The Collective began to promote the concept of eco-restoration through natural regeneration in a village called Mushtikovila in 1992. It took over a year to convince people to begin protecting about 125 acres of revenue waste lands in the hills surrounding the village. The impact was felt almost immediately. Over the years, 7 more villages joined in. Today about 7,500 contiguous acres of revenue wastelands are being protected and regenerated into a forest.
The area under natural regeneration though contiguous, can be divided into two clear watersheds with a few micro watersheds in between. These hills form the catchment for two major rainwater harvesting tanks that were constructed over 500 years ago.
How is it being done?
The natural regeneration work consists of 9 main activities:
1. Protection from fires;
2. Protection from over grazing;
3. Protection from tree cutting;
4. Construction of soil and water conservation structures;
5. Seed dibbling and grass seed broadcasting;
6. Planting of trees where possible;
7. Monitoring what fauna have returned;
8. Monitoring grass being cut and removed from the area.
9. Monitoring the number of sheep, goats and cows come for grazing;
Forest Protection Committees
Each village has a Forest Protection Committee (Vana Samarakshana Committee – VSC). All works are supervised and monitored by the VSCs through a system of watchers. These watchers patrol the area every day and in case of fires, intruders or tree cutting, they inform the VSCs, which mobilise immediate preventive action. Heavy fines are imposed on anybody caught felling trees. Almost no trees are felled any more by the locals.
I have worked as a Watcher in these forests for over 18 years. I have seen that people having no land or means of support depend on these forests for their living, especially during drought. These forests are a lifeline to many of us.
Each VSC also has fire control volunteers and every year around 25 kms of firebreaks are made so that fires do not spread. The members of the VSCs, the watchers and the cadres of the Collective spend a lot of time convincing shepherds who come with their sheep and goats from villages as far as 25 kms away, to avoid lighting fires.
These VSCs are federated into the Kalpavalli Tree Growers Cooperative.
Regeneration of a forest
While the hills were almost barren when the Collective initiated this activity, the root stock that remained began to send new shoots up, the grass seeds began to germinate, birds began to come back and new trees began to establish themselves. The soil has improved and many more varieties of grasses have come back.
A livelihood lifeline for people
The Kalpavalli community managed forests and grasslands provide an important source of nontimber forest produce, serve as a watershed and as an important grazing ground for more than seven villages in the Chennekothapalli and Roddam mandals. In addition this large expanse of community protected land is a haven for wildlife. With ongoing protection this areas has developed into an important wildlife corridor and conservation area.
The area is an important wildlife corridor linking a minimum of two Reserved Forests, the Guttur Reserved Forest and the Penukonda Reserved Forest. This area is also of significance as it harbours one of the last remaining habitats of the Grey Wolf in Southern India. The Indian sub-species of the Grey Wolf fall under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act (1972). The presence of large carnivores such as wolves and leopards in this area indicates that Kalpavalli not only serves as a corridor for local reserved forest but also plays a role in larger and more important landscape level biodiversity conservation.
The Kalpavalli Conservation Area has a recorded 24 species of wildlife which fall under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act (1972). With birds (70.8%) dominating this list followed by mammals (20.8%), snakes (4.1%) and lizards (4.1%) respectively.