They are commonly found in Chennai, Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur districts, but are a ‘forgotten' lot. They are the scrub forests.
Originally called tropical dry evergreen forests (TDEF), these forests, over a period of time slowly started degrading owing to pressures such as grazing of cattle and human intervention. However, they slowly regain the original state with increased protection by the State Forest Department.
This type of natural forest is prevalent over the vast landscape, including Nellore, Kancheepuram and Chennai districts, says Muthu Karthick, a researcher with CareEarth, a Chennai-based biodiversity research organisation.
The Vandalur scrub forest is the original natural forest of this area as indicated by veteran forester J.S. Gamble in the 1900s. The flora of Vandalur scrub forests mainly consists of shrubs and thorny small trees, with many herbaceous plants. Ground orchids and delicate tiny plants are the characteristic features.
Interestingly, researchers say the scrub forests are home for several species of small birds when compared to forests with large trees. The Nanmangalam Reserve Forest near Medavakkam is a relic of this kind of scrub forests, Mr. Karthick adds.
D. Narasimhan, associate professor, Department of Botany, Madras Christian College, who has done a lot of research on TDEF, said nearly 30 years ago, owing to grazing and wood collection, this forest type has lost many tree species. Only thorny bushes and shrubs remained. But, with the State Forest Department declaring them as reserve forests, protection was ensured.
Dr. Narasimhan said: “The condition of scrub forests in Chennai, Tiruvallur and Kancheepuram districts has improved over the past three decades. This is mainly due to the protection accorded to them, which put an end to cattle grazing and also collection of firewood from these areas.”
Naturalists pointed out that the locals in Auroville, a satellite township near Puducherry, are protecting scrub forests well. The State Forest Department could adopt a similar system to protect them. They also wanted the department to take up a study on the flora and fauna found in this forest type and its changing conditions .