Afforestation Initiatives

NATIVE PLANTING IN THE ARAVALLIS

Aravallis, the oldest mountain range in the world, running across 4 states in North India – Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat is severely degraded. 31 Aravalli hills have disappeared in Rajasthan due to illegal mining. Real estate is eating up the Aravalli forests in Haryana which incidentally has the lowest forest cover in India (just 3.6%). Illegal felling of trees and encroachments across all states are destroying the Aravalli forests. 

As the oldest mountain range in the world is disappearing, the intensity of dust storms coming in from the Thar desert is increasing and the North Indian states are moving closer to desertification. The degradation of the Aravallis also threatens the water security of North India. The high levels of natural cracks and fissures in the Aravalli hills make this mountain range a superior zone for recharging ground water, which is extremely in the red zone at this point of time as extraction is 3 times more than what is put back into the ground. Native planting needs to be taken up on war footing across all the 4 Aravalli states to save North India’s water recharge zone, green lungs and shield against desertification.

This blog throws light on rewilding initiatives in different Aravalli landscapes. Topics covered are as follows:

  • Why is it critical to plant native?
  • Native planting initiatives in Haryana and Rajasthan.
  • Understanding basics of creating a native city forest.
  • How to create biodiversity rich spaces in residential and institutional areas?

WHY PLANT NATIVE?

This film presents the views of Vijay Dhasmana, an ecologist and rewilder who talks about why planting native species of the right ecology is critical in these water stressed times and how this native plantation helps in saving water and creating biodiversity rich habitats.

DRAFTING A VISION FOR PLANTING

Often planting is not thought through properly. People with good intention just end up planting Neem and Peepal or other easily available trees on a site, irrespective of the soil and climate condition a particular plant needs to thrive. The foremost part of a rewilding exercise is to draft a vision. It is extremely important to know what we need to recreate. 

Vijay Dhasmana, the ecologist shares, “Rewilding is like forest forensic work in which you research the forest composition that once existed on a given site. This can be done on the basis of observing the soil composition and the larger forest type currently existing in the region or what once existed which can be found in historical records. Once you know what kind of a forest or grassland or shrub land existed in the area that you want to plant in, the next step is to recreate that.”

RECREATING THE NATIVE ECOSYSTEM OF THE THAR DESERT

A team led by Pradip Krishen, an ecologist proposed a plan to the Jaipur Development Authority to develop the degraded Kishanbagh sand-dunes near Jaipur, close to Nahargarh sanctuary in Rajasthan. The main aim of this rewilding exercise was to bring back the jungles of the Thar desert called ‘Roee’ which are essentially grasslands and shrublands like you see in the undisturbed sand dune areas in Jaisalmer and Badmer in Rajasthan. “Most of the native grasses and herbaceous plants that we planted in the Kishanbagh sand dunes are ephemeral i.e. they come out in the monsoons and by the end of winter they are gone, following nature’s cycle as it is meant to be in the arid desert landscape. It took 3 years for the rewilding that we carried out to become a self-sustaining ecological system,” shares Vijay Dhasmana who worked as part of the team recreating the native ecosystem of the Thar desert in Kishanbagh.

Kishanbagh sand dunes restoration
Planting done at Kishanbagh sand dunes to recreate native grasslands of the Thar Desert 

CREATING A NATIVE FOREST IN THE MOST POLLUTED CITY ON THE PLANET

The film ‘Gurgaon’s Healing Forest – Aravali Biodiversity Park’ tells the story of a unique rewilding effort in the National Capital Region where citizens, corporates and local administration have created a natural Aravalli forest on 380+ acres of land that was once a mining site.

Understanding Basics of Creating a Forest Ecosystem 

Vijay Dhasmana, the ecologist behind the creation of Gurgaon’s city forest shares, “My special task was to try and understand where each kind of plant species would be most ‘at home’ based on their evolution in the Aravalli hills over millions of years. Some plants are ‘generalists’ but most flora species, more so in arid or water stressed environments have their preferences and specialise in where they are best adapted to live and do well.  During my travels for native seed collection to different Aravalli states, I learnt that the Dhau (Anogeissus pendula) grew on steep rocky slopes that can withstand thin soils and rapid runoff, the Salai (Boswellia serrata) is partial to the shoulders of the Aravalli hills, the Kadam (Mitragyna parvifolia) grows in the valleys that can withstand both waterlogging and to a certain extent drought, the Babool (Acacia nilotica) likes to grow where the soil is deep and of good quality with water close to the surface. I also observed how different flora species support each other in the forest ecosystem growing in various tiers.

This learning from observing natural Aravalli forests like the Mangarbani near Gurgaon, Sariska in Rajasthan and others helped our team to draft the vision for creating the Aravali Biodiversity Park. The idea was to create diverse micro habitats in this city forest, including grasslands that would support varied forms of life, typical of the northern Aravallis.”

BDP - large expanse

Creating a Nursery of Native Plants

Often, forest plants are not found in normal nurseries. So sourcing native seeds and creating a nursery is an essential step in the rewilding journey. Once the nursery was set up in the Aravali Biodiversity Park, 35 flora species were germinated in the first year and then gradually more than 200 species were added. Operations of the nursery along with all the other costs of maintaining the native saplings planted have been funded by donations from Gurgaon city’s corporate sector.

Life Sustaining Inputs for the Saplings 

No chemical fertilizers have been used for the 1,20,000+ native saplings planted in the Aravali Biodiversity Park. Natural leaf compost made at the site has been the only nutrient along with water given to the saplings. Water for irrigation has been sourced from the sewage treatment plants of nearby hotels. A drip irrigation network ensures watering in the areas where the gardeners cannot reach easily.  Vijay Dhasmana shares, “It took us 8 years from 2011 to 2019 to complete the rewilding exercise on 380 acres of wasteland and implement our vision to create this native city forest. We monitored the plants regularly and only provided irrigation when there was water stress noticed. The saplings were not given water more than 8 times in a year and only up to a period of 3 years after which the plants become strong enough to bear the brunt of the climatic conditions on their own.”

Drip irrigation at BDP
Drip irrigation system created at the Aravali Biodiversity Park

As Planters Be Enablers, Not Mothers Force Feeding Her Children

Vijay Dhasmana, the rewilder expresses, “I am not a champion of feeding plants with excessive nutrition or manure or  irrigating them often to make the canopy grow tall. In the semi-arid landscape where the Aravali Biodiversity park is located, plants take time to develop a robust root system and addition of excessive nutrition and irrigation will hamper this natural process. Ecological wisdom is to let the plant become resilient on its own by letting it grow how it would in nature. If you over irrigate or give extra nutrition to the saplings, they will tend to grow faster. Fast growing tall plants in a semi arid or arid landscape will become more of a liability as they tend to break more easily when the winds are strong or during storms. I am of the strong view that as planters, we should just be enablers and not like mothers force feeding their children.”

BDP

For those interested in more details about the process of creating the Aravali Biodiversity Park, please read these links:

Rewilding in a City; Making of the Aravali Biodiversity Park

This Eco-Warrior Reforested 400 Acres of India’s Oldest Mountains with Native Flora!

If you are interested in creating a native forest and have more questions, you can reach out to vijay.dhasmana@gmail.com

CREATING CORRIDORS OF WILDERNESS IN CITIES

The film ‘The Upcycled Walkway’ captures the transformation of a neglected Bundh (traditional groundwater recharging structure) area filled with waste into a thriving corridor of native Aravalli flora in the heart of Gurgaon city in the National Capital Region of India. The local administration, forest department, corporate sector and citizens are all stakeholders in the creation, restoration and preservation of this biodiversity rich wilderness space.

CREATING BIODIVERSITY RICH SPACES IN RESIDENTIAL AND INSTITUTIONAL AREAS 

Human connect with the wild is very important. Native trees, shrubs, herbs, grasses of the right ecology should be planted in gardens in individual homes and open spaces in residential, office and institutional complexes to create more biodiversity rich areas in cities. This will not only help in expanding the green lungs and water recharge capacity of our urban areas but also create habitats for native birds, bees, butterflies and other life forms thereby increasing our nature connect. 

Vijay Dhasmana, the ecologist advises, “If an institution or a housing complex in the cities of the National Capital Region and the states of Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat is large enough, I would recommend that they create small forest patches of the Aravallis with native trees, shrubs and grasses.

  • Main canopy Aravalli tree species can be that of Dhau, Salai, Amaltash, Dhak, Kullu, Ronjh, Kumath, Doodhi, Barna, Sargooro, Gurjan, Roheda, Gamhar, Harsingar, Krishan Kadam (depending on the local ecology). 
  • Understorey trees like Bistendu, Chamrod, Harsingar, Kuda that are of lesser height as compared to the main canopy trees can be planted as the 2nd tier.
  • Shrub species such as Goyakhair, Gangeti, Kair, Adusa, Marodphali and others can be planted as the 3rd tier. 
  • There are some gorgeous climbers that should be added such as Vallaris spp, Ichnocarpus spp, Telosma phallida, Watakaka volubilis and many others.”

The sheer beauty of the flora species recommended above is illustrated by these images of native Aravalli flowers in bloom.

The challenge is the availability of native plants in normal nurseries. If you live in the National Capital Region, you can check on native saplings for sale during the planting season (July and August) at the Aravali Biodiversity Park nursery. Contact: pritisanwalka@gmail.com
Going forward, as citizens, we hope that forest nurseries and commercial nurseries can start the process of preparing native saplings for distribution to the masses.

SPECIAL THANKS

Would like to thank Vijay Dhasmana and Abhishek Gulshan for sharing the beautiful images of the Aravalli landscape, flora and fauna used in this blog. Would also like to express gratitude to Vivek Jangid and Nitin Das who helped in putting the native planting film together. For any comments, feedback or clarifications on this blog, please write to the author  Neelam Ahluwalia at healingourcities1@gmail.com

 

NOTE

Visit http://bit.ly/aravallibachao for more information on the citizen’s campaign to protect the Aravallis.

Links to other blogs on this website:

https://healingourcities.org/2020/06/21/native-planting-in-the-western-ghats/

https://healingourcities.org/water-management/

https://healingourcities.org/waste-matters/responsible-waste-management/

9 thoughts on “NATIVE PLANTING IN THE ARAVALLIS”

  1. Great narration of native plantation with the right level of details which will allow common man get informed and hopefully take some actions in planting native.
    Very well researched and action oriented.
    Cheers!
    Puja

    Liked by 1 person

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