Conservation of cultural forests, our heritage

We are interested to identify the potential conservation sites outside the state protected area network in India. India has a rich tradition of biodiversity conservation and natural resource management. Sacred grove and Soppinabetta forest are great global examples for this. Sacred groves are managed by the indigenous Hindu community throughout India, but conserved at the interest of the village. They were in existence before the European colonization. The indigenous community worshipped the nature and the natural processes well before they started worshipping god and goddesses in the form of deities. They found god’s spirit in all living things and in nature itself! They worshipped some kinds of plants first. Among them, Fig tree (ppepal) was the predominant. It is hard to find out a Hindu temple without a sacred tree or plant in its premise! It is also difficult to find a Hindu house without a sacred plant, such as basil (Ocimum sanctum). Both are important medicinal plants too! Perhaps, the folk would have found out the medicinal value of these plants well before the modern medicine tapped the potential of these plants. Therefore, they conserved and cared these plants like their children! For the folks, the god is an omnipresent healer, and they find god in the medicinal plants!

But, it is not very clear when their habit of worshipping plants changed to worshipping forest fragments! Perhaps, it would have started when they started worshipping king cobra, macaques, and many other wild animals, because they need a large forest. It has been also told that they protected patches of forests in their neighbourhood to combat with the devastating logging of forests by the British rulers 300 years back! Indeed, the British rulers might have respected the indigenous communities’ spiritual interest and left such forests untouched! India had over 1 million sacred groves in all parts of it. But, it is fast disappearing due to urbanization, disintegration of joint families, migration of traditional folk to the cities and displacement it by a community who are hesitant to respect the traditional lore, myths, and the nature!

The global biodiversity hotspot mission identified only three hotspots in India; the national protected area mission identified less than 1000 protected national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and reserves. Biodiversity hotspot mission was concerned only about endemic species; the national protected area mission was concerned about the large charismatic fauna, such as tigers and elephants! But, our lab identifies thousands of local biodiversity hubs in villages and urban landscapes, because, we study the less charismatic insects, their functions and services to the humanity, their interactions with plants and other animals!

We study the little things that keep the sacred groves functioning well! Nothing but, the insects!

We also analyze the community perspective on conservation of neighbourhood sacred groves.

Prashanth Ballullaya, Manoj, Shibili V.K., and Rajesh are participating in this research.