Ecological Action in Nilgiris, Save our sholas, The last rain forests

Our last remaining rain forests (Sholas)

One Earth Foundation: The battle between intensive farming and rain forests


Our last remaining sholas (tropical rain forests) and surrounding grasslands are under attack and rapidly disappearing.  Scientists M. P. Nayar and A. R. K. Sastry (Red Data Book of Indian Plants) and K. M. Mathew and K. T. Mathew of the Rapinat Herbarium, Thiruchirapalli, have identified more than 75 shola species which are under threat in the Palani hills alone. There is need for protection of the remaining shola forests to conserve the biodiversity.  Needless to say, the threat over the past 150 years has been the spread of intensive agriculture and the cutting down of trees for timber & firewood.  There seems to be much talk about the need for conservationa and protection, yet precious little is done on the groud.

Conservation of the Shola/grassland eco-system constitute two separate problems. Sholas were rarely if ever felled to make way for commercial plantations; rather the grasslands provided an easy medium for establishing stands of Eucalyptus, Pine and Wattle. As a result the grasslands have all but disappeared. Rise in invasive species within sholas and the breaking doen of the symbiotic relationship between the grasslands and forest  is the primary threat.  The Sholas also suffer due to their proximity to  human habitation who are now actively practicing intensive agriculture. The land owner or tribal farmer is often not to blame.  These lands are leased out to middle men who employ migran labour to grow vegetables.  With no links or roots with the land and soil, these middlemen use highly unsustainable forms of agriculture and steadily spread their farms into the adjacent forests.

The Shola-Grassland Eco System

Sholas come under the broad class of Tropical Montane Forests. Tropical Montane Forests are found in Central and South America, Africa and Asia. The sholas that are found in South India above 1700 metres are often referred to as tropical upper montane rain forest and montane temperate forests.

This ecosystem is characterised by dense growth of trees in the depressions and folds of the Ghats surrounded by extensive areas of grasslands. Grasslands constitute about 80 per cent of such forests. Trees show stunted growth (owing to wind action) with spreading canopy, twiggy branchlets and foliage of different colours. Many endemic flora and fauna occur in these forests with extreme microclimatic conditions. Plants of lower groups such as ferns and lichens proliferate.

Shola forests are rich storehouses of biodiversity. The flora show special characteristics, as they have to adapt to extreme climates and winds. As the high altitude sholas are like islands, disconnected from other regions, endemicity is high. Even branches of shola trees are colonised by a variety of species, many of them getting their water supply from the condensing mist. They will include mosses, ferns and other epiphytes besides woody climbers.

Like in the case of flora, shola forests and grasslands are rich in fauna.  The famous among them is the Nilgiri tahr, an endangered species.Other species include Nilgiri langur, slender loris, giant squirrels, leopards, bears, sambar deer, elephants and jungle fowls. Jungle fowls congregate on the shola grasslands when kurinjis bloom.

Endemism and rarity are common among shola species as they cannot migrate and survive in different altitudinal and climatic conditions.  The trees and smaller plants of the ecosystem colonise the depressions in expansive mountain ranges covered with high altitude grasses. These grasslands themselves harbour several rare and endemic species.

One Earth Foundation: The battle with wattle

One Earth Foundation works towards the conservation and preservation of the immense natural and cultural wealth of the Nilgiris region in South India.  For additional information, please contact

Raminder Chowdhary

1 Comment to “Our last remaining rain forests (Sholas)”

  1. Hi
    Do let us know how we can help the foundation in any way which will conribute to the preservation process and also help the tribals.

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