Developing Landscape Specific Guidelines relating to Hotspecks of Biodiversity and Identification of Hotspecks in Reserved Forests and other areas outside Forest Lands in the Western Ghats of Maharashtra.
A project of the Maharashtra State Biodiversity Board undertaken by the Institute of Environment Education and Research,
Bharati Vidyapeeth University, Pune
Supported by MSBB
Project team: Dr. Erach Bharucha, Dr. Shamita Kumar, Dr. Rahul Mungikar and Shivam Trivedi
Biodiversity hotspots were first defined in late 1980’s, as specific areas of the Earth’s land surface that have a disproportionately large number of extant species. Further, 18 localities were identified as biodiversity hotspots which included the Western Ghats. The Western Ghats which are older than the Himalayas is the world’s eight hottest hotspot and is declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in July 2012. This well-known hotspot of biodiversity was once covered with extensive forest all along the length from the Dangs in Gujarat to the southern part of Kerala. The landscape of the Northern Western Ghats that extend across the three states of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Goa includes several unique ecosystems and harbors a large number of threatened and endemic species. It also includes areas with rich cultural heritage sites. The Western Ghats in the state of Maharashtra covers an area of 14081 square kilometers and has 1 national park and 9 wildlife sanctuaries harboring a variety of endemic flora and fauna. In the past these protected area (PAs) were too remote for the development processes to reach its boundaries. However, the improvement in road networks and communication over the last two decades have made these PAs their ecologically sensitive areas and adjoining areas highly accessible. Apart from this modernization has brought the Western Ghats under serious threat. The forests are already fragmented and in several areas they are separated by roads, railways, dams and neo-urban settlements. Other threats that also play an important role in destroying the biodiversity of Western Ghats are extensive grazing, forest fire for clearing area for agriculture, industrial projects, mining, unsustainable resource consumption and tourism. It has been also recorded that in many parts of the world the fate of biodiversity depends on the forest remnants in human made landscapes.
This made the scientists and ecologists realize that protected areas alone cannot preserve the biodiversity of Western Ghats as a large part of biodiversity is present outside the protected areas. The burden of conserving biodiversity will fall increasingly on sectors such as agriculture, forestry and land-use planning. Hence there is a need to conserve the land falling outside the PAs boundaries. Pranab Sen committee in 2000 suggested in a report to the Government of India (GOI) that a 10 kilometer buffer zone should be declared around the PAs to control the increasing pressure of development on the PAs and brought into picture the concept of Ecologically Sensitive Areas. This again is not sufficient for conserving the biodiversity of Western Ghats as there are small pockets of forest areas harboring many endemic species of flora and fauna which are not in the 10 kilometer buffer zone of the PAs. Thus identifying viable corridors has become an urgently essential key to biodiversity conservation. In some sectors a continuous corridor is impractical. The option is to protect several ‘jump sites’ in ‘hot specks’ of identified biorich habitats to preserve biodiversity as best possible. Hotspecks are miniscule areas of species concentration, varying in size from five to rarely a few hundreds or more square meters falling within or far outside todays recognized hotspots where species packing of diverse groups, including many endemics is found. In the Western Ghats these hotspecks can be categorized broadly into two groups those that are situated in natural landscapes which include reserved forest, water catchment areas such as dams and water falls, valleys, old forest growth, protected areas, shrublands, grasslands, plateau tops, hill streams escarpments, ridges and steep slopes and those within cultural landscape which includes sacred groves, forts and traditional agricultural areas. A majority of these hotspecks are either privately owned or belong to the local community hence declaring them as protected areas is impossible as communities have their traditional rights on these landscapes. This will lead to conflicts between the Forest Department and the local people if their traditional rights are barred and this has always been a major issue of concern. Hence there is a need to develop sustainable management strategies where these hotspecks are conserved along with the traditional rights of the local communities.
Glimpses of the hotspecks
(A) Sacred Groves 1. Kondethar sacred grove, Raigarh 2. Wadvathar sacred grove, Pune 3. Valane sacred grove, Pune (B) Forts 1. Pratapgad fort, Satara 2. Vishalgad fort, Kolhapur 3. Salher fort, Nashik (C) Plateaus 1. Anjaneri plateau, Nashik 2. Khingar plateau, Satara 3. Masaai plateau, Kolhapur