For a new climax

Print edition : November 14, 2015

Shola regeneration in a decades-old pine cultivation. Native shola trees are overwhelming and taking over a mature and dying plantation of "Pinus patula" from Mexico near Poombari village. Photo: IAN LOCKWOOD

IN December 2014, a group of conservationists, ecologists, officials and citizens met in Kodaikanal to consider the role of plantations and the restoration of shola/grassland landscapes. Participants came from within Kodai, TERI University in New Delhi, ATREE in Bengaluru, the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) in Valparai, the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) in Bengaluru, the Vattakanal Conservation Trust and several other notable institutions. Two members of the Tamil Nadu Forest Department’s Kodai office attended. The paradoxical role of plantations was explored through a series of presentations on scientific studies, field experiences, discussion among the participants, and a field visit to Poombari village.

A pine planation near this settlement bears testimony to the power of shola regeneration under non-native trees. Among the needles and fallen pine trunks, a riot of different shola species are taking over the plantation. Once this would have been a montane grassland. For several decades it was a pine planation, and now shola is colonising the area and helping to turn the area into a very different but biodiversity-rich forest landscape.

Any removal of the ageing pine trees here will jeopardise the growth of this biodiversity. The symposium members were presented with this evidence, and it was clear that clear-felling the area would be detrimental. Here, in this heavily populated part of the Palani Hills, one has to accept the decline in montane grasslands and the succession of a whole new type of climax vegetation dominated by shola species that have taken over the exotic plantation.

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