Updated: Nov 13, 2020
Regeneration of Native Shola species Under Plantation Species in the Palni Hills
“Ecological Renaissance” Imperilled
Robert Stewart 01.03.15
Tanya and myself first became aware of Shola regeneration in plantations sometime in the late 1980’s. We were walking the path through Pambarpuram village forest to have breakfast at Pillar Rocks. This we did on a regular basis until we started our tree nursery in March 1989. The FD had just cut a large Wattle plantation along the way, thereby revealing dozens of young native trees with bright green foliage, we would later know to be Daphniphyllum neilgherrense. It was clear to us the saplings had been nurtured by the Wattle. And so for more than 25 years we have watched this phenomenon grow exponentially, with nearly every Shola species now regenerating under every plantation species in nearly every plantation – their numbers in millions.
In all those years we have been trying to persuade people including the Forest Department of this reality and that it is a very good thing. We are usually able to convince the DFO’s who come here of this phenomenon, but their awareness of the fact has never been able to percolate up or congeal into “official knowledge”. Today we are still struggling to establish this big fact. It is big because crores of rupees of public money are at stake and more importantly the process of naturalisation is threatened, by a policy that seeks to destroy these processes. Put simply old plantations function like natural forests, if you cut them they behave like plantations (badly).
We had no idea this destruction would descend on us when we engaged with Teri University to actually measure the facts on the ground. So the scientific facts Teri have amassed are vital in saving our forests (native, exotic mixed) from massive destruction. Logging will only succeed in stopping the emergence of a giant Shola over all sthe plateau. It will not re-create a square metre of grassland. It is clear though that there is a very ill-informed body of opinion, among the general public, the FD, environmentalists and newspaper editors that still think that “getting rid of the plantations” is a good idea. We have all known for decades that logging simply results in the plantations renewing themselves. This body of opinion is largely ecologically illiterate, but there is an element amongst them who insist on this mindless destruction even when acquainted with the facts.
There are glimmers of hope. The FD at Munnar in Kerala understand these processes and seek to persuade their bosses in the cities, and the penny is beginning to drop in TN.
The historical process is very simple. Grassland →Plantation → Shola/plantation → Shola.
As long as people refuse to accept the positive trajectory of this process since the extinction of the grasslands, the promise of saving the existing/remaining grasslands will not be addressed. Policy will be directed at “Saving the Sholas”, a task that nature has already undertaken if only we don’t destroy her work.