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Palani Hills: Conservation paradox

The upper Palani Hills have a landscape dominated by exotic tree plantations, but there are important remnants of the shola/grassland mosaic vegetation type still in evidence. Plantations have, in fact, become shola nurseries.Photo: IAN LOCKWOOD
Eucalyptus plantation overshadowing Blackburn Shola, clearly illustrating the very different structure and canopy and height. In sholas such as this, native species have spread deep into the exotic plantation.Photo: IAN LOCKWOOD
Wood pile from a clear-cutting operation near Berijam Lake. Cutting of plantation is leading to a return of unwanted alien species, including weeds and wattle, and no grasslands.Photo: IAN LOCKWOOD
Clear-felling of plantations near Berijam Lake and Madikatan Shola. Taking out plantations like this invites a proliferation of weeds and does not return the landscape to the original shola/grassland mosaic.Photo: IAN LOCKWOOD
New Wattle sapling. When plantations are clear-cut, the result is usually a profusion of weeds and thousands of young wattle trees.Photo: IAN LOCKWOOD
EucalyPtus and montane grasslands on Perumal Peak. This is an area optimal for restoration since much of the grassland is still intact.Photo: IAN LOCKWOOD
Profile of Perumal Peak. The line of eucalyptus trees on the summit of Perumal Peak is a recent addition (20-30 years) and is symbolic of both the challenge of plantations and the opportunity for restoration work.Photo: IAN LOCKWOOD
Montane grasses in eucalyptus forest. Many plantations in the Palani Hills still show evidence of their historical vegetation. These montane grasslands have survived somehow on the slopes of Perumal Peak. Areas like this are ideal for careful restoration efforts that allow the grasses to make a comeback.Photo: IAN LOCKWOOD
Calanthes triplicata. Biodiversity in sholas is very high with numerous species of trees, shrubs, epiphytes and other organisms such as this ground orchid. This diversity is spreading into exotic plantations that are next to sholas.Photo: IAN LOCKWOOD
Water workers. Healthy grasslands play a key role in the hydrology of the hills and ensure water to farmers such as these near Poondi, an agricultural settlement in the north-western Palani Hills.Photo: IAN LOCKWOOD
Restoration work in a montane grassland is a difficult and labour-intensive task. The job is easier if pre-existing grasslands can be protected and allowed to flourish where plantations are invading their area. This image is from a VCT-FD pilot project near Kodai's golf course.Photo: IAN LOCKWOOD
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Living on the edge

They are river people, whose lives ebb and flow with the waters of the Brahmaputra in a timeless rhythm. But now, hydroelectric projects and homogenis