Nature Environment

Kolkata’s New Town gets a 3-acre tree library

The tree library is located in New Town’s Block D by a busy roadway amongst a cluster of residential apartments.

The tree library is located in New Town’s Block D by a busy roadway amongst a cluster of residential apartments.   | Photo Credit: Lesley D. Biswas

More than a thousand trees will come up in phases

Waking up to birdsong might seem an implausible dream for city-dwellers, but for residents of New Town, Kolkata’s urban township in the North 24 Parganas district, hearing the song of the Jacobin cuckoo announcing the arrival of the monsoon or the occasional, yet unmissable, alarm call of a flock of red-wattled lapwings en route to a nearby waterbody, isn’t an anomaly.

New Town’s proximity to the East Kolkata Wetlands, a designated Ramsar site of international significance comprising fish ponds, and Rajarhat, another habitat rich in biodiversity with swathes of tall grassland and scattered waterbodies pulsating with small animals and birdlife, ensures its residents are not completely devoid of nature’s uplifting sounds.

Despite the surge in real estate development that can widely be felt and seen, fortunately for both the avian and human residents of New Town, a tree library has taken root in Action Area I. Conceptualised by Housing and Infrastructure Development Corporation (HIDCO), the government agency that oversees development and beautification projects in and around New Town, in association with the West Bengal Pollution Control Board and the State Forest Department, the tree library is located in Block D by a busy roadway amongst a cluster of residential apartments and in close proximity to Axis shopping mall.

Trees like jarul, karanja, rubber, amlaki and arjun were planted on the three-acre plot last July. With more plots earmarked, there is space for more than a thousand trees and these green pockets that will come up in phases promise to be far more than a refreshing sight.

Just like one must read books to inculcate the love for reading, “one needs to know trees to love them,” says Debashis Sen, IAS, Chairman of HIDCO. “And if tree species are arranged like books in a library’s shelves, knowledge acquisition becomes easier,” says Sen. Information on the trees will be available to visitors and there are plans to conduct open-air reading sessions.

A red wattled lapwing sighted in Rajarhat.

A red wattled lapwing sighted in Rajarhat.   | Photo Credit: Lesley D. Biswas

Shiddhartha Balari, principal chief conservator of forests (West Bengal), compares the tree library to a ‘green lung,’ in an urban space. “Trees are structurally and chemically designed to absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen into the air. Species like rubber trees (ficus) and banyan absorb dust and improve air quality,” he says. Balari hopes the tree library will facilitate youngsters with a learning experience. “School students, especially, will get an opportunity to visit and learn about trees, their names and flowering patterns.”

In the years to come, the tree library will also hold great significance for local birding and wildlife enthusiasts and nature lovers who are often seen in the grasslands and around the waterbodies of Rajarhat and New Town that currently serve as nature retreats on weekends.

Shubhankar Patra, founder of Sunday Watch, an online birding group with over 18,000 Facebook members, is in awe of the thriving bird species this tiny urban space continues to support despite the rapid loss of green cover to urbanisation. “Of the 350 bird species recorded in Kolkata and its outskirts over the past 25 years, birders have recorded around 200 species in the Rajarhat area,” he says. And that’s not all. Rajarhat birding site has thrown up some species rarely seen in this region, one even the first to be recorded in West Bengal.

“A few years ago the desert wheatear was recorded from Rajarhat, the first such sighting in West Bengal, and more recently, a very rarely seen species, Isabelline wheatear, a small passerine bird was also recorded here,” says Patra.

An early morning walk through the tall grasses and a few patient moments by the marshes around Owl Junction, one of the prime birding haunts in the area, is all it takes for a rendezvous with birds like pheasant-tailed jacana, Bengal bushlark, Oriental reed warbler, zitting cisticola, little grebe, water hen, tricoloured and scaly-breasted munias, Asian openbill stork as well as some magnificent raptors, including the Oriental honey-buzzard, black kite, white-rumped vulture and common kestrel. Other popular birding sites lie in the vicinity of New Town’s Eco Tourism Park which has sizeable tree cover. Some uncommon winter visitors like the blue rock thrush, wagtails and Eurasian wryneck have also been sighted near under-construction sites in New Town.

The Kolkata-based freelance writer and children’s author is passionate about nature, bird photography and cricket.

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2020 2:00:03 PM |

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