Auroville study finds sacred groves in state of decline

The study on sacred groves follows the restoration of a mine in Pandalgudi with rare native species that has now become an ecological park

August 26, 2022 08:43 pm | Updated August 27, 2022 01:04 pm IST - PUDUCHERRY

Auroville Botanical Gardens undertook a study on the state of sacred groves in three coastal districts of Tamil Nadu.

Auroville Botanical Gardens undertook a study on the state of sacred groves in three coastal districts of Tamil Nadu. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

A study led by Auroville Botanical Gardens on sacred groves in three districts of coastal Tamil Nadu has found that many of these bio-diverse pockets embedded in forests are in a serious state of decline.

The silver lining, though, is that the study offered hope for reversing the situation if most of these habitats are left undisturbed in future.

The study, which undertook an assessment of the health of forests in 58 sacred groves falling in the districts of Villupuram, Cuddalore and Chengalpattu over the past 18 months, found a serious erosion of canopy in a majority of the groves while four of these pockets could no longer be classified as groves when their present-day situation is compared with data collected 20 years ago.

Auroville Botanical Gardens intiated the study with the support of Ramco CSR.

Glenn Baldwin, lead author, said: “The results of the study show that the health of these sacred groves is in serious decline, with 60% of the groves showing a reduction of canopy cover over the past 20 years. But there is still hope if we act now and protect this heritage as 16 out of the 55 groves studied contain a portion of undisturbed habitat with a healthy understory for these rare saplings to regenerate.”

Significantly, the study, which was carried out by an eight-member team, found that only 19 out of the surveyed groves contained more than 25% of the key indicator species of the TDEF.

The study carried out by an eight-member team, find that only 19 out of the surveyed groves contained more than 25% of the key indicator species of the TDEF

The study carried out by an eight-member team, find that only 19 out of the surveyed groves contained more than 25% of the key indicator species of the TDEF

As part of the study, a register of heritage trees found within these groves has been created and features 143 trees from 46 different species. The largest is the Mitragyna parviflora which had a trunk diameter of 166cm.

The Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest (TDEF) in the region is one of the rarest types of forest found in India with less than 0.2% of the original forest intact — the majority of which is found in these temple groves. These groves are highly diverse in composition, and the preservation of all of the groves is essential to ensure the long-term survival of the forest type.

In each grove, the GIS technician created a geo-referenced shape file for mapping analysis. “No two groves are alike as each will have a different species mix. The amazing thing about these groves is that they are like little islands stuck in an agricultural landscape, each with unique mix of species”,  said Paul Blanchflower, founder of Auroville Botanical Gardens.

On an optimistic note, he pointed to the Green Tamil Nadu Mission’s ambitions to increase forest cover in the State from 22.3% to 33% over the next 10 years in an ambitious tree planting programme that has native species at its core.

“We will be sharing our full report with agencies, including the Departments of Environment and Forest and various Universities in Tamil Nadu”, said Mr. Blanchflower

Locally, collaboration efforts with government agencies within the Villupuram district have led to plantation programmes in schools, colleges, and police stations and will expand further this year to include other areas and collaborations with the district forest department.

Nirmala Raja, part of Ramco CSR, said the important study on sacred groves followed the restoration of a mine in Pandalgudi with rare native species that has now become an ecological park.

N. Sathiyamurthy, an associate at Auroville Botanical Gardens, hoped that more youth would go out to visit and admire the rich treasure trove of sacred groves.

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