The Challenge
Ecosystems around us are fast deteriorating and it has been realised that in order to restore them, a more focussed approach is necessary.
An important percentage of the population in Okhamandal region where the Tata Chemicals Mithapur site is located, is directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture for their livelihood with several farmers growing cash crops that need pollinators. It is therefore an important component of the restoration efforts that we ensure a healthy pollinator population, so we can ensure the security of farm-based livelihoods.
It is in this context that Tata Chemicals has taken up restoration project of a 150 acre (60 hectare) open scrub forest ecosystem at Mithapur, with the aim to develop a thriving sanctuary for indigenous flora and fauna, as well as a seed bank for the local flora. Through this process, the company aims to create a model for the open scrub forest ecosystem restoration initiative that can be replicable in other parts of the region.
It is increasingly becoming clearer that pollinator conservation is of prime importance if we are to ensure our survival - whether on a global scale, or locally.
The Solution
Prior to commencement of restoration efforts,
the entire 150 acre area was a fallow land with dense growth of the alien invasive species, Prosopis juliflora.
An aggressive invader, it does not offer sustenance to the local wildlife, save for the grazing domestic cattle that consume and spread the seeds far and wide, across the region, leading to its rampant spread.
Taking the issue head on, the project was planned and implemented in a phased manner, with 15 acre of the invasive species being cleared every year. The growth was so dense, that they could be uprooted only with the use of heavy machinery like bulldozers and excavators. This was followed by land development activities and the plantation of native forest flora species during the monsoon season. Initially, the indigenous saplings were sourced from the Forest Department's plant nurseries, but today we have an in-house flora nursery that was developed for raising select species.
The project opened up a new avenue for employee volunteers and family members' participation in the scrub forest development and maintenance activities. They also participated in seed collection drives from the surrounding wilderness areas and helped in the raising of saplings to strengthen them for a year before plantation.
The team worked on developing micro habitats with flora species that were raised from genetic material of wild stocks, making them ideally suited to the different plots and pockets of land with varied physical characteristics. The region is home to gently undulating coastal sand dunes as well as grassland patches in between. Protective barbed wire fences were gradually replaced by hedges which now provide shelter to a diverse wild fauna. Work on flora diversity enrichment continues and a 40 acre exclusive plantation of the endangered Gugal tree has also been developed.
The Result
The spectacular revival of the ecosystem in this region saw 150 acre of non-agricultural fallow land being developed into an open scrub forest which also serves as a botanical reserve for conservation of local strains of indigenous flora of Mithapur region.
The exclusive 40 acre set aside for the endangered Gugal (Commiphora wightii) species is thriving and incredibly beneficial as the resin of this plant is highly sought after for its medicinal properties.
A total of over 145 flora species have been recorded on site
The bird species recorded here has more than doubled (40 at the time of initiation of the project in 2004, to 105 now) and 20 wild animal species including 9 species of reptiles have been recorded here. The returning wildlife include 11 species of raptors, some of which are endangered, reptiles including monitor lizards, cobras and saw-scaled vipers, a host of insects drawn by the flourishing grasses as well as hares, hedgehogs, mongooses, civets, jackals and hyenas. A herd of Nilgai have taken up permanent residence in the area and several endangered fauna species too have made it their home, including the Star Backed Tortoise, Eurasian Marsh Harrier, Indian Pangolin and Macqueen's Bustard. Rare sightings of the elusive leopard has been recorded and the Barn Owl and Spotted Owlet have made a comeback after 30 years!
Such a thriving community of wildlife, including top predators such as raptors and leopards, is a welcome sign signifying the good health of the ecosystem and the continued success of the restoration project at Mithapur.