Conservation of forests and wildlife in the rain-swept, biodiverse western ghats is a national priority. Although these mountainous forests have been depleted owing largely to clear felling and conversion to plantations in colonial times, the remaining 15 per cent designated as protected areas host a grand assemblage of plant and animal species. Remarkably, even private agricultural plantations in the ghats have well-preserved forest fragments stretching across several hectares. These, in fact, are a major trove of trees and rare animals. Such resplendent islands of life in a sea of tea and coffee monoculture are viable sites for conservation and restoration. What they need is policy support. Evidence underscoring the conservation potential of the fragments located in the 220 square kilometre Valparai plateau of the Anamalais is strong. Degraded land in the estates of this region has been restored through a research-based protocol. It is noteworthy that the healthy stands of endemic trees and the restoration sites managed by scientists owe their existence to active support from private plantations.
Formal agreements between the Mysore-based Nature Conservation Foundation and corporate entities such as Tata Coffee and Parry Agro have enabled research teams to execute a successful restoration plan on estate lands — removing invasive exotic weeds such as lantana and replacing them with native trees. Careful revival practices are enhancing biodiversity in the plantations. Shade-grown coffee benefits from this pollinator-rich landscape. In tea plantations, even a thin corridor of trees within helps animals survive and migrate. What is more, conflict between wild animals and humans in surrounding areas is avoided as the wildlife has access to adequate food, water, and shelter in the forest patches. Preservation also leads to wider cultural benefits by raising animal survival rates. Rare species such as the lion-tailed macaque, the great hornbill, the Malabar giant squirrel, flying squirrels, and a range of amphibians and reptiles are found in the fragments. But to be sustainable, this partnership between conservation scientists and plantation companies needs to be put on a strong policy foundation. The recognition of the fragments as good forests in official records brooks no delay. The companies that support conservation deserve to be rewarded — through tax incentives and also by making plantation segments eligible for carbon credits — for sparing the land and trees. Such a framework for the preservation and restoration of fragments in private lands near forests holds much promise for conserving species richness.