The sixth mass extinction calls for every action possible to resist the final destruction of the natural world and of human community, and to prepare us all for what is to come. There is no question that the cessation of clear-felling of ancient biomes and of human communities within these biomes, is the first and most necessary task. Nothing else can mitigate, or repair the damage done, for a natural habitat once lost, is lost forever, and whatever replaces it, is something novel, different, with an altered ecology, formed out of remnant populations, refugees, invasives and planted (human-assisted) species.
Ecosystem gardening is one such action to support species and habitat. It is a term to cover ex-situ conservation of plant species, regeneration and rehabilitation of natural habitat, traditional home gardens that mimic local ecosystems, and what is now being called assisted migration of species to prepare for climate change. A number of initiatives in south India are addressing these issues. This talk focuses on the conservation and education work of the Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary (GBS) in the Western Ghats of India as well as its collaboration with Vattakanal Conservation Trust, the Tamil Nadu Forest Department, and a number of private and community based projects.
GBS has built up extensive populations for 30% of the region’s flora through a strategy that involves: high intervention and a high degree of protection or “leaving alone”. Many of the species found in GBS lands are rare and endangered and for some the Sanctuary may be their last refuge. Much of the gene pool is endemic, including orchids, impatiens, peppers, grasses, aroids, acanths, gingers, mosses and ferns. GBS’s location (at the edge of a reserve forest), elevation (at 750 metres) and climate (8 months of rain/year) allowing the growth of rich and complex semi-natural plant communities representing a wide range of habitats/conditions across the Ghats.
About the speaker:
Suprabha Seshan lives and works at the Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary, and undertakes all its educational and outreach activities, including restoration initiatives with the Tamil Nadu Forest Department in the Upper Nilgiris. She was winner of the 2006 Whitley Award, and has spoken regionally and internationally about the ecological basis for a healthy planet: wild plants, wild animals and their wild environments. Her background includes: an internship at The Land Institute in USA, which has done 50 years of intensive research and applied ecology in the area of agroecology and prairie restoration through perennial polycultures and; 12 years of education at the Krishnamurti Foundation centres, which have been pioneers in land and habitat restoration since the 1950s.
Suprabha draws on stories from her 20 years of experience in the forests of southern India, and the lives of plants, animals and humans she shares her mountain home with, as well as the environmental biography of their locality, the Wayanad. She invites an exploration of a life in community with non-humans and the two contrasting aspects of nature that ecosystem gardeners work with: resilience and fragility. The whole forest and its myriad beings can indeed return, but only when certain conditions are met and only with the right kind of help. This is critical: with the right kind of help, the whole forest, and all its beings, grows outwards again.
The questions that drive the Sanctuary's work echo through her presentation: What must we do to bring the forests back? What is it to listen to the natural world? What do the plants have to say? Whom do we love?