While 70% of the Nilgiris were native grasslands, 30% of land were shola forests. The forests are also known as ‘cloud’ forests, holding the ability to draw moisture from the mist, and retain cloud cover. Over 98 shola tree species have been identified in the Nilgiris. At Upstream Ecology, one of our goals is to work towards recreating entire shola forest communities, and recreating these rare ‘cloud forests.’ Although they are making a slow comeback over their traditional habitat, regenerating Shola forests is still extremely beneficial to the biosphere. Regenerating Shola forests is a challenge. Several factors, including soil conditions, topography and frost incidence must be taken into account, which we study at Upstream Ecology.
Our shola tree guards are made from exotic species. We use wattle (Acacia mearnsii) stumps to make a frame, and an exotic species named Broom (Cytisus scoparious) to create shade for the Shola. These sources of shade protect the tree from frost, grazing animals and from drying up - thus ensuring their survival.
We also grow shola-grassland edge niche varieties. The edge is very important in keeping a shola forest intact, and helping it act like cloud forest. It has a high diversity of native species. More than 15 species of the rare Kurinji are found growing in this niche in different part of the plateau. Once we assess whether sholas have previously thrived in an area, we can regenerate shola forestlands.
One of the first projects started, where shola forest trees were planted out in a tea estate in the Doddabetta mountain. Doddabetta mountain, known as Pettmaarsh by the Toda indigenous people, is the second highest peak in India, south of the Himalayas. At over 2600m, it is the highest mountain in the Nilgiris. This entire mountain region would have once been a stunning shola-grassland mosaic. But sadly, much of it has been destoyed. There are a few pocket sholas that remain, but grasslands are nearly extinct on these slopes. Our first shola planting project here began in a former tea estate. The land, amounting to 50 acres belongs to Total Environment Pvt Limited, Bangalore. The project of restoring this land by trying to bring back as much native plant ecology as possible, is being worked on along with Botanical Services, Auroville. We began planting shola trees in 2013, and will ensure that almost all the 3000 trees planted grow well and establish quickly. The adjoing image shows Upstream Ecology conservation gardeners at the Total Environment site after a planting season where hundreds of tea bushes were removed and replaced by planting shola trees.