Ian Lockwood


Posts Tagged ‘ecological restoration

Recent Publications

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Opening image in Frontline article. Th image shows winter mist in eucalyptus plantations below Perumal Peak with remnant montane grasslands.

Opening image in Frontline article. The image shows winter mist in eucalyptus plantations below Perumal Peak with remnant montane grasslands. 

In the last several months I have had the opportunity to have two important portfolios of black & white images published in prominent Indian publications. In September the Indian Quarterly published a photo essay on sholas in the Western Ghats entitled “Spirit Mountains.” This collection of images and a short text grew out of an online conversation with Suprarba Seshan who was looking for images to accompany her article “People of the Rain” article that appears the same issue. Her article went on to be illustrated Diba Siddiq who is also associated with the Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary, while I was allotted ten pages for the shola story. The issue is focused on rain and also includes a story about Agumbe by our prolific writer friend Janaki Lenin. Avtar Singh, the managing editor based in New Delhi, played a key role in pulling it all together. The images, all black & white, were chosen to illustrate the aesthetic themes of rain and diversity as seen in the sholas of the southern Western Ghats.

Some of the pages from the Indian Quarterly photo essay

Some of the pages from the Indian Quarterly photo essay “Spirit Mountains.” Published in July 2015.

This month Frontline has just published “Plantation Paradox” a photo essay accompanying my rambling exploration of the complications of non-native timber plantations in the Palani Hills. The Chennai-based magazine is part of the larger Hindu publications group-known for their reasoned, somewhat left-leaning reporting and support of secular, multicultural India. The pictures in this story are also all black & white and closely illustrate themes from the 3000+ word article. The article includes a version of the GIS-generated map (utilizing 30m SRTM USGS/NASA tiles) that I worked on earlier this year. It illustrates the 1,500m contour (shola/grassland areas) in the southern Western Ghats. Vijayasankar Ramachandran, the editor at Frontline was my contact who made this publication possible. We have worked together on several past articles that explored themes of conservation and ecology in the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka. In particular several of my Frontline articles have focused on issues in Kodaikanal and the Palani Hills where changes in the ecology, pressure from tourism and ambiguity about the status of the conservation of remote hills has been in flux (see list & links below).


  • 2012 April                  “Breathing Life Back into the Sholas”
  • 2009 November         “Fragile Heritage: Bombay Shola”
  • 2006 August               “Kurinji Crown”
  • 2003 August               “The Palni Hills: On the Danger List”

* There used to be web links for these but my understanding is that they are not active anymore.

Note: My spelling of Palani has evolved over time as seen in the title above. I previously used to use “Palni” (as in what is used by the PHCC). However, after talking with Tamil language experts and looking at changes in official documentation, I have adopted the widely accepted “Palani.” This is how the temple town, that the hills are named for, is spelt. For Kodaikanal, I continue to use “Kodai” while I have noted attempts by some individuals and publications to shorten this to “Kodi!”

Ecological Restoration in the Palani Hills

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Breathing life back into the sholas…spreads from the Frontline (20 April 2012) article.

Last summer while enjoying a holiday in Kodaikanal filled with hiking and outings with friends at the Vattakanal Conservation Trust it occurred to me that it was time to update the status of the ecology in the upper Palani Hills. Some of the observations were published in earlier blog posts but Bob, Tanya and I were also looking to reach a broader audience.  Frontline, with the able support of Vijaykumar has now published a series of my articles on the Palanis (2003), the Kurinji flowering (2006) and Bombay Shola (2010) all geared at raising awareness through text, photographs and maps. It was thus logical to look to them to highlight the current status of the upper hills. We took several fact-finding expeditions during June and July into the hills and the state of remnant montane grasslands was quite alarming. The spread of non-native species into these last outposts was significant.

It took me a while to get the article and pictures together for Frontline but earlier this month it was published as Breathing Life Back into the Sholas(click here for the HTML version). Bob & Tanya, meanwhile worked with various authorities to get permission and raise funds to do some emergency restoration work in the habitats that we had visited. Their field notes had alerted people to the issues that I have highlighted in the article. On our family’s recent visit to Kodai I was thrilled to hear that VCT has the go head and will shortly be organizing a team to spend time doing restoration work in those highly sensitive cliff areas. Above and below are the spreads from the article. In spite of the title, the article is really about recognizing and restoring remnant montane grasslands habitats (sholas, you will read, are actually doing quite well in the Palani Hills).

Breathing life back into the sholas…more spreads from the Frontline (20 April 2012) article.

One of the key recommendations of several conservationists, as well as the article, is that there is an urgent need for an updated and dynamic GIS of the Palani Hills. This may well be in the process with the support of various agencies and NGOs. In the meantime I’m working on a map for VCT highlighting the 1,500m contour (where shola/grasslands start in most areas). This is still a work in progress…

Written by ianlockwood

2012-04-21 at 6:25 pm

Restoration & Revival in the Anaimalais

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We had a very satisfying encounter with a troop of Lion Tailed Macaques (Macaca silenus) that was in the process of raiding the Puthuthottam Estate hospital. I was able to follow them into a patch of mixed plantation and natural vegetation forest to take the pictures in this post.


The South West was in full force when Lenny and I drove to the Anaimalais from Kodai via Palani and Udumalpet. We had hired the good services of AP John and his small Indica for the three-day rip. The Anaimalais Tiger Reserve (ATR) is a large and expansive protected area though it is interrupted by large patches of human settlements and modified landscapes. Most people looking for wildlife will head to Topslip, which is south-west of Pollachi. The Valparai area has traditionally attracted fewer people and for good reason. The accommodation options are limited and the area is dominated by large monoculture estates of tea. Access into the forests and high Grasshills area of ATR is strictly restricted and is not a viable option without significant bureaucratic gymnastics in Chennai and Pollachi.

Clearing showers over the Aliyar reservoir looking east into the Anaimalai Hillss.

The ride up to Valparai is worth the trip in itself. The ghat road up from Udumalpet via the Aliyar reservoir  has an incredible 40 hairpin bends (the Battlagundu-Kodaikanal ghat only has one for comparison’s sake)! The road winds its way up a steep ascent with dry deciduous and thorn forest that quickly changes into moist-deciduous and then evergreen rainforest in the space of 10-20 kilometers.

View looking north from hairpin Bend #9/40 on the Pollachi-Valparai road. At times this is a good location to see Nilgiri tahr.

One of the most promising conservation projects in the Western Ghats is based out of Valparai where the Nature Conservation Foundation is working with several tea estates to restore degraded rainforest patches. The issue is close to my heart and something that I continue to learn and teach about. I’ve worked with the Vattakanal Conservation Trust to highlight their restoration work in shola/grasslands habitats changed by the widespread introduction of non-native tree species in the Palani and Nilgiri Hills. My 2005 article in Sanctuary entitled (by the editors) “the next big thing” described their work and the challenges of restoration in such sensitive habitats. In the article I mentioned the NCF work in the Anaimalais and have wanted to see it in person since.

Lenny outside and inside of the Anaimalai Nature Information Centre (ANIC).

NCF, of course, does a good deal more than ecological restoration and they have research projects in the Western Ghats, North-East and Andaman, Nicobar and Lakshadweep Islands. Before going over to the Anaimalais I contacted Shankar ‘Sridhar’ Raman and Divya Mudappa to set up a time to visit the NCF interpretation center.  They were away but were able too hook me up with other NCF team members in Valparai. I first remember meeting Sridhar in Sengeltheri, (KMTR) in 1997 when he was conducting his dissertation study of birds in tropical rainforests of the Southern Western Ghats. I was on a short visit and was enjoying fine pre-monsoon weather to document different scenes including the view that led to the “Kalakad tree” image. Karthikeyan Vasudevan, of the Wildlife Institute of India, was also staying in the same hut conducting his research on amphibians. I remember being thoroughly impressed with their set up, passion for their work and individual studies.

Along the road to Valparai NCF runs what must be the most effective and informative interpretation centers in the entire Western Ghats.  The Anaimalai Nature Information Centre (ANIC) was our first stop on the Valparai plateau and Lenny and I were warmly welcomed. The location is a small bungalow immediately next to the main Valparai road in the Iyerpadi area. There are rooms dedicated to different habitats, species and challenges in the Western Ghats. A large number of attractively designed posters with beautiful digital pictures, write-ups and paintings by Maya Ramaswamy helps the viewer get a real sense for the range. They also have several publications for kids and adults and we left with lots of materials for the kids and school. I was happy to pick up an extra copy of Whitaker and Captain’s Snakes of India to replace the one that I had given to my Dhonavur friends. Our first point of contact at NCF was P. Jeganathan later Ananda Kumar talked to me about the plant nurseries. Jegan set us up to find the LTMs at the Puthuthottam estate utilizing the sharp skills of their watcher Joseph. Later that day he took us on a tour of the NCF nursery and interesting points near Valparai.

Satish, one of NCF’s Valparai team members, shows off a three-year old Cullenia excelsa sapling that he is getting ready to transfer from the nursery to a degraded forest patch in the a nearby estate.

The NCF nursery was wet and misty on both days that I visited. Tata Tea has given them a section of one of their own tea nurseries to nurture rainforest trees that are collected from seeds on roadsides in forest fragments. These are documented, germinated and grown for the next 2-3 years. Once fragments are identified in tea-estate forests, sapling are taken from the nursery and planted during the monsoon season. The forest structure and conditions are carefully considered when choosing species to plant. Grazing has to be curtailed and invasive species removed when possible.  Local communities, play a key role in education outreach and efforts to reduce collection of rainforest trees for firewood. A good deal of science and research goes into it and my observations were fleeting. Nevertheless, I came away impressed and hopeful in these small efforts to redress ecological ruin.

Lion Tailed Macaques (Macaca silenus) in mixed (plantation+ natural) forest near the Puthuthottam Estate hospital.