Background: Panshet is located 45 km west from Pune city on the ridge of the Western Ghats. A dam was built on the river Ambi near this village in 1971.
Practices of cultivation in the flood plain, cutting down and burning of natural vegetation for cultivation, shifting cultivation on the lower and middle hill slopes, grazing on hill slopes were prevalent in the area. The people displaced due to the dam lost their fertile lands in the valley. They were rehabilitated in a dry and stony region. Many returned and started cultivation on the hill slopes, the only land available to them. Borrowing of soil from the area during dam construction, deforestation and the subsequent sheet soil erosion due to the heavy rains in the region had led to formation of gullies, in many places rock was exposed. The soil carried down the slopes entered the reservoir causing siltation. Vegetation could not regenerate due to loss of top soil essential for plant growth, repeated burning practices and grazing and trampling by livestock. Due to disturbance and loss of habitats, the faunal diversity was very low. All these factors rendered the area barren and degraded. Forest patches in the form of sacred groves existed in some pockets. Some reforestation efforts were taken by the Forest Department but they mostly included plantation of fast growing exotic species. No efforts were taken to revive the forest ecosystem in the region.
- To restore a patch of highly degraded land in the Western Ghats of Maharashtra to a pre-disturbed forest ecosystem
- To restore wetland ecosystem
- To integrate local community interests in restoration efforts
(I) RESTORATION OF FOREST ECOSYSTEM
Land on degraded hill slopes facing the reservoir in the catchment area of the Panshet Dam was selected for the project activity.
Project Site before Restoration
- The project site was given total protection through trench-cum-mound protection and barbed wire fencing. This was necessary to eliminate any human interference. Livestock was not allowed to graze inside but the villagers were allowed to cut grass to stall feed their animals.
- Soil conservation measures like gully plugging, contour ploughing, channel bunding and covering the soil with plant material were carried out.
- Saplings of indigenous species like Albizzia, Pongamia were planted taking a nearby sacred grove as a reference ecosystem for selection of plant varieties. Exotic species like Acacia auriculiformes, Gliricidia sepium were also planted to facilitate availability of fuelwood for local people. The existing vegetation on the land including coppiced trees and exotic shrubs like Lantana was preserved.
- Soil: Covering of soil was beneficial in prevention of soil erosion and lowering of soil temperature. Along the course of restoration, the soil cover increased and so did the water holding capacity and the moisture content of soil. Microbial activity started as optimum conditions were now available and as a result nutrients were released in soil. This favored the growth of plants in the area.
There was an increase in the number of plant species. Due to the protection of land, the process of natural regeneration started. Many seasonal herbs emerged, however, later grasses dominated. Initially grasses with low fodder value and later those with high fodder value grew. Initially profuse growth of grasses and shrubs Due to protection, the saplings grew well and so did the coppiced trees. The retained clumps of Lantana proved as refuges for seed anchoring and Initially germination and many indigenous plant species emerged from these shrubs. Regeneration of native plants from Lantana clumps The exotic trees were fast growers, helped in holding soil and yielded biomass in form of foliage. Growth of trees for fuel and fodder Fauna: Low disturbance in the area due to the given protection and availability of different habitats due to the increasing vegetation cover attracted wildlife. Scrub and ground dwelling birds increased in number. Some bird species started nesting here. Mammals like sambar, hares were frequent visitors. Russell's Viper
The Western Ghats are host to a large number of flora and fauna, some of which need highly specialized conditions for their survival. If the forest cover is lost, these species suffer due to loss of habitat. Thus it is necessary to protect the forests and initiate efforts to revive them where they are severely degraded. The project is a pioneering effort for reinstating the forest ecosystem.
Revival of Forest
It shows how measures like protection of land can assist the natural process of regeneration. Regeneration is a long term process and its benefits may not be apparent initially. But if allowed to progress without disturbance, it can lead to a healthy ecosystem that offers refuge to wild flora and fauna as also natural resources in the form of fuel, timber and other forest produce to the local inhabitants.
(II) RESTORATION OF WETLAND ECOSYSTEM
Land downstream in the command area of the dam. This area was one of the borrowing sites for dam construction.
Wetland before ponding
- The site was given due protection through fencing to remove any interference from humans and livestock.
- A series of check dams was built to arrest the flow of water in the depressions to create multiple shallow ponds.
Construction of Checkdams
- Outflow from the dam was diverted into these ponds. The water flowed through the ponds, then into an old quarry pool and finally into the river channel. Thus, the whole system had an inlet and an outlet. The check dams ensured water residence time, which is an important characteristic of a wetland. Steps were taken to avoid stagnation of water.
- Wet soil from a wetland near Pune was introduced in the depressions to act as a seed bank. Aquatic plant species like Nymphaea, Cyperus were introduced.
- Saplings of indigenous plants like Pongamia were planted on the surrounding land.
- Due to water availability, the area under wet meadows increased. The emergent Typha, Polygonum grew rapidly. Their growth was later controlled by physical removal and lowering of water level respectively. Floating species like Nymphaea and submerged plant species like Hydrilla, Vallisneria showed good growth.
Growth of aquatic vegetation
- The advantage of curtailing grazing and tree cutting was manifested in regeneration of indigenous plant varieties and good growth of the introduced saplings. The grass cover also increased.
- The mosaic of habitats formed by the ponds and the surrounding vegetation attracted fauna. The ponds became breeding ground for fish. Waterfowl like egrets, herons, and ducks could be now found in the wetland area. A pair of Chestnut Bitterns nested in the reed beds formed by Cyperus and Typha. Terrestrial birds included ground dwelling birds like quails and partridges, munias and bulbuls among others. Small mammals like hare, fox, and hyena were sighted. Among reptiles snakes and monitor lizards were regular visitors. The insects exhibited high diversity and numbers.
The once dry and stony area is now rich in biodiversity.
Restoration of indigenous forest in the surrounding of wetland
The local people benefited from harvesting the grass, fish and Nymphaea (lotus) flowers. If the area is left undisturbed, it will become a permanent refuge for wildlife. This indicates that aquatic ecosystems can be restored through simple measures to the benefit of wildlife and local people.