Western Ghats

Reviving the Rainforest

Ecological restoration of degraded rainforest in the Anamalai hills

Can a biologically diverse forest, once degraded or destroyed, be brought back to its original state? Relatively undisturbed forests are best left alone, rather than modified in the belief that they can be restored. Yet, forests already degraded or fragmented may be worth restoring, as in the Anamalai hills.

Fixing fragmented forests

Our restoration programme in the Western Ghats focuses on the region’s unique, biologically diverse tropical rainforests. Historically, due to human activities, these forests have been cleared, degraded, or reduced to fragments scattered like islands amidst towns and cities, dams and mines, farms and plantations.  A growing body of field research, including our own, suggests that remnant rainforests cannot be conserved through protection alone. One also needs to restore degraded lands to improve habitat quality to enable the survival of threatened species that live within these forest patches and to reconnect existing patches, if possible, to enhance the entire conservation landscape.

Restoration and recovery

Since 2001, we have worked in the Valparai plateau, Anamalai hills, to ecologically restore ten rainforest fragments (1 to 100 ha in area), three sites contiguous with the Anamalai Tiger Reserve, and a perennial stream flowing through tea plantation. The sites are identified and protected in partnership with the plantation companies (Parry Agro Industries Ltd, Tata Coffee Ltd, Tea Estates India Ltd–earlier Hindustan Unilever Ltd) and the Tamil Nadu Forest Department. While the sites occupy around 300 ha, restoration plantings targeted 45 plots (50 ha) in the most degraded portions, especially fragment edges. In these sites, we have planted 26,500 saplings of over 160 native rainforest tree (and some liana) species.Early monitoring showed that an average of 61% of the planted saplings survived at the end of two years. As these sapling establish along with resurgent natural vegetation, the fragments are on the road to recovery. Visit our Rainforest Restoration Project Showcase to see more.

Native shade trees in plantations

Restoration of rainforest fragments can be complemented by efforts to improve land-use practices and increase native tree cover in surrounding plantations. A large number of native tree species hold potential for use as shade trees in plantations, but have been overlooked or rarely tried out. Using saplings from our rainforest plant nursery at Valparai, plantation companies in the Anamalai hills have planted nearly 15,000 saplings of around 60 native tree species since 2004. A number of species, planted out as shade in coffee, cardamom, tea, and vanilla plantations have established well, some even doing better than commonly used alien species such as silver oak.