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Bob & Tanya's Contributions to Natural Heritage Conservation, Science and Publications

Updated: Nov 13, 2020

Robert Stewart & Tanya Balcar’s Contributions to Natural Heritage Conservation, Science and Publications 26.09.15.

In 1989 we established a tree nursery in Vattakanal to provide free of charge many thousands of utility trees to local communities and native Shola trees for Shola regeneration.

In 2004 we established a second nursery in Pambarpuram specialising in grassland and rare and endangered species.

In Pambarpuram we have built a world class collection of ornamental plants we hope will serve the Trust economically for generations to come and maintain employment for local people.

Regular articles for Shola magazine from 1995 – Anglade Institute of Natural History

“Flora of the Palni Hills” K.M. Matthew (1999) – Appendix 6 – Germination and cultivation data of over 200 (mainly woody) Shola species.

On two occasions we have received small grants from the Botanical Survey of India (2005 & 2006) for the collection and reproduction of rare and endangered plants with a view to their in situ/ex situ conservation.

Mukurthi – A publication of the Tamil Nadu Forest Department (2007) – 2 chapters and photos

A new Nilgiri flora – funds sanctioned in 2004 weeks before the death of its principal author Fr K.M. Matthew. Our research identified some 800 species that had not been covered in both the Carnatic and Palni floras. This is still available for future research.

Our other work in the Nilgiris over a number of years has involved weeding Cestrum out of Cairn Hill Forest, and a successful trial weeding of Scotch Broom out of grasslands adjoining Mukurthi National Park.

We submitted an 8000 word chapter and photos for publication by INTACH on the “Natural Heritage of Kodaikanal”. Recently published.

A chapter in Social Change, a journal of the Council for Social Development “Restoration of southern Indian Shola forests: Realising community based forest conservation in the Palni Hills of the Western Ghats” 2003.

In 2004 our story of restoring Pambar and Vattakanal Sholas was translated into Tamil by Fr. K.M. Mathew, South India’s foremost botanist, and published by the Rapinat Herbarium, Trichy.

Our work has also been acknowledged in Sanctuary Magazine June 2006, “The Next Big Thing” (ecological restoration) and by Dr H.J. Noltie in “The Life and Work of Robert Wight” (2007) published by the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh (UK).

In 2006 we started the restoration of a large marshland near Kodaikanal. We worked for six years with the support of the Forest Department and hundreds of volunteers. We prevented it from being overrun by land plants. It is an important water source for Theni district.

Envis bulletin, Wildlife Institute of India (2008) – a small chapter on some of the threatened plants of the Palni Hills.

Tahr magazine, Nilgiri Wildlife and Environment Association – a number of articles.

A chapter in “Ecological Restoration Principles, Values and Structure of an Emerging Profession” A. Clewell & J. Aronson, January 2013, Island Press. Society for Ecological Restoration International.

In 2009 a large book, edited by Neema Pathak “Community Conserved Areas in India” was published. Our work around Pambar Shola was one of the three such areas cited from Tamil Nadu. The first of three pages is attached,

Following the example of the famous Bournes (1914) very useful botanical notes we have produced the same on a regular basis which will hopefully be as useful for those who come after us

Our recent powerpoint presentations explaining the complexities of the plantation, grassland, Shola eco-system have been much in demand with showings in Coimbatore, Kerala, Kodaikanal x 3, the Nilgiris and now circulating as an educational tool to various schools in Kodaikanal (2015)

For the last year we have supervised the cleaning of the Pambar stream, Kodaikanal, in collaboration with the Palni Hills Conservation Council (The Jim Carmem Memorial Fund) (2015)

Between 2003 and 2004 in collaboration with Fr. K.M. Matthew we prepared a proposal for establishing a Kurinji reserve on the slopes below Coakers Walk. Land deeds were signed at the Collectors office in January 2007. Since then there has been no further action. Next mass flowering is now just 3 years away. Kurinji plants are available.

On a regular basis we facilitate study by students and scientists including forestry students from Teri University, New Delhi and scientists from the National Centre for Biological Science, Bangalore. All our plants are available for research.

Our other contributions to community development include the construction of a cultural and environment education centre (community building) and a creche in Vattakanal.

We are recent recipients (2015) of INTACH’s Anirudh Bhargava Environmental Award (2012 - 2014).

Future Plans

Future plans include an ambituous project funded by INTACH entitled “Montane Shola Grasslands: Identifying & Mapping, Building Awareness of Conservation Significance and Preliminary Restoration”. Funding received.

Our own original and extensive data and observations from 1985 – 2015 is pending publication online or e book titled “Plant Ecology and Restoration in the Palni and Nilgiri Highlands”. It covers place and time of seed collection and life history up to 25 years.

On the 24th September 2015 we were visited by a large delegation of horticulturists from Haridwar. They are keen on future collaboration with VCT.

We are guardians of the rarest tree in the World, a local Shola species thought to be extinct. It goes by the name of Elaeocarpus blascoi and was rediscovered by us in 2000. There is only one wild tree known. We have 4 young saplings we would like to raise up and plant in prominent public places such as Bryant park.

Completion of an INTACH Heritage Tree Walk for Kodaikanal.

We hope to re-engage with our restoration work in Bombay Shola and at Vattaparai marsh.

The Field Director for Mukurthi National Park, Mr Srinivas Reddy, is pushing for renewed grassland restoration in the park and obtaining permission for us to work there.

A new species of Rhododendron featured left (a single tree), discovered in March 2015 in Kerala contrasted to the common red R. arboreum ssp. neilgherrense.

We are currently researching (in collaboration) the species identity of eight (nine including one from Sri Lanka) thorny cactus tree Euphorbias across the S.W. Ghats. Below a close-up from a massive tree in Kerala.

An award we received in Coimbatore in 2012

We also wish to weed and plant Shola trees in collaboration with the Forest Department along a short section of the Poombarai road.

The co-operation of the Forest Department has been essential for many of our activities and we hope it will continue.

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