Urban Canopy – നഗരത്തിരക്കിലെ ഇത്തിരിപ്പച്ച | Documentary film with English subtitle
Once a celebrated hub of many complex yet natural and indigenous ecosystems, Kochi today finds herself demoted to a mere metro city. A city waiting its turn to soon be among those that becomes increasingly inhabitable as they mindlessly expand. Amid such anxieties, still, she nourishes some of her well-hidden treasures. Decades back, when Kerala’s industrial dreams were still sane, Kerala Government leased it out to the HMT Company. Even with the sprawling company inside, acres of green space still is lush and thriving within here. Green turfs, tiny plants, wild creepers, stunning flowers and trees of all sizes and shapes; 180 odd varieties of birds comprising locals, expats and migrants; 75 and counting species of butterflies including Kerala’s official pride; and a host of flora and fauna that cover a wide gamut of nature. An abundant bio-diversity that remains lost, yet safe, till we find it. Kochi’s Kalamassery is an excellent model for the urban canopies in Kerala. Kochi’s unsighted expansion, in the name of future dream projects, is eyeing this green haven. There are few things in nature which once vanishes cannot be reclaimed. No matter how much we regret or invest our money in. Kochi had a bird sanctuary of the size of a ‘bindi’. Which, according to some devastated naturalists, is now a bird memorial
park thanks to the sprouting concrete scrapers that squeeze and shrink it, and
the ever increasing air, water and noise pollution. This is our current scenario and we need to accept this in order to realize the significance of Kalamassery’s bio-diversity and ecosystem, which is not very far from Mangalavanam. Though I live within the Kalamasserry municipality premises, it was only 4 years back that I came to know about the presence of a forest here. I frequented here primarily to watch birds. The rich bio diversity and the forest like character of this place attracted me. Like they say, nature is ever new. It’s never the same. All man-made things become monotonous to us after a while. Nature doesn’t. The richness of flora and fauna gives a diverse perspective to each and every one, time and again. To have such a blessed piece of forest within our city is something Kalamassery residents can be proud of. There are lots of birds in here; butterflies, wild flowering plants, trees, rarely seen scorpions, rare snakes, small mammals, mongoose, wild rabbit etc are pretty common in here. To be precise, this area is the lungs of our city. One major significance of Kalamassery is that it is a mix of wet land and forest land. And the presence of a wide variety of birds in a small square region is unique too. Unlike Thattekkad, we can find an amazing range of birds within this small area. When from Thattekkad, 250 odd species were recorded; from here around 175 species were recorded. That itself shows how significant this patch of land is. Lots of small insects occupy this land. After learning more about insects, butterflies and worms from those who come here I got the privilege to see all these amazing life. Also it has surprised me beyond measure to have found such rich bio-diversity withinmy neighborhood. Among bird activities we have breeding and nesting seasons including that of Crested Hawks. People do come and observe them during this period. Around 172 species of birds have been studied and surveyed from here. It is actually recognized by organizations like E Bird as a hotspot in the International Bird Watching Database. Here we could identify over 4 types of Night Jars that is normally seen in forests. The presence of wetland birds like Woolly Necked Stork is very frequent. Woolly Necked Stork is listed among birds with vulnerable status.Also I have seen Black Basa in here. To observe Jungle night jars, scores of people from here and abroad, do frequent a lot. We do night birding here. Even through the streets in here, we can see many species of owls at night. Whenever I have been here as part of bird watching, the abundance of butterfly species has surprised me. Around 50 odd verities of butterflies are found here. Among them the major ones would be Papilo Buddha, India’s 3rd most beautiful butterfly. Papilio Budha is today Kerala’s official Butterfly. The Papilio Budha or Budha Mayuri belongs to the Pailionidae family and the diversity in Kalamassery is found to be an ideal ecosystem for them. Also Paris Peacock, Grey Count, Orange tip, Skippers, Snowflates and many more varieties that we normally see in the forests can be found here. A wide range of Dragonflies, insects and spiders are there too. Box insects, Man faced insects, Praying Mantis, Leaf Insects and among moths, Salt and Pepper Moth, Blue Tiger etc have been found and recorded from here. There are communities that make good use of this serene place – photographers, ornithologists,research students, lepidopterists (a butterfly enthusiast) and many more. But our interest was spiked by somebody else… We happened to see a poster designed by Kerala Forest Department about the birds in Kalamassery city corporation. The description and listing of the birds along with their diversity is what attracted us and brought us here. They love coming here. We don’t know if the visit can be termed as bird watching but we just love coming here again and again. And we have seen lots of birds too Around 20 odd birds were identified by these children and that I think it is indeed a big achievement. For our children, this neighborhood forest is the safe and secure way to be with nature, without the hassles of long and tiresome travels. A major significance of this area is that if you look around about 2km stretch
of forest cover, there is water presence everywhere. Because the rain that falls here, gets absorbed here and that maintains the underground water table or water ways throughout the year. By spending just 5 minutes inside this lush vegetation, we can breathe in more oxygen through every breath. It provides an air conditioned feel even when the temperature is at its peak. No matter how scorching the summer is, the one who has taken the trail inside this wilderness at least once will understand the gist of what we are trying to put in words. When the city taps and showers run dry water reaches the urbanites from the deep well, next to this urban canopy, that has always plenty to share. For the Public Health Sector, the most challenging task today is to deal with lifestyle diseases, especially the ones that affect our mental health. We have researched and documented the influence of nature in our well being. Recently, one major finding was done by the University Of Exeter, United Kingdom. It is well documented that people living in neighborhoods with more birds and trees are less likely to suffer from mental stress, depression and anxiety. In short, an Urban Canopy or an Urban Forest is a dynamic ecosystem that provides critical benefits to people and other living beings. They filter air and water, control and maintain underground waterways. Conserve energy and provide habitat and shade to all. Urban Canopies or Urban forests are necessary for the existence of habitable, beautiful and functional cities. As Kochi’s roads widen what gets cut off are the roots of such irreplaceable urban canopy habitats. The cities which we used to wonder about, the ones we have watched in awe are today fast turning into urban heat islands. Urban Heat Islands: a phenomenon by which an urban area gets, and stays, warmer than its surrounding area due to reckless modernization or, in other words, lack of Urban Canopies. If town planning proceeds like this, once it gets completed we humans won’t be in a position to live here. It is a scary reality but we are not aware of it. Signs are all around us. Bangalore city is a perfect example. According to Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore is a dead city. As per the climate survey report conducted there over the past 30 years, the average temperature has risen by 2 to 2.5 degrees. And the ground water level has receded to 300 meters, from 28 meters! Apart from all these, almost 88% of green cover and 79% of wetlands got wiped out. The city went through a rapid and scary change Then we might wonder whether Bangalore is the only place like this. But no. There are many cities in India like this. Lot of cities, actually. Chennai metro is a shocking example of how critical things can get when we ignore repeated warnings from nature. Studies reveal that degeneration of natural water bodies and erosion of green spaces are to be blamed for Chennai’s climatic conditions today. It is shocking to learn that, by 2030, Kochi would also be among India’s those 21 cities where potable water would be hard to find. In 2012, our Town and Country Planning Department published a report. According to which, by 2031, 100% of Kerala would emerge to be a thickly populated mega city. We are still not aware of the shocking reality behind this. For this development, do you realize that we are going to sacrifice whatever little natural resources that we have around us? The progressing activities around this urban canopy in Kalamassery are not good for our future. The construction works happening in and around this area is a big threat to its fragile ecosystem. This is the new extension of the Seaport – Airport road. Already the construction activities of the same have affected the habitats of around 23 species of birds. Apart from tones of waste that are lying around in this area there is garbage from the flood affected parts that got dumped here through government intervention. We do get to see birds with frayed wings, broken beaks and legs here.Ones that came to feed on these garbage piles may be. And the rain water that lands on this garbage doesn’t seep into the soil either. Another environmental problem is the one caused by groups that
collect and burn cables and wires to segregate copper from it. Such fires have damaged the environs many times. Those who enjoy a drink or two in here leave their trash around, adding to the woes. All these point to the approaching absolute destruction of the habitats of the flora and fauna in this serene wilderness. Just 10 – 12 years back, as per the localities, vultures were ever present here. Not anymore. An irreversible lose indeed. Count Green Wine Snakes and Ferrell Cats among them too. Today, their absence definitely is of great concern. According to the researchers, who frequent here, many species that were here last year are not here anymore. It’s time we wake up to what future will hold for these remaining ecosystems around us. Woolly Necked stroks, listed among the endangered species, are ever present in the paddy fields next to this forest Salim Ali’s favorites the Yellow Throated Sparrow, Indian pygmy Woodpecker,
Coppersmith barbet and many other small birds breed and nest here. Also abundant are butterflies, including Papilio Buddha, moths, insects and small mammals. This area is the silent rain catcher that stores an abundant fresh water reserve.
Which is a blessing for the people around. It also acts as a huge oxygenator, the benefits of which are enjoyed by all around, including the inmates of the nearby medical college. For the urbanites, this green hermitage would be their perfect recluse if protected and maintained. This is among the last of its kind for us. Kerala had lots of ‘Sacred groves’. By the time we understood the value of them, it was too late. This piece of land, a sacred ‘grove’ in many ways, is all that is left for us. In Kalamssery, close to all the traffic congestion and hassle, I was amazed to find a forest like this. Also I felt relieved. This should be protected and conserved so that
we can hand this over to the coming generations. The bio-diversity in here is beyond our expectations. Every year we dutifully plant saplings on the environment day, but fail to protect them. We are finding it difficult to take care of nature and all these ‘acts’ are not working. The latest being the Miyawaki forest schemes. What is practical would be to protect what we have. To protect this green urban canopy that in turn will protect us. This should be taken up as a cause for public concern and not mere jabbering of few bird watchers or environmentalists. Let it begin from Kochi, with Kalamassery, to connect such bio-diversity hotspots around Kerala by protecting and preserving them. It would be a great achievement for all of us. Nature has suffered a lot at our hands. As a community that has done many environmental sins, let this small step cleanse us. What is inside of me right now is a prayer to evoke this in each and every mind out there.