On 26 January 2017, a Nature Trail was organized for students at Pashan Lake.
Nature Trails are a part of the project for awareness about urban ecosystems and bird education taken up through Garden Dept and Indradhanushya, and being implemented by CEE along with Ecological Society and others.
The trail and onsite activities on 26 January were arranged for 30 students from Tara Mobile Creche. Students have been given a specially designed ‘nature observation notebook’.
The trail and activities were conducted by educators from CEE, Ecological Society as well as the nature educators oriented last month.
Sanskriti Menon with inputs from Savita Bharti2 and Thomas Hoffmann3
My neighbourhood pond
There is a pond at the end of the lane where I live. Once, my friend Anchal and I, in our effort to improve waste management, gathered up the neighbourhood children to clean up the garbage accumulated in the pond. They put on gloves and removed several kilograms of plastic, thermocol, broken glass, etc. Anchal, not only a waste management enthusiast but also a trekker and photographer of birds and butterflies, was suddenly excited. She had spotted Flapshell Turtles in the pond! Though Flapshells are common across India, to see some right here in our neighbourhood in Pune was a treat.
Soon the children were quietly observing the drama before their eyes. A shikra sat on a high branch nearby, keeping a keen eye out for prey. A kingfisher perched on a tree at the other edge. And on an electrical wire sat a row of green bee-eaters, some of which flew out occasionally in a rapid sortie and darted back to the wire, usually with a fly or bee in the beak. Some purple moorhens disappeared into the reeds. And frogs could be seen peeping out of the water and then again diving under. What other treasures had the garbage been hiding? The garbage clean-up activity became a nature experience. Later, the children put up a sign saying ‘Gulmohur Park Flapshell Turtle Sanctuary’.
The sign faded with time, and the ink finally washed away in the rain and the children grew up and moved on. But I like to think that they had a learning experience to remember. For me at least, the place changed from being a derelict, mosquito-ridden, disease-spreading bit of swamp to a mysterious, living emerald jewel gleaming in the sunlight, a beautiful secret place in the neighbourhood.
School children and young people in cities have a very important role related to urban nature.
Firstly, they have to learn about the biodiversity around them (such as lakes, rivers, small or large natural and semi-natural patches of vegetation, etc.), how we make use of such natural elements, their status, and how we currently manage them. Secondly, they have to find new ways of managing cities so that other species as well as human beings have a better life, in the context of global climate change.
Students have to acquire the abilities or competences to undertake this learning and investigation. Teachers, of course, have individual preferences for the methods that may be appropriate in this context. Biodiversity monitoring using quadrat studies, species identification, bird watching, field trips, projects such as creating herbal gardens, plantation, are especially popular. Such nature experiences can form the foundation for life-long appreciation of and respect for nature.
Now over 50 per cent of the human species lives in urban areas worldwide, and in India, already over 31 per cent. Teachers therefore must build on the values of nature appreciation and go beyond these to help students explore practical ways to reduce our impact.
Learning about urban biodiversity
It helps to first list out concepts that students may explore through activities and projects. Box 1 provides a starter list of ‘Essential Learnings on Urban Biodiversity’, which one could add to.
The concept of City Biodiversity Indicators also provides a useful framework to study urban biodiversity and guide positive actions for restoration and management. It has been recently developed under the Convention on Biological Diversity and relates to three main components:
Native biodiversity in the city (which should be protected)
Ecosystem services provided by biodiversity in the city (which should be enhanced)
Governance and management of biodiversity in the city (which should lead to the above)
Students should be able to appreciate the ‘systemic nature’ of the interactions between ecosystems and humans. We may re-design cities and the patterns of use of biodiversity according to our current understanding. However, we must keep in mind that human society and its knowledge, technologies, patterns of use of resources keeps changing, and in recent times, these are changing quite rapidly.
Similarly, we must keep in mind that biodiversity is also evolving and changing. Climate change is a major factor that is driving changes in the nature of ecosystems and interactions between species, for example due to changed monsoon patterns. Changes in seasons, in the time of flowering of plants, time of arrival of migratory birds, or numbers of certain types of insects present in a specific season are some of the visible changes people are already observing.
Schools could consider being involved in SeasonWatch, which is a citizen volunteer network that monitors the seasons as revealed by trees. Participants help to document the timing of flowering, fruiting, and leaf-flush of roughly 100 tree species. The collective data can show how this timing may be changing as the climate changes. SeasonWatch is run by the Citizen Science Programme at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore.
Try Activity 1 (below) as a way to show how the activities of human society impact habitats and species. What is the role of human knowledge, policies, ways of functioning, designing or implementing infrastructure, etc? Can these be changed to benefit habitats and species?
The concept of ‘Green Infrastructure’ is one direction for practical ways of enhancing ecosystem services in the city. Rivers and streams, soil, grasslands and forests are natural ‘green infrastructure’ or assets that make cities livable. Human-created wetlands, habitats for particular species, assistance in migration or breeding, re-forestation or re-vegetation, green roofs or green walls are human-made green infrastructure. Where possible, cities could shift to green infrastructure to provide the services citizens need. This can be for sewage treatment through managed wetlands, composting organic waste, networks of green walkways for pedestrians and cyclists, urban agriculture as a source of food, income and recreation, green roofs for cooling buildings as well as for food and composting. Students could study the ways in which natural assets or human-created green infrastructure is contributing to quality of life of citizens in urban areas and take up action projects to create such assets.
There is enormous creative thinking, experimentation and innovation to be done to reduce our impact on nature, and teachers and students can and must be part of it.
Box 1 – Essential Learnings about Urban Biodiversity – Starter List
One way of studying and interacting with biodiversity is by using the ‘ecosystem benefits or services’ approach.
Historically, many cities have evolved near rivers or water sources, using ecosystem services already available there.
As cities have grown, the growing demand for space and resources has tended to degrade or destroy the ecosystems cities are dependent upon.
Cities impact biodiversity and ecosystems, at the local and regional levels by directly drawing resources or by physical modifications (such as when creating infrastructure), as well as at the planetary level by drawing resources from distant lands, and generating emissions that contribute to climate change.
Humans have consciously modified biodiversity in urban habitations by introducing and cultivating selected species, such as in parks and gardens, and pets.
Urban areas may have higher biodiversity, due to increase in the types of habitats and niches, and introduced species than the surrounding natural and semi natural regions.
Human-created habitats resemble certain types of natural habitats (for example buildings and bridges resemble rock faces or cliffs) and certain species have adapted to such human created habitats (such as swifts, swallows and blue rock pigeons).
Urban environments typically have high air or water pollution levels, dry or arid conditions, heat islands, and species that are able to tolerate such conditions may persist or thrive in larger numbers in urban habitats.
Humans can create their own habitats, infrastructure (such as through ‘green infrastructure’) and use resources in ways that benefit both other species and humans.
Green infrastructure may be defined as an interconnected network of green or natural spaces that conserves natural ecosystem values and functions and provides associated benefits to human populations.
Add more …
Observe the concept map given here
Make different sequences starting from ‘people’ and ending in ‘species’
Give examples to illustrate the sequences.
Identify any activity in your own experience that impacts the environment and build up the rest of the sequence.
Here is one flow sequence: People construct institutions that undertake activities that impact habitats that support species.
Here is an example to illustrate this sequence: Students in a Pune school have formed an eco-club that undertakes garbage clean-ups to restore a wetland that supports migratory birds.
Another example: The government created a policy that supplied cheap bamboo to paper factories in Uttara Kannada that led to over-extraction of bamboo in the district and depleted the local forest.
The diagram above shows that people impact habitats and species. Can you think of ways in which habitats and other species affect humans?
Note: This activity is from ‘Environment and Sustainable Development’ for Std XI, Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education, 2012; the concept map template has been developed by Dr Madhav Gadgil for the NCERT Handbook on Environment Education. The Maharashtra textbook is based on the NCERT Handbook.
ESD to Support the CBD
On October 19th 2012, on the last day of the Eleventh Conference of Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 11), the highlight for the ESD community was the signing of an MoU between the CBD Secretariat and the Centre for Environment Education, India (CEE) to work together in developing and implementing an educational strategy and plans of action that are supportive to the objectives of CBD, the strategic plan and the Decade on Biodiversity, and the objectives of education for sustainable development. The task includes collaboration on foundational research, engaging relevant partners and stakeholders for wider sharing of information, learning, implementation and scaling up.
Sanskriti Menon heads the urban programmes group at CEE in India. She is also involved in curriculum development and textbook writing for EE in the state of Maharashtra.
Savita Bharti is a Programme Officer at CEE, responsible for bringing out Education for Change, a periodical magazine on EE and ESD, as part of the Environmental Information System (ENVIS) of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India.
Thomas Hoffmann is a Geographer, a member of the GIZ supported ESD ExpertNet, a teacher trainer and a school teacher.
Painted by Anusha last week, on a nostalgic warm summer evening with cool jazz and dark chocolate …remembering our life and times at the old house in Aundhgaon … parties at John’s place, the red ants in the compost pots on the terrace, the drumstick tree in the neighbour’s house and the crows that nested there regularly.
The correct place for this painting is the Sparrows story.
Time seems to have stopped here. This patch of green in the heart of the city is contiguous with Bel Bagh, which is like a sacred grove. There were several gardens in the old city … Hirabagh, Vishrambagh, Ramanbagh, Tulshibagh etc., which now have only shops and buildings. The old houses in Jogeshwari Lane are mostly gone, and tall buildings now surround Hematai’s patch of green, where she lives with her brother, Suhasji. She says, “I was born here and have been living in this house since 1940. With these new constructions around, my house is now a fortress!” Dr Hema Sane was the first woman lecturer of Botany in Pune, in 1962. She retired in 2000, as Head of Dept of Botany, Garware College. She is also an M Phil in Indology. She has authored several textbooks, monographs, scripts and popular articles on plants in and around Pune. Talking about the changing biodiversity of Pune, Hematai says, “Dr Vartak would lead nature walks for studying and collecting plant specimens in the Mutha river bed. Even up to the 80s we would find a couple of species of orchids there. They are gone now.” About her own life and her house, she says, “My life is rich not with things, but with my experiences and my friends, these trees, Rangutai the cat, and the birds. Another thing I cannot live without is music which my radio brings me.”
These photographs were taken as part of the ‘Living in a Changing Environment‘ photography workshop conducted in Pune by Prof Stefan Koppelkamm and Mr Peeyush Sekhsaria, and organized by Max Mueller Bhavan, Pune and Maharashtra Cultural Centre.
2 Feb is World Wetlands Day. The theme for 2010 is ‘‘Caring for Wetlands, an answer to climate change’. More at http://tinyurl.com/wwd2010
It was 9 am when the three of us embarked upon a boat ride on the Thane creek. The boat reached the mud flats in the mouth of the creek and the sight of thousands of birds on the banks greeted us. There were wading birds like Redshanks, Greenshanks, Stints, Godwits, Plovers, Flamingos, Herons and Egrets. Hovering over the water in search of prey were Terns, Gulls, Marsh Harriers and Kites. As volunteers for the ‘Asian Waterfowl Count’ or AWC, our job was to count the water birds at the creek in the stretch we had selected.
Nestling between the Deccan plateau and the Sahyadris or the Western Ghats mountain range, Pune has a variety of natural and semi-natural areas – rivers, streams, wetlands, forested patches and gardens. This green cover and natural areas are part of our city’s unique landscape and character, and make our city beautiful and livable.
Indian traditions include nature conservation everywhere. Several Indian cities have many large banyan, peepal trees that have been recognized as keystone resources. Cities also shelter large wild mammals like monkeys. Pune, in particular, with its hills, lakes and rivers has within the city limits, patches of natural forests, peafowl, barking deer, wild pigs, large flocks of migratory waterfowl etc. The culture of respect of the natural right of all living creatures to exist should not be eroded among city-dwellers.
The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC), Forest Department, other government agencies, corporate groups, academic institutions, schools, several citizens groups and individuals are active in biodiversity conservation in many different ways. Their efforts can be strengthened by many more citizens taking actions as individuals and in collective ways.
Cities have not traditionally been the focus of biodiversity conservation efforts. Attention has been concentrated on protected areas, sites of rich biodiversity, endangered species, the role of traditional resource management strategies by communities directly dependent on biodiversity for livelihood and other reasons, etc. However, the importance of engaging cities in biodiversity conservation was recently recognized by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (see Decision IX/28 Promoting engagement of cities and local authorities). It states that the accelerated rate of urbanization, particularly in developing countries, increasingly concentrates decision-making and resources in cities, thereby creating opportunities for better resource management at the city-level.
People generally readily recognize the aesthetic and environmental conservation values of biodiversity. However, the direct livelihoods and survival related needs of some groups using biodiversity or bio-resources in urban areas are not so well known or understood. Some examples are fuel wood, grazing, collection of tamarind or other fruits, flowers, leaves etc. Recognition of the different values and dependence people have in relation to biodiversity in Pune is an important aspect for improved management. A consideration of both social and environmental dimensions and especially a consideration of the needs of marginalized groups is in line with notions of ‘sustainable development’.
In order to discuss these aspects of biodiversity conservation and to get a better understanding of how setting up a Biodiversity Management Committee might help in conservation, CEE organized a workshop on 22 Dec in partnership with Intach and Eaton Technologies Pvt Ltd. Dr Yellappa Reddy, Chair of the Biodiversity Management Committee of Bengaluru city was a key speaker. Such committees are required to be set up by all local self-government bodies, as stipulated in the Indian Biological Diversity Act 2002. Prof. Madhav Gadgil chaired the workshop. About 30 representatives of NGOs, government organizations, government officials, and college students participated in the workshop.
Prof. Gadgil in his opening remarks introduced the Indian Biological Diversity Act 2002 and Rules 2004 and emphasized that the Act gives power to local bodies including Municipal Corporations to take concrete actions for biodiversity conservation and management. An active and vibrant city like Pune must form a Biodiversity Management Committee, as mandated by the Act.
Dr. Reddy informed about the functioning of the Bengaluru Biodiversity Management Committee (BMC). The BMC was formed in 2006. There are 9 members in the committee mainly experts in field of zoology, botany, veterinary sciences, health, pollution, planning etc. An Assistant Conservator of Forest level officer deputed to the Bengaluru Municipal Corporation is the Member Secretary of the Committee.
In the past two years, biodiversity documentation activities have been carried out in 50 electoral wards with the help of college students. A small financial support has been provided through various agencies to these students to undertake activities. Thus, fifty ward-level Biodiversity Registers have been developed. Findings from these registers have been widely publicised through the local media. After the problems related to particular habitats or areas were identified, the remediation/ follow-up was done with Municipal Corporation to take action. Other agencies like Bangalore University have also been involved to develop a Biodiversity Park in the city. The office of the Lok Ayukta has been approached to help with cases where action from government agencies needs to be expedited. One example where the Lok Ayukta helped was in directing the BMC to demolish a bus stand that was causing water logging.
After Dr Reddy’s talk, presentations were made on various ongoing biodiversity conservation initiatives in Pune.
Mr Sanjay Pathak, IFS, Conservator of Forest Pune Division shared the experiences of Urban Joint Forest Management efforts in three reserved forest areas in Pune city.
Rohit Nayak spoke about the voluntary work of the Clean Earth Movement for soil and moisture conservation, tree plantation, awareness etc on the Baner hill. He emphasized scientific planning, involvement of technical people and volunteers and preference to local varieties of plants for plantation as the main elements of their work.
Shri Jagzap, Tree Officer Pune Municipal Corporation shared the experiences of the Pune Tree Authority’s work in Pune. Tasneem Balasinorwala of Pune Tree Watch shared the experiences of their campaign to save trees using Urban Tree Act provisions and involving people to use the Act effectively. The group is now suggesting changes in the Act based on their experiences and advocating for the same. She emphasized that to use such legal provisions effectively, voluntary groups should closely work with government agencies implementing such acts. Their efforts to take experts in Tree Authority along with Local Corporators has helped in bringing transparency of authorities work and improved collaboration between various municipal departments like road, transport and the Tree Authority.
Eaton Technologies Pvt. Ltd who partly sponsored the event shared their work with communities in and around Pune on issues of health, environment etc.
Bhavana from Ecological Society shared their efforts related to ecosystem restoration and for developing short courses on ecology and economics.
After these presentations, an open discussion was held to discuss about the opportunities for conservation that BMC formation would provide, the mandate and roles of BMC, how to involve colleges and other educational institutions and the need to approach the municipal authority with suggestions for the same.
We decided that a paper would be developed through further discussions (both online and physical) with citizens groups, government departments, researchers to gather suggestions for the mandate, structure, role of BMC and to approach the municipal corporation in the coming months to discuss formation of BMC. The draft text of this paper will be placed on the Pune Tree Watch blog for comments.
Photographer: Alexander Fedorov, Kyrgyzstan
Far back in the past, humans understood that warm clothing, blankets and carpets could be made of wool. Keeping up the old traditions of processing wool, every Kirghiz family makes a carpet called Ala-Kiyiz when preparing the bride’s dowry. Making such a s carpet is like a festival, because all members of the family, both young and old, take part in it. Everyone has something to do – to dye the wool, stencil, and then to walk on it. Every carpet has its individual pattern telling the ancient history of the nation.
In the monsoons, my family and I went to Ashwin Paranjpe’s farm in Nanegaon, located not far from Pune, in the beautiful Kolwan Valley in the Sahyadris. Ashwin is an organic farmer.
He’d invited some of us from Pune city for a visit to understand how and why he and other farmers in the Valley are practicing organic farming. They had also asked if we would help in paddy transplantation.
Ashwin described why he has turned to organic farming. “The Green Revolution, which introduced hybrid seeds, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides to Indian farmers in the late 1960s is credited with making our nation ‘food surplus’. But over the last four decades, most of our farmlands, water resources, and even the food we eat have been severely contaminated by over-use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Chemical-based agriculture has also jeopardized the health of unsuspecting consumers. The snow-white cauliflowers, shiny red tomatoes, and the fat brinjals grown with fertilizers and literally drenched in pesticides are nothing but slow poisons…
On the other hand, organic farming believes that crops should be grown by nature’s rules so that our food is bestowed with all its vital life-force and not just with chemical elements.”
As he took us for a walk around the farm, Ashwin pointed out what grows on his farm. In the rains it is mainly the cucurbits (bitter gourd, sponge gourd, snake gourd, pumkin, etc.) which grow very well, plus gawar (cluster bean), bhendi (okra), brinjal, cherry tomatoes, and tuber crops such as carrots, radish, and beetroot.
Cereals such as finger millet (ragi), warai, and about four varieties of rice are also grown during monsoon.
The winter season produces cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, green leafy vegetables, lettuce, celery, potatoes, and wheat. The summer season is good for peanuts, onions, chillies, and other vegetables.
All farmers in Ashwin’s group practice ‘mixed’ cropping, where plants belonging to different botanical families are carefully selected and ‘mixed’ so that there are at least 8 to 10 different vegetables growing in any particular farm plot at any time of the year. Knowledge of ‘companion crops’ is also useful; for example, onions grow well with tomatoes, corn grows well with beans, etc. Simple techniques such as planting a few rows of marigold in the vegetable plots, or planting mustard (belonging to the same family as the cole crops) which flowers earlier and diverts the attention of the pests from the economic crop, are useful tools for the organic farmer.
Knowing that Ashwin studied a regular agriculture course in Pune and also that he has not grown up as a farmer, I wonder where he learnt organic farming.
Ashwin replies, “I learnt organic farming when I farmed on a small plot of barren land using nothing but hand-implements and horse dung for manure. Although most of my academic training had been in ‘hi-tech’ farming such as hydroponics and greenhouses, the moment I started farming on my own, I realized that the time-tested ways of our ancestors were far superior since they worked ‘with’ nature and not ‘inspite’ of it.
I owe my knowledge of organic farming to a group of young Catalan farmers in north-eastern Spain where I volunteered on the weekends. Although I couldn’t speak much Spanish at that moment, what I could learn by ‘observing’ and doing I could never have learnt by reading books or listening to lectures. For being able to do anything well, one needs to understand the ‘logic’ of how things work. Understanding the logic of agriculture is probably what distinguishes the academicians from the true practitioners of organic farming. I learnt the logic part of agriculture from Dr. Dan Cantliffe, who was my guide and professor at the University of Florida. There is another ingredient which one needs for ‘persisting’ with what one does… that ingredient is “passion”. Dr. Rosie Koenig (who runs a beautiful organic farm in Florida and who’s pioneered the Community Supported Agriculture – CSA movement in USA) was the person who instilled in me the passion for organic farming.”
Curious about how farmers today are supposed to unlearn chemical farming and explore next-gen organic farming, I ask Ashwin if organic farming today is a return to pre-chemical farming. Or is there new knowledge that he and other farmers are creating in response to the present day context and demands made on agriculture.
Ashwin says, to a large extent, yes, organic farming today is a ‘return’ to pre-chemical farming. However, organic farming today is even more challenging than it was 60 – 70 years ago, because the resources available with the farmer (soil, water, local seeds, cattle manure, and human labour) are either in short supply or their quality has depleted beyond redemption. Thus, contemporary organic farming not only needs to RETURN to pre-chemical/ traditional ways of farming, but also ADAPT to today’s realities such as population growth, elevated cost of living, season-neutral attitude of the market, dominance of mechanized/ large-scale farming, globalization, and even climate change!
Ashwin and twelve other farmers in the Valley have formed a group of producers. Since Ashwin lives in the city, he has been able to form a network of consumers. The Organic Farmers & Consumers Alliance (OFCA) model hopes to bring about a major attitudinal change in the Indian agriculture sector since its looks at farming not merely as a ‘way of life’, but a commercial and profitable enterprise.
The OFCA initiative aims to introduce ‘precision’ and ‘market-sensitive’ organic farming to small-farmers (especially young farmers), and help them to market their products ‘directly’ at a price that is not only affordable to urban consumers but also profitable to the farmers. The OFCA organic farming model is based on 1500m2 of net crop area plus about 500m2 of area devoted to fodder crops, animal husbandry, family housing, and storage.
A local NGO (in this case Gomukh Trust) brings small farmers together to do planned, market-oriented organic farming. After studying the market demand for organic farm produce, all organic farmers in the group and the NGO sit together and make a crop plan at the beginning of each season. The crop plan takes into account the demand for each farm product, as well as the land, water, labour, cattle, and other resources available with each farmer. Farmers receive Rs. 20 per kilo for all vegetables throughout the year, and the consumer pays Rs. 32 for all Indian vegetables throughout the year. Marginal surpluses are processed by local farmers without using chemical preservatives and using appropriate technology, and sold at competitive prices.
Within two years, a small farmer in Kolwan valley can treble what they might earn from sugarcane (Rs 16,660) by growing organic vegetables (Rs. 50,000) per 2000m2 of land, by following the OFCA model.
When an external agency certifies organic products, the cost burden is often shifted to the consumer. OFCA organic produce is not certified by any external agency. The farmers in the OFCA follow a locally appropriate Participatory Guarantee System of ‘peer certification’ where farmers themselves audit the farms of their peers. This not only reduces the overall cost of organic farming, but also helps to maintain integrity within the group.
Since it hasn’t rained enough, the fields are not flooded, and conditions are not right for paddy transplantation. This is disappointing, but we city-folks have learnt and gained so much by our visit here, that we hope to come back another weekend. We do buy our organic vegetables from the OFCA, but did not realize all the thinking that has gone behind the development of this initiative in Kolwan Valley.
The morning walkabout is done; a delicious organic lunch has been organized. Vijay strums a guitar as we watch the rain and reflect on what’s important in our lives.
The foot hills of the Western Ghats are a defining feature of Pune. Much loved by Punekars, these hills attract dedicated morning-evening walkers (some of them with their dogs), nature walk groups, couples seeking a few quiet moments. Recently, a loosely-knit community of music students, artists and their friends and parents celebrated the tekdis with an evening of art and music unplugged.
In 2003, when these tekdis (hills) came under threat of being built over, more than 75000 citizens protested. A signature campaign, human chains at Vetal Tekdi and Alka Talkies, newspaper articles and hundreds of letters to the municipality all spoke of how much Punekars value these hills. Hearing the voice of the people, the planners who revised the Draft Development Plan for the 23 fringe villages newly merged into the municipal boundaries, provided for these tekdis to be conserved under a Biodiversity Park reservation. Besides the tekdis, the reservation also includes rivers and streams as these ecosystems too are part of the biodiversity of Pune. The biodiversity land reservation is a generic formula that applies to hill tops and hill slopes of a certain slope grade, and to land along waterbodies. It works out to about 1646 hectares in the 23 villages merged into the PMC area.
The first formal Biodiversity Reserve in Pune is being created by the municipality on a part of the hill range between Baner and Pashan. The creation of the Baner-Pashan Reserve means that a specific area to which the reservation is applicable is being fenced off and a plan is being prepared for its conservation, use and management. The Garden Dept of the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) is preparing this plan. How to protect the area, where plantation should be done and where it should not be done, how citizens may use the area … the Garden Dept is discussing these questions to citizens, NGOs, academic experts and local representatives as a way of evolving the management plan.
Baner-Pashan: Variety of Life
The Baner-Pashan hills lie in the western region of Pune. The hills have a variety of micro-habitats. The slopes are mostly gentle, with occasional steeper rocky gullies marking the path of rainwater run-off. At such spots, during the monsoon you might spot a crab scurrying away as you approach.
On the Pashan side, the slopes have been planted with Gliricidia (Rat-killer trees). This fast-growing tree species nourishes the soil as it has nitrogen fixing bacteria in its roots like other leguminous plant species. Often, afforestation of degraded lands is done by first planting such leguminous species to stabilize the soil and make it more nutritive for plants. Later, the Gliricidia may be slowly removed to make space for planting local species.
A large quarry, now closed, is present at the slope overlooking the Bangalore highway. Every monsoon water pools at the base converting it into a small wetland habitat. Stilts hide among the rushes looking for insects. The rocky edges of the pool harbour ferns. The quarry wall which is several metres high is like a cliff. It provides a nesting site for birds that nest in cliffs such as owls, swallows, swifts, crag martins, etc. It is also good habitat for ground birds like grey francolin and quails and a good breeding area for snakes, geckos, lizards, frogs and as it comparatively less disturbances. The grasses and related smaller creatures like grasshoppers, mantis, beetles, bugs etc provide a prey base for higher animals.
The slopes taper off towards the top which is a plateau covered with grass. If you sit for a while, you’ll hear the busy chirping of sparrows and perhaps spot a lark or a shrike. Exciting sightings such as of grass snakes and russels vipers have been noted by regular visitors of the area as well.
Were these hills covered with forests when Shivaji was fighting his battles? Or have the dhangars who still graze cattle on these hills as they have been for hundreds of years always seen these as grasslands? More on dhangars a little later, but as far as biodiversity is concerned, we don’t really know.
According to Ashish Kothari of Kalpavriksh, we city-bred people are lucky that we can see different types of habitats in the reserve. Habitats such as rocky slopes, grass land plateaus and pools of water or wetlands are as important as tree patches to sustain biodiversity.
Dr Erach Bharucha of Bharati Vidyapeeth Institute of Environment Education and Research (BVIEER) differs. ‘Several very small patches of habitats don’t really benefit the species living in them as the patch size is too small to provide for the food and other needs of a healthy population’ he says.
For now, the management plan for the Baner-Pashan reserve aims to conserve different types of habitats across the hill range. Native tree species will be added to the Gliricidia plantation enriching the variety of tree species.
One question that Mr Yashwant Khaire, PMC Garden Superintendent puts to some of us discussing the management plan is – What is the purpose of the Biodiversity Reserve?
Surely, it is biodiversity conservation. The Biodiversity Reserve provides several unseen ‘ecosystem benefits’. It serves as a ‘sink’ for absorption of pollutants and as a source of fresh air for the city. The vast tracts of hilly vegetated lands help to absorb rain water and recharge surface streams and groundwater aquifers in the city. So, another objective is that our city should continue to receive these benefits of natural areas.
Schools and nature educators already know the wonderful educational opportunity the hills of Pune provide. On the Pashan side is the Ramnadi and the little dam across it which forms the Pashan lake. On the Baner side, you can see the Mula and if you look carefully you can spot the confluence of the Ramnadi with the Mula. The hills are a place for us urban creatures to learn about the ways of the natural world. Thus, ‘education on biodiversity’ is one stated objective of the evolving management plan.
However, apart from the straight science, geology and geography type of content, there are other lessons the hills can teach. These hills have seen cultures evolving and branching out, from the beginning of human settlement in these parts up to the present day.
These hills are used not just for walks and exercise, but also for collection of firewood and grass. Dhangars have perhaps been grazing their cattle here for several generations. The national policy for pastoral nomads guarantees right of way for them.
Standing atop the hills, one can see different patterns of settlements … glass fronted buildings, bungalows, village-like areas, tall buildings, small shacks. For the informal settlements at the base the hills are an open toilet. One wonders at the contrast of settlements, the different types of people who live around here, and the different meanings the city’s natural areas have for them: places for relaxation, for livelihood and income, for meeting basic needs.
So there is rich material here for educators. They may dwell on different ways of life, on respecting and celebrating diversity not just in the natural world, but also in human cultures. They may introduce questions on development and human progress, on city planning and equity amongst citizens.
Local Conservation Initiatives
A group of citizens on the Baner side have formed themselves into Vasundhara or the ‘Clean Earth Movement’. Many of them have been living here for the past several years. They’ve seen Baner change from a quiet peri-urban area to a popular residential and commercial area with IT companies setting up offices, malls and high-priced gated housing societies.
Civic services and regulatory mechanisms often don’t keep pace with city growth and this is what led Dr Garudkar, Sachin Walunj and others to form the Green Earth Movement. They have tried to streamline garbage management at the base of Baner hill. They are also keeping an eye out to prevent illegal construction on the hillside. Recognizing the dhangars’ livelihood dependence on the grasslands, Dr Garudkar and his colleagues have also initiated a dialogue with them to mark out which areas could be used for grazing and which could be kept for regeneration.
Every Sunday, some sixty or so members of Green Earth volunteer their time and effort for soil and water conservation along the Baner hillside. They have dug continuous contour trenches and planted trees along these in a bid to prevent soil erosion and enhance water conservation. Their persistent hard-work is showing positive results and it has been acknowledged by the municipality as well. Especially remarkable is the number of children of the area who participate in all the activities at the hill.
The rock cut caves at Pataleshwar are well known. They are believed to be of a later vintage (8th century AD) as compared to the Karla (2nd century BC) and Bhaja (2nd century AD) caves up in the Sahyadris. Little known are the rock cut caves in the Baner hillside. They lie just above the Baner village. D D Kosambi in his book Myth and Reality: Studies in the Formation of Indian Culture [Bombay, Popular Prakashan, 1962], mentions these while discussing the transformation of the stone age cultures in and around Pune, and following the microlith tracks along Vetal Tekdi, Fergusson College Hill, Chaturshringi and beyond:
The temple at Catursrngi dates from 1786, but some local goddess must have received earlier worship at the same place. Banere, five miles away, has the next artificial but definitely post-Buddhist cave, which houses funerary steles as well as a Yamai and a Mahadev. A Tukai resides just above, in a shrine of her own at the top of the hillock. Banere is close to Vakad, on the other side of the Mula. The terrain and season were both unsuitable for microlith hunting.
Besides the caves and the old Tukai temple, a newer temple now exists on the Baner hill.
The issues before the city relate to how best to compensate owners when their land is acquired for a ‘common good’ purpose. Since the reservation implies no construction is possible, the opportunity cost of ‘development right’ ceases to exist. On the other hand, the possibility of constructing up to 4% of the plot size exists in older parts of the city. Citizens’ vigilance is necessary to ensure that the plan for Biodiversity Conservation is approved across all areas. Punekars and their elected representatives have to deliberate on fair policies for compensation, and to strictly ensure that the Biodiversity Park reserves are used for the purpose they have been created.
Today we started a new project: gathering and compiling information on biodiversity hotspecks in Pune. The info is currently being gathered in text, and we plan to map the locations on to wikimapia. At some stage, we will create a GIS layer. Here are the details of the description categories, starter list of sites and where to post info:
Categories of Hotspecks
Small quarries / small ponds
Large Trees hosting biodiversity
Paar (Sacred trees)
Bird community roosts /heronries
Individual rare trees
Private lands with vegetation cover or quarries
Sites with ‘lesser’ fauna – Arachnids, insects, plant types etc.
Gardens (terrace/home, public)
What is it – physical category
Time – date, season
Area – size with peripheral area that needs to be protected
Type of protection, if any
Threats, issues (garbage etc)
Image – of the area/ambience, specific spots, image size
Current ownership status
Anecdotal info collected by local person
Species and attributes of the site that makes it favourable for the species