Conserving the Sacred
The Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve is identified as being a representative of the bio geographical zone of the Western Ghats and has rich tracts of biodiversity and home to indigenous communities. The sacred groves in the reserve have had deep and ancient association with the indigenous communities. These sacred groves were considered as sacred burial grounds and place of ancestor worship. Four Sacred Groves located in the Coonoor region, namely, Doddahatti, Kavalkombei, Sengalkombei and Mavalakombei, of the Nilgiris District falling within the CEPF Priority Investment zone, have been selected for conservation action initiative using indigenous communities of Irulas and Kurumbas and other stakeholders such as settlers, estates and Forest Department. Quality of conservation and current status of the ecology of sacred groves, using culture and traditional governance systems to revive local management regimes and Community Forest Resources approaches to redefine and place the importance of sacred groves in these fragmented landscapes. The rich biodiversity and uniqueness that are associated with sacred groves are vulnerable to change in its ecological and cultural significance. Much of this are isolated and is bound to be lost if rampant land use and resource extraction practises are not prevented. The sacred groves in this region need to be preserved and the rate of loss and undermining status of sacred groves needs to be reviewed. Restoration and monitoring of these groves needs to be looked at urgently. Under the CEPF Western Ghats Small Grants Program, this project envisages engaging the local communities that have age old associations with these sacred groves, in terms of their sacred burial sites, deities and the other cultural practices. Efforts will be made to involve the new stakeholders in the vicinity of the sacred grove like the estates, forest department and the settlers. Participatory protocols will be established to ensure that these resources are preserved and conserved. The ecological assessment that will be done in these sacred groves will give a fair understanding of the role of these sacred groves as gene pools for the forests that surround them. These activities will lead to a local monitoring mechanism within the village level institution and assess and analyze threats to cultural, social and ecological erosion. With the current Forest Right Act, the possibility of declaring these groves as Community Forest Resource could also be explored.