A group of 30 people undertook a walk through the forest as part of an initiative of environmental organisation Naanal Nanbargal to spread awareness of the fast-disappearing green cover

People travelling down dusty roads with sprawling and barren lands on either side at Idayapatti are taken by surprise when they learn about the presence of a forest in that area. The dry and deciduous Vellimalai forest at Idayapatti, originally spread over 461 acres, now covers an area of 100 acres.

A group of 30 people undertook a walk through the forest on Sunday as part of an initiative of environmental organisation Naanal Nanbargal to spread awareness of the fast-disappearing green cover. With 77 different species of plants, the Vellimalai forest is home to Loris, snakes, rabbits and 64 species of birds, which include night jars, peacocks and blue-faced Malkohas. “This natural forest has many drought-resistant ‘Usilai trees, medicinal plants and forest lime trees,” says A. Baburaj, retired botany professor from Thiagarajar College. “Madurai was once known as Kadambavanam. But there are no kadamba tress in this region now. Hence, the presence of two kadamba trees in the forest was a sight to behold. The trees vanished from Madurai along with a particular butterfly species that acted as pollinating agents,” he said.

Villagers say the forest area has dwindled over the years which they believe has affected rainfall. “The Thanithavu and Sengaai ooranis inside the forest have gone dry and the absence of waterholes has resulted in decrease in animal population in the forest,” a villager said.

Birdwatchers from Madurai who frequent the forest say they have noticed a decline in the number of birds as well. “Not many people attach importance to this forest since it is a dry land and scrub forest whose ecosystems need to be conserved,” says ophthalmologist T. Badri Narayanan, an avid birdwatcher.

“Most people are unaware of disappearance of patches of forests, which have fallen prey to encroachments and rapid urbanisation,” said Tamil Dasan, a member of Naanal Nanbargal. “While Madurai has a meagre 11 per cent of forest cover, creating awareness of the last few remaining forests such as Vellimalai is needed,” he says.

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