Wednesday, Dec 17, 2014

Wasteland to Wonderland

Written by Ranjit Lal | Posted: February 12, 2012 10:46 pm

How a devastated patch of land was turned into the bountiful Yamuna Biodiversity Park in Delhi

Way back in 2002 or 2003,when I first visited the area that the Centre for the Environmental Management of Degraded Ecosystems (CEMDE) of Delhi University had been given by the DDA to develop into a biodiversity park,north of Wazirabad,I thought it was one of the most harebrained ideas of the new millennium. The area — 157 acres — was not degraded — it was devastated,the sort of place where you would test to destruction battle tanks. Huge mounds of sandy earth and mud,a few spindly bushes and trees,that’s it. Here,they wanted to develop a park which,according to their mission statement,was “to serve as a repository of biodiversity of the Yamuna river basin,with ecological,cultural and education benefits for the urban society and having conservation values.” Talk about being ambitious!

What I hadn’t taken into consideration,was that a deviously cunning and scientifically clinical battle plan was going to be put into action,devised by Professor CR Babu of Delhi University and his team. Ironically their first major enemy was the soil itself,ferociously saline,sandy and hostile. But then there were plants they knew about,grasses and legumes,which leach salt from the soil. Eventually,the soil was made more amenable to supporting flora. Now the rest of the plan could be put into place. The various ecosystems prevailing in the Yamuna river basin had been researched and studied and what they now did was to replicate these in various modules in the park. Today there are 20 such modules ranging from grasslands and acacia woodlands to wetland communities and tropical thorn forests. Two rain-fed water bodies were created,a winding shallow water body and a large deep water body.

Word must have got around the animal kingdom: Here at last was a place,where there was food,water and shelter. Good food too. In the large water body for example,a menu of aquatic plants,which ducks thrive on was provided,so the ducks came in droves every winter (over 5,000 this winter).

Back in 2002,there were four species of mammals,going up to 18 last year,including the civet (which,it is thought may be earmarking its territory),wild boar,and porcupine. In the beginning,there were 27 species of birds; last year,the tally was 189. Insect species shot up from 39 to 298. A free-flying butterfly conservatory was set up and as many as 60 species of butterflies have been recorded.

It’s a two-way street because the presence or absence of a particular species is often an indicator of the prevailing environmental conditions. For example,the jewel in the crown of the park as far as migratory ducks go,is the flamboyant red-crested pochard; a bird that is particular about clean water. Over 200 have come this year and this is the only water body around Delhi that they visit. The presence of the dark-and-light-blue pied paddy skimmer dragonfly is another such indication.

Apart from conservation,education is high on the park’s priorities. Groups of schoolchildren (more than 5,000 last year) and college students are regularly continued…

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