Wetlands

Conservation and Sustainable Management of Wetlands in key areas in the Nilgiris is a prime interest area of Keystone. Wetlands of the Nilgiri region are unique, unlike wetlands in general – these are small sized hill wetlands, life giving in nature…habitat for a variety of wildlife, flora and meet the needs of the people.

These wetlands are fragmented in small random patches – with underground connectivity of water channels. There are no dramatic landscapes that lead to the wetland zones, it is sometimes found in the most unexpected places – and therefore has been taken for granted and their functions and roles significantly underestimated.

In the upper areas of Mukurti National Park – wetlands occupy central places as they are the corridors of the streams. They form belts around the streams and contribute to the flow – bringing in water and other nutrients from the side slopes and grasslands.
Over the years,there has been an apparent destruction of these valuable habitats, the scale of which is unprecedented in human history. Large wetlands in the Nilgiris also suffered from the same fate. With this knowledge and an earlier understanding of the importance of water resources for he indigenous people of the Nilgiris, we set out on an early wintery morning to study these wetlands..

We decided to conduct an intensive rapid survey and mapping of crucial wetland habitats, taking into account ecological aspects, socio-economic situation of stakeholders within the wetland home-range and economic activities that are on-going at present. Simultaneously, we conducted several awareness generation programmes that included walks, designing posters and booklets and speaking more about them to people who have depended on these resources for ages.We also started a process of dialogue and advocacy with the Government on how to declare these wetlands as important conservation areas and initiate legal steps towards it.

As an implementation initiative, we developed local wetlands conservation and management plans in five critically important zones of the district. The truth remains that with increasing population pressure and immense problems of degradation, wetlands are usually the first casualties. But a greater fact came out through the survey and that is of the high degree of importance indigenous people attach to the resources and their willingness to protect the wetlands remains exemplary….You too.. Be a Voice for the Wetlands

  • The wetland above Yedappalli village in Coonoor taluk is an important source of water. The water flows from here are tapped downstream by the Municipality to supply water to the town. Locally there are two temples near the wetland that are using the water directly from the wetland. By comparing the images from 2012 and 2016, the rapid changes taking place here can be easily seen. The land use change in the catchment will directly impact the health of the wetland.

  • The Elada dam is an important water source for Kotagiri town in the Nilgiris. It has become dry a couple of months back and this prompted us to revisit it and see what has changed, apart from the poor rainfall this year. One easy way to look at changes over time is to use historical imagery from Google Earth. For ease of comparison the imagery from 2008 and 2015 for the Elada catchment has been converted into a time slider using javascript available at https://juxtapose.knightlab.com. If you note any significant changes in the catchment that you think may influence the water regime, then do leave a mention of it in the comments. We will be posting such time series comparisons and other information about the important wetlands in the Nilgiris in this website.

  • The Nilgiris is the source of important rivers like the Bhavani, Moyar, Chaliyar and Kabini. These rivers in turn are the lifeline of the communities that live on and near their banks. This year the monsoon has played truant and subsequently there is much less flow of water in the streams and storage levels in Dams along these rivers are also low. If the monsoon is normal, then there is ample water flowing for the most part of the year. Ever wondered where the water flowing in the rivers and streams come from? Just after a spell of rains, the run-off water from the catchments flow through these rivers and streams. However long after the rains are over, there is still a steady flow of water in many streams which ultimately contribute to the flow in the rivers. If we trace the origin of such streams we will end up in either springs or wetlands in the upper regions. It can be an astonishing sight to see water coming out of a hole in the ground or a crack in the rocks. One immediately wonders where this water is coming from. This invisible source of water below the ground is called an aquifer. These springs and wetlands are the places where the groundwater naturally emerges to the surface and becomes surface water. Springs are a characteristic feature of the hills. These could be single points of water discharge or a series of discharge points located close together. This is determined by the kind of soil and rock structure in the area where the spring is located. Springs can be seasonal or perennial. In the Nilgiris, the sites of many of the older habitations were chosen due to the presence of springs there. There is a traditional belief that spring water is pure and uncontaminated by any pollutants. Sadly, there is no record of how many springs there are or how these are faring in these times of climate change. We need to record the locations of the springs in our neighbourhood and monitor them over time to understand their status and how we can protect them. Most of the wetlands in the hills are often small, a few cents to a few acres in size. They have patches of land that are perennially wet and may also have standing water in some cases. They may or may not have inflows and/or outflows through channels or streams, depending on the topography. Wetlands play a crucial role in regulating the flow of water thereby ensuring year round water availability and reducing the chances of floods. Wetlands also clean the water of pollutants, provide a home to an astonishing variety of biodiversity and are an important source of drinking water to people as well as wildlife and livestock. Small hill wetlands in the Nilgiris have been converted to other land use such as agriculture, tea plantations, built up area etc. Where groundwater table is going down, the wetland area is drying up and shrinking, and invasives such as Lantana are taking hold. Locally planted exotics such as Wattle also creep up on the wetland area. The increasing proliferation of open wells in the district, often in or near wetlands is also likely to lead to the drying up of wetlands. It is imperative that these wetlands are identified and monitored so that the changes taking place in and around them is understood and appropriate conservation measures undertaken. Water is a need not only for people but also for wildlife and many incidents of Human Wildlife Conflicts are due to lack of water in the forests. Planning for water conservation needs to include human use, animal use and environmental flows. Ultimately, whatever be the source of water for a community – springs, wells or streams, the source for the year round flow is groundwater. Rainfall is the only source that we can use to replenish the groundwater we use. We need to not only protect our water sources, but also understand and conserve the catchments and aquifers in order to ensure the sustainability of water resources.