The sacred grove of the Siva Vishnu temple at Kalassamala, near Kunnamkulam, in Thrissur will be designated the first Biodiversity Heritage Site of Kerala by the Kerala State Biodiversity Board.
The Board is finalising the steps for making the declaration and is organising a meeting of the stakeholders.
The nearly 3.5-acre grove has 110 Syzygium travancoricum (Kulavetti or Vathamkolli in local parlance) trees, a critically endangered species on the IUCN Red List. The trees, which grow in freshwater swamps, are endemic to India. The Red List says fewer than 200 of the species are left. The sacred grove of Aickad is reported to have four of them, while Guddrikal has 15 to 20. A major threat “faced by the trees is that the swampy wetland habitat has been widely drained and converted into paddy fields,” the IUCN says.
The board had earlier identified the sacred groves at Iringole, near Perumbavoor, the Paliyeri Mookambika temple in Kannur, the Conolly Teak Plantation in Nilambur, and Pathiramanal to be designated biodiversity heritage sites of the State.
The Biological Diversity Act, 2002, defines such sites as ecologically unique terrestrial, freshwater or marine areas, having rich biodiversity, with one or more of the components such as species richness, high endemism, presence of rare, endangered, and threatened species, keystone species, species of evolutionary significance, and sacred groves with wild relatives of domesticated biodiversity.
The State biodiversity Boards, in consultation with the local bodies and other stakeholders, shall designate such areas heritage sites and the State governments should issue the notification, says the Act.
The Kerala Board is planning to convene a meeting of the stakeholders shortly for completing the formalities regarding the declaration, said R.V. Varma, Chairman of the Board.
The temple authorities, including its trustees, will become the protectors of the unique ecosystem. The National Biodiversity Authority and the State Board will financially support the temple for protecting the ecosystem. The local panchayat can earmark funds in its plan for protecting the site. The only restriction will be a ban on cutting trees, Mr. Varma said. The temple authorities will play a crucial role in the management of the system when the local-level management committee is formed.
The views of the trustees will be considered while formulating the management plan and its implementation, he said.
M.K. Harinarayanan, Assistant Professor of Botany at Sree Krishna College, Guruvayur, who lives in the area, said the deep swamps in the area could not be crossed by feet. Most of the swamps had dried up or had been reclaimed over the years.
He said the extant swamp extended up to nearly one acre. A section of the local population depended on the critically endangered trees for firewood. Many trees were lost in the process, but some were regenerating.
Considering the ecological significance of the area and the presence of dolmens at sites near the temple, a comprehensive conservation plan needs to be evolved, Prof. Harinarayanan, a former assistant programme coordinator of the Kerala Board, said.
Painting by Ivan Shishkin