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A regeneration project that is underway at the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary to revive the natural ecosystem of the Aravallis, could provide a roadmap for the forest department to restore other degraded ecosystems in the city.
The project, which began in 2020, aims to recreate 10 microhabitats or vegetation types of the northern Aravallis on 12 hectares of land at the sanctuary. Additionally, grasslands are being restored on around two hectares. Besides grasslands, the microhabitats include dhau and palash forests. “It involves ‘assistive regeneration’ where we do a comprehensive study of the soil and moisture. We then come up with what could be added to complement the existing vegetation,” said Sohail Madan, the assistant director of Bombay Natural History Society, which is undertaking the project along with the forest department.
In addition to the dhau and palash forests and the grasslands, microhabitats will also include kaim, babul, and khair trees.
The invasive species which suppress natural growth — lantana, subabul, vilayati kikar and parthenium grass – are removed first. Mature vilayati kikar trees are pruned, and fast-growing shrubs, creepers and trees are planted around them to suppress their growth.
The All India Women’s Conference has been helping out with volunteers who carry out plantation activities that are part of the restoration project, Madan said.
The 12 hectares that are being restored are meant to be a model restoration project that can be replicated by the forest department at other sites. A similar restoration project for the Central Ridge had earlier run into a conflict over what is to be done with the vilayati kikar trees, since they cannot be uprooted entirely. The invasive species are, however, abundant in Delhi. The State of Forest Report of 2021 pegs the extent of vilayati kikar at three square kilometres in the city.
The project doesn’t focus on the mass plantation of trees, and accords significance to grasslands and shrubs. The restoration of the 12-hectare plot is being done systematically, with a methodology and monitoring framework in place, to make it more effective, Madan said.
“If we do come up with a standard operating procedure, it could help plantations that happen in the future. If done properly, this way we can revive forests faster with very little intervention. We are not doing mass plantations, but assistive regeneration. It could be replicated, though it will take time,” Madan said.
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In the two years, since the restoration project began, birds and insects in some parts have increased, he added. Ecological restoration is underway in other parts of the sanctuary as well.
Meanwhile, a senior forest department official said efforts are being made to turn the area that overlooks the Neeli Jheel in the sanctuary into an eco-tourism spot. Seating areas, viewing points, walkways, and basic facilities like toilets and space to park cars are in the offing. “It will be a viewpoint from the cliff, and people won’t be allowed to go lower down near the lake,” the official said. Work is yet to begin, he added.
However, Madan said the eco-tourism project would have to be carefully managed and regulated. He said the jheel is an important site for the wildlife in the sanctuary. “The priority is the wildlife there, and the safety of people coming. It is one of the only sources of water for all 12 months,” he added.
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