Environment

HMT Forest, a sanctuary for birds

Over decades, 100 acres of forest grew into a rich tangle of trees, shrubs and flowers. The city’s birders unite to protect this valuable space

The sighting of an unusual bird in the forests of HMT Estate recently sent a birding group in the city into a paroxysm of excitement. However, by the time they called for expert knowledge, the bird flew away.

“We spent the whole of the next week looking for it and finally saw it on Pipeline Road, off HMT Estate. It was the rare Egyptian vulture, which had been sighted 10 years ago,” says Mukundan K. HMT Estate is a favourite haunt of birdwatchers of the city.

Hindustan Machine Tools acquired 300 acres of land in Kalamassery in the 1950s. Over the decades, 100 acres remained untouched. Here on a mix of rich undergrowth, tall trees, grass and natural wetland vegetation grew organically, slowly becoming home to a variety of birds, butterflies and wild animals.

From the 1990s, there was a rush of development around this patch of green but fortunately it remained unscathed. This became an oasis not only for the animals and birds but also for birdwatchers.

On March 6, members of three groups — Green Grace, Cochin Natural History Society , Cochin Adventure Foundation — along with school and college students formed a human chain to protest against damage cause

HMT Forest, a sanctuary for birds
d by anti-social elements to this natural forest in the heart of the city and its rare biodiversity.

Leading from the front was Vishupriyan Kartha, founder of the Cochin Natural History Society and a birder. “We started coming here from the 1990s. In the beginning, we were a small group and the sightings were few. But, as our numbers increased and the monitoring of birds became scientific, we spotted many more species. As of now, we have spotted 199 species.”

HMT Forest, a sanctuary for birds

Vishupriyan points out that the forest grew on its own over a period of 50-60 years and “is being damaged by vagabonds who use it as thoroughfare. Often they burn parts of it and drive away its natural wild habitat. Parcels of land are also being sold off.”

The birders know the forest well and have named areas based on their sightings. Thus there is Bird Bath Point, with terracotta tubs for the birds; Baza Point, where a Black Baza was spotted; the Night Jar Tree where the nocturnal bird is often seen; Robins Point and the Paradise Flycatcher’s Point by the pond. “These are names to identify the areas in the forest for birders to know each others’ whereabouts and to look for specific birds,” says Kartha.

Sujith MG, a birder and member of Green Grace (a group of film and videomakers), directed Urban Canopy, a documentary on the HMT Forest last November. “We make such documentaries for students and ask why this urban canopy is important. It is required for pure air, water, as well as for calm and quiet,” says Sujith adding that the tropical forest has a wildlife of insects, snakes, mongoose and wild rabbits. It is home also to Kerala’s State butterfly Buddha Mayuri.

Kartha plans to petition the government on two grounds — of forest restoration. India is a signatory to the Bonn Challenge, which is about revamping forests and of conserving biodiversity sites, under the Government’s directive of empowering local self governments to declare local biodiversity sites as protected heritage sites. “It is in their jurisdiction and the ownership of the land does not change,” says Kartha explaining that no systematic enumeration of trees and plants has been done and the richness of the forest remains unexplored.

Bala Murukesan , GM, HMT, says, “This is the only green area of such proportion in Ernakulam, we are all for conserving and protecting it and have taken steps towards it. The police has been informed about miscreants damaging the forest,and of any such activities that come to our notice.”

“We know the forest intimately. There’s a human story to it and that’s why we see no justification in destroying a naturally come up forest,” says Kartha. And off the birders go in search again for the elusive Egyptian Vulture.

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Printable version | Mar 28, 2020 6:51:47 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/hmt-forest-estate-in-kochi-is-a-sanctuary-for-birds/article31118471.ece

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