The power of youth now extends to protecting our environment what with eco clubs in college and volunteering with various campaigns. MADHUMITHA SRINIVASAN talks to various eco soldiers across the city to learn about their fight for the city’s green and to campuses that take pride in their flora.
Estimates from recent tree surveys carried out by Forest Department suggest that we have less than 4.5 per cent tree cover in Chennai city. And cities need to have at least about 15 to 20 per cent tree cover.
Commonly seen tree species include Veppam (Neem), Indian Beech (Pungam), Nattuvaadam (Indian Badam), Iyalvagai (Copper Pod), Thoongumoonji Maram (Rain Tree), Gul Mohur, Peepal (Arasamaram), Nettulingam (False Ashoka), Peenari (Horse Almond), Puvarasan (Portia Tree).
The Adyar Poonga has a very interesting diversity of Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest species. The Semmozhi Poonga too has some wonderful old indigenous species like Neer Maruthu and Mayilaadi. We also have wonderful green pockets of biodiversity in the Guindy National Park and the Theosophical Society.
Then and now
Mega development projects and an insensitive approach to treeshas meant that the city has lost thousands of trees over the years. North Chennai is particularly barren, which is why that part is especially hot and dry. But the city’s topography was not always so barren. Historically, Chennai was a settlement identified by its â€œthopesâ€ or groves. Manthope, Palathope, Pulianthope… there were thopes in Chintadripet, along the Coovum, and in many other places. One reason for the decline in urban tree cover is that the city lacks designated policies to safeguard its trees. There is imperative need for a Tree Authority and a Tree Act for Tamil Nadu to safeguard trees in private and public spaces.
For the youngsters…
I feel youngsters are now more aware of the importance of trees around them. You just need to facilitate right action for trees. And get them to care for trees, young and old, in ways that really matter to the trees!
Be tree guardians for the trees on your street first, see that they do not suffer any form of abuse like boards nailed on them, garbage and debris at their bases and so on. And where you can plant, do so AND take care of them till they can be on their own…at least for a year!
Shoba is a trustee with Nizhal, an organisation formed to promote concern for trees in the city and is famous for its “tree walks” organised around the city.
What is a tree census and what do you do?
Tree census is counting kinds and numbers of trees. It is essentially a stock taking process. This exercise is needed for the purpose of managing urban greenery and for green planning of the city. It also provides data on tree rich areas, heritage and old trees.
Highlight of the latest tree census.
Tree census in Guindy National Park is nearing completion. Several academic institutions have completed the census in their campuses. They include: Presidency College, Women’s Christian College, Stella Maris College, Qaid-e-Millet College for Women, Nandanam Arts College, R.M. Vivekanada College, Justice Basheer Ahmed College for Women (SIET), D.G. Vaishnav College, S.D.N.B. Vasihnav College for Women, Pachaiyappa college and Madras Museum. The data is being analysed for total kinds and their numbers.
How are trees essential to the city’s green health?
The green cover for Chennai is less compared to other cities. Hence what exists becomes crucial. These are Chennai’s carbon cleaners, dust and noise filters and air conditioners.
Which areas have maximum green cover?
It is very evident. Guindy National Park with its extended campuses like IIT, Guru Nanak College, and the memorials, and Theosophical Society within the city.
What are the areas of botanical interest in Chennai?
Guindy National Park, IIT, Museum, WCC, Theosophical Society and Agri- Horticultural Society.
Some interesting facts about Chennai’s flora…
Chennai, due its long colonial rule, has been a favourite location for plant introduction activities. A number of foresters and other distinguished Englishmen such as Cleghorn, Balfour, Anderson did a great deal of work. The oldest trees of Chennai, other than the well known Adyar Banyan, are at the most 150 to 200 years old which are still good witnesses for the history of Chennai.
Narasimhan is Associate Professor, Department of Botany, Centre for Floristic Research, Madras Christian College.
Madhuri, an engineering student at SRM Easwari College of Engineering, and a volunteer with Nizhal, on why she joined the green army:
“I have volunteered with Nizhal for three years and was introduced to it by my senior. I am also working with other organisations. I support the cause of indigenous plants. Through our college eco-club, we conduct rallies and, as an engineering student, I am trying to work on eco-friendly projects.
With such activities, at the end of the day you are left feeling happy and satisfied that you have done your bit for the earth. But many youngsters, I feel, always ask ‘What do I get out of this?’, ‘Do I get a certificate?’, ‘Can I mention this in my resume?’. They have to think about environment selflessly.
Here are a few things that people can do a personal basis:
- Carry jute/cloth bags for shopping
- Thank and appreciate the shopkeepers who provide cloth bags
- Let responsible organisations know when a tree near your place is being cut down.
- Let shopkeepers/managers know that it is harmful for the trees to have lights around them.
- Water the plants near your apartments once in a while in summer (Residents can take turns to do it).
A scene in the recent Tamil movie “7am Arivu” has a dialogue in which a description of IIT Madras is met with an incredulous response: “What could be there? It is only a forest!”
Known as one of the country’s premier educational institutes, IIT-Madras also has the enviable reputation of being home to about 300 different species of flora. The most common of the native flora are the various types of fig trees including the Banyan, Strangler Fig, Peepal and Cluster Fig, numbering about 400 trees on campus.
The college boasts of the unique distinction of having such a large number of different fig trees, which are not only the big carbon sinks but also provide shelter to various species of animals, birds and insects. Other rarer species of flora include the Wild Lime, Sandpaper tree and the Putranjiva among others. An estimate shows that the campus is host to about 4000 trees, accounting for a significant portion of the city’s tree cover.
Students are known to take a keen interest in the natural resource that surrounds them. One recent example is the number of volunteers who came forward for the tree census being conducted, irrespective of their background in the field. However, there is some apprehension among the nature lovers on campus; with the amount of construction work going on, what will happen to this blanket of green?
YASHASVINI RAJESHWAR, student of IIT-M (With inputs from Prof. Susy Varughese and Samyuktha Kannan of Prakriti, campus-based wildlife club)
Women’s Christian College
- Women’s Christian College was started in 1915 and is spread across 18 acres.
- There are about 270 species of plants in the campus, of which 110 are trees and others are herbs, shrubs and climbers.
- The trees have been documented in the book The Green Grandeur of Women’s Christian College, by Pauline Deborah R. and Dr. Ridling Waller, a descriptive catalogue with colour photographs of 105 trees in the campus.
- A tree census carried out by the students of Plant Biology in November 2011 revealed that the campus has 680 trees.
- The college tree is Peltophorum pterocarpum (Rusty Shield Bearer), since it has the college colours: yellow, brown and green. This is represented by the largest number in the campus — 66 trees.
- There is a 75-year-old tree, Tabebuia rosea, that was planted by the first Principal of WCC, Dr. Eleanor Mcdougall, on August, 07,1935, to commemorate the college’s 20th anniversary.
- An 80-year-old alumnus planted a rare sapling, Voacanga grandifolia on August 15, 2007, during the 60th year Independence day celebrations in the campus. She was a student when the Indian flag was hoisted for the first time in 1947.
- The campus has indigenous and exotic plants with medicinal, ornamental and sacred values.
- Some rare tree saplings planted recently (2010-2012) are Artocarpus incisus (Breadfruit Tree), Dalbergia latifolia (Indian Rosewood), Dillenia indica (Elephant Apple), Hildegardia populifolia (Poplar-leaved Tree), Holoptelea integrifolia (Indian Elm), Pterospermum acerifolium (Dinner Plate Tree/Kanak champaca) and Simarouba glauca (Paradise Tree). These were obtained from the Forest Department nursery and Centre for Floristic Research, Madras Christian College.
- Some of the rare trees are Averrhoa carambola (Star Fruit Tree), Brownea grandiceps (Rose of Venezuela), Cassia javanica (Apple Blossom Shower), Cycas circinalis (False Sago Palm), Guaiacum officinale (Wood of Life), Holarrhena antidysenterica (Easter Flower), Pseudobombax ellipticum (Shaving Brush Flower) and Saraca asoca (True Ashok).
- Plants in the campus are pollinated by bats, birds, butterflies and bees.
- An ongoing project on “Trees and Human Health with special reference to the City of Chennai” sponsored by the United Board for Higher Education in Asia is being carried out (2011-2012).
PAULINE DEBORAH R., Dept of Plant Biology, Women’s Christian College
College of Engineering, Guindy:
The objective of our Green Brigade is to assess and minimise the ecological footprint made by Anna University. We promote green principles, spread awareness on sustainability and educate others about endemic flora and fauna. So far, we have 271 registered members of which 75-80 are active participants in core activities.
Our activities in the past five months include:
- Presentation classes on Sholas and Grasslands
- Tree census in the University campus documenting 2488 trees
- Trekking in the Nilgiris combined with nature learning classes
- Visit to a zero-waste management home
- Lecture on solid waste management plant by environmental scientist K S Sivaprasad (We invited people from Chennai corporation too)
- Competitions like material hunt and quiz.
We do what we do because we realised these trees came to earth long before us and deserve a greater right than us to exist. They are our great-great ancestors.
Some of the flora in our campus are: Red Sandalwood (Adenanthera pavonina), Neem (Azadirachta indica), Algaroba (Prosopis juliflora), Pink trumpet tree (Tabebuia rosea), Tamarind (Tamarindus indica), Solitary fishtail palm (Caryota urens), Indian Beech (Pongamia pinnata), Indian Butter Tree (Madhuca longifolia var. longifolia), Indian Tulip Tree (Thespesia populnea) and many more.
DIVYABHARATHI M., III Year, ECE, College of Engineering, Guindy and President, Green Brigade
In reaction to the current state of the environment, “Ecoyouth” began in November 2009. Ecoyouth works on current issues concerning environment and sustainability. We have around 30+ people in the club and 1/3rd are most active members. Besides, we also have non-member students who support our activities.
People often identify us as Eco’YOU’th members. The best part is that people come with our badge and tell us they are members of Ecoyouth and ask us to join them.
Frankly speaking, most of my friends hate it when I talk about â€œgreenâ€ stuff but there are a few who show concern and support us. Our Generation is at a â€˜Y’ juncture, where decisions taken now will decide the future. Youngsters are the backbone of any change in the world.
We have two campuses. The main (old) campus is completely green. You’ll find many huge trees and gardens and the annexe (new) has decent green cover.
- Part of Climate Solution Road Tour (Chennai-Delhi, 4500km), January-February 2009.
- Part of the Indian delegation to COP15 and COP16 in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Cancun, Mexico respectively. Conference Of Parties is UN Conference on Climate Change.
- Collaborated with 350.org(350me) on International Day of Climate Action held at Spaces, Besant Nagar.
- Works with CII Southern on bringing about awareness to Chennai’s neighbourhoods with the “Naan Chennai Nesakrai”.
- Started a series of recycle projects aimed at recycling unused books. The first project, Recycle 1.0, was in November 2009 followed by another successful Recycle 2.0 in 2010, while preparations are in progress for the third one this year.
SRIVATSA, III Year, B.E. Mechanical, and member of Ecoyouth.
The objective is to educate our members about the importance of the environment. We conduct many activities like clean-ups. At present, we have more than 500 members and all are active. Each pitches in with new ideas. Personally, I joined the club so that I can learn different ways of projecting the environment. My hobby in photography and most of the pictures I take are of Nature.
My college has a variety of trees around the campus .The name of each tree is on a board so that people can identify them. This helps keep our campus clean and breezy. They also absorb sound from outside the college, making the environment within peaceful.
Just outside the Enviro Club, we have a huge tree providing shade to a lot of people and a number of clubs. Its branches spread especially over ours making it one of the coolest clubs of Loyola College, literally!
My peers support trees and see it as a living creature rather than as a thing used to make furniture. If we can educate one person about the environment and make him/her work for it, I am sure it will become a chain reaction. We have been successful in that endeavour because our club has the largest numbers of members!
DWARAKESH SURESH, II Year, B.Com. Loyola College and member of the Enviro Club.
Popularity: 1% [?]