracts indicates the presence of more than 80 medicinal plants. However, many of these sacred groves are in various stages of degradation due to the expansion of agriculture, over-exploitation of natural resources, erosion of traditional system of management etc., The project has selected three such sacred groves for raising TDEF tree plantation.
Periyakuthagai Iyanar Sacred Grove
A sacred with tropical dry evergreen forest trees are present in about 8-acre area in Periyakuthagai village, near Vedaranyam. This sacred grove contains well-grown trees of the following species:
- Atalantia monophylla,
- Garcinia spicata,
- Streblus asper,
- Manilkara hexandra,
- Memecylonum bellatum As a part of the project activities, this sacred is being conserved with the participation of the temple committee. The entire sacred is fenced to avoid encroachment and as a measure to fill the gaps in the vegetation saplings of the following species were planted: 20 saplings of Atalantia monophylla, 25 of Garcinia spicata, 6 of Streblus asper-, 35 saplings of Calophyllum inophyllum- and 65 saplings of Memecylonum belated. The survival rate of the plantation is about 76%.
Ayyakranapulam Kalitheratha Iyanar Sacred Grove
This size of this sacred grove is about 10 acre and it is located in the Ayyakaranpulam village. Trees of Lepisanthes tetraphylla, Madhuca lagifolia, Syzygium jambolanum and Streblus asper are common in the sacred grove. The deity Kalitheratha Iyanar is very population within Tamil Nadu as well as among Tamil people settled in many Southeast Asian countries. Hence, the number of visitors to the temple is very high and as a reason, this sacred grove is slowly being encroached for various developmental activities. In order to stop further degradation of the sacred grove, the project worked with the traditional temple committee and fenced the entire area and established facilities for watering, including digging a shallow bore well and establishing overhead tank.
Thennadar Iyanar Sacred Grove
It is located in a village called Thennadar and area of the sacred is 5 acre. It was totally degraded and the entire area was empty when the restoration activities with TDEF plantation was started. About 240 saplings of the following 13 TDEF tree species are being raised in this sacred grove:
- Atalantia monophylla-25,
- Garcinia spicata-30,
- Manilkara hexandra-35,
- Pleurostyia opposite-20,
- Suregada Angustifolia-25,
- Dioyros ebenumsp-20,
- Drypetes sepiaria-15,
- Sapindus marginatus-20 ,
- Mimusops elengi-15,
- Canthium psyprax-5,
- Glycosmisc Mauritius-20,
- Muria paniculata-5 and
- Lepisaathus tetraphylla-5(240. As in the case of other sacred groves, the entire area was fenced before taking up of the plantation and it is being maintained by the temple committee.
The TDEF plantation was established in about 2 acres of land around in a primary school in a village called Sandhanadevankadu. A total number of 8 species of TDEF were planted along with many fruit bearing trees and102 timber species. The plantation is managed by the Sandhanadevankadu School Eco Development Committee, comprising representatives of Panchayat Raj Institution, District School Authority and MSSRF.
Performance Evaluation-Social Auditing
The performance of the restoration plantation of the tropical dry evergreen forest was evaluated by a social auditing team consisting of representatives of the Tamil Nadu Forest Department (Range Officer) and Horticulture Department, a school teacher, community members and MSSRF staff. The team visited all the sites and interacted with the stakeholders, including committees that are managing the plantations. The team rated the performance as well based on the parameters such as survival percentage, species selected, maintenance and protection. The survival percentage was ranging between 82 and 95.
Replication of the Model
- Panchayat Raj Institution of a village called Pannal replicated TDEF plantation model in 8 acres of panchayat land with the technical guidance of MSSRF. The area is located close to the salt pan and hence, it is saline. It was completed infested with the weed Prosopis juliflora. As a part of the land preparation, all Prosopis juliflora trees were uprooted and the soil was plowed thoroughly to all salt deposited on the surface seep deep into the soil. A pond (0.5 acres) was also constructed in middle for rainwater harvesting. The entire areas were fully fenced.
- Saplings of Mimusops elengi, Millingtonia hortensia, Hibiscus tiliaceus, Cassia fistula, Syzygium jambolanum, Terminalia catappa, Thespesia populnea, Azadirachta indica and Pongamia pinnata were planted. The NREGA scheme was used for the removal of Prosopis, land preparation, fencing, tree plantation, pond construction, regular watering, and monitoring. The money realized by selling Prosopis was also used. Saplings were supplied by the Tamil Nadu Forest Department.
- Rahmath Matriculation Girls Hr Sec school in Muthupet has replicated this model in 12 acres with the technical guidance f MSSRF.