The native montane grasslands once covered nearly 70 % of the Nilgiri plateau. Today, only 7% of the original expanse of native grasslands remain in the Nilgiris. THe Nilgiri grasslands are home to close to 650 species of plants. They are important habitat of large herbivores, and countless numbers of insects reptiles and birds. Grasslands are also huge stores of carbon, they fix carbon rapidly in the soil. They help stop soil erosion and build the soil profile. Grasslands help absorb water, form perennial streams and grassland tracts act as fodder for herbivores.
The first native grassland and wetland nursery in the Nilgiris was setup by Upstream Ecology. Grassland ecology is easily taken-over by exotic-invasive plants. This is why it has been so difficult to grow back grassland ecology. But with 3 years of research and trial, it has been possible to isolate populations that can take on such pressures. With the varieties we grow at the nursery, grasslands can begin to regenerate in as short a span as a year!
The first step in restoring a native grassland is to establish the basal layer of native tussock grasses. Here in the Nilgiri plateau, the soils where restoration is required, are a seed-bank of invasive exotic plants. Hence the challenge is to use the composition of native grass, which can withstand these pressures and grow amognst them. Once the basal layer of native grasses are etablished, other native grassland shrubs and herbs can be introduced. The adjoining image shows the spacing we use when planting native tussock grasses. This is how large native tussock grasses are typically planted - one in each of the squares. Smaller native tussock grasses are planted within a tighter spacing.
The shola-grassland restoration project (shola project in short) aims at growing back the native ecology of this campus-watershed. The restoration works are being designed as programmes that students can implement and get involved with. The aim of the project is to be able to increase the space for native biodiversity in the campus, rebuild the hydrology of the watershed and aid in services such as soil building and conservation. A 3.5 acre patch of land was selected above the school's check-dam (the old orchard), for grassland restoration. On the 2nd of December, 2016, ground work to clear the site of its exotic invasive occupation commenced. The plants that were removed were: Cestrum aurantiacum (mainly), Cytisus scoparious (broom), Ulex Europaeus (Gorse), Solanum mauritinanum, Pennisetum clandestinium (Kikuyu Grass) and Ageratina adenophora (Eupatorium).
The project is being supported by the alumni of the Lawrence School, who are keen on bringing-back native grassland vegetation to the campus. The batch of 1981, and Leap Green Energy Pvt Limited are key contributors to initiating the project.
The entire watershed region encompassing Lawrence School and adjoining Reserve Forest areas in over 1500 acres. Grassland ecology is extinct in this entire expanse. Shola forests patches are also in very degraded states. Our intention is to work here in the long term with all the stake-holders to regenerate this watershed.