ENVIS Technical Report 97,   July 2015
Conservation Of Fragmented Forests In Banavasi Range, Sirsi Forest Division, Kanara Circle
Energy and Wetlands Research Group, Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore – 560012, India.
*Corresponding author: cestvr@ces.iisc.ernet.in

Uttara Kannada is one of the most well forested districts of entire Indian peninsula. Forest conservation and sustainable use was part of the tradition of local population. In the pre-colonial times, when the forests were under the virtual control of village communities, especially along the eastern fringes of Western Ghats, in eastern Sirsi and Siddapur, in the taluks of Sorab, Sagar, Tirthahalli etc. in Shimoga district, there were well developed, self sustaining agro-forestry systems under the practical control of village communities. These systems consisted of following elements of landscapes:

  1. Kans: These were sacred forests, which almost in every malnadu village covered several hectares, many times several hundred hectares. The large kans were surrounded, sometimes on all sides, as in undulating landscapes, by more than one village. The kans were the main seats of the deities of the villages. These evergreen forests protected from fire also functioned as prime watershed areas and local centres of biodiversity conservation. The perennial streams coming out of these evergreen forests were dammed to create lakes and tanks, the main sources of irrigation and water for domestic uses. These lakes and tanks with their hydrophytic plants, nearby gardens and fields attracted several kinds of birds, as they are even to this day. Traditionally tree cutting was a taboo in the village kans. But there was no taboo on collecting non-timber forest produce like wild pepper, toddy from bainy palm (Caryota urens), wild fruits like mango and jack, medicinal plants, dalchini (cinnamon) etc. The village communities would meet annually to maintain the boundaries of kans and performed periodically fairs in honour of the deities.
  2. Kaadu: ‘Kaadu’ was a traditional word used for ordinary forests. These ordinary forests were often the result of kumri or hakkal cultivation. Often fire was used to clear patches of these forests for purposes of cultivation. Firewood and timber were collected for household purposes. The secondary forests being fire affected areas were characterized by leaf shedding trees, mostly hardwoods, with high timber value, such as teak, beete (rosewood), nandi, matti, kindal etc. Even sandal trees grew in the secondary forests. Dry leaves were collected and fresh twigs from trees and bushes extracted for leaf manure. These secondary forests had many fruit trees like mangoes and neerilu (in fire protected areas), Ficus spp., karvanda or kavale (Carissa carandas)  etc. Numerous birds and animals would use the kaadu and kan as their habitats.
  3. Bena and tree savanna: These were grasslands, with or without trees, maintained by village communities for the purpose of cattle grazing. When they were overgrown with vegetation fire was used in dry months to clear such vegetation and promote grasses.
  4. Water bodies: The lakes and tanks were many and were created by bunding streams flowing from the kan forests. Through sluice gates water was let into the canals to irrigate gardens and rice fields.
  5. Cultivation: In traditional land use arecanut gardens with undergrowth of pepper, betel leaves, nutmegs, cardamom, banana etc were raised in lands benefitted by irrigation. Rice was raised either as rainy season crop or twice in irrigated lands

1.1 Changes in the traditional land use
By the end of the 19th century the British claimed almost all forests of Uttara Kannada, including kans, kaadu, old shifting cultivation areas etc. As secondary forests had most of the marketable hardwood timbers more importance was given to these forests than to the kans. But the kans were protected under the British rule as very important watershed areas. To meet the demand for leaf manure for the gardens land was allotted to garden owners in some of the kans as ‘betta’. Owing to rising pressures from the local agriculturists for firewood and leaf manure, especially in eastern Sirsi and Siddapur taluks, some concessions were given to the locals to collect dry wood and leaf manure. By 1920’s, because of overuse of kans, many openings had already happened in them and these openings were infested with weeds like Lantana, replaced by Eupatorium  in later years. As market demand for timber and firewood increased in later times even the kans were not spared from timber extraction for meeting demands of plywood, match and packing case industries. After Indian independence many kans were disforested and lands released for human settlements.

1.2 Rising pressures on forest fragments in eastern Sirsi and Siddapur
With increase in population need for agricultural lands, human settlements, cattle grazing, timber, firewood, fencing materials etc. increased many-fold. The dependence of people on the kans and other forest fragments increased substantially leading to their fast degradation. Encroachments of kans and other forests started taking place all over eastern Sirsi and Siddapur, and elsewhere in the district mainly for cultivation and housing. In Uttara Kannada, unlike in Shimoga, most of the time, kans were not demarcated separately from other reserved forests. So forest cutting for industrial demands, for timber and fuelwood affected all forests. It is today difficult to distinguish many kans from other forests unless the local people testify or by the presence of deities and worship places in those forests in question.

1.3 Field visits to encroached and degraded forests in Banavasi forest range of Sirsi Forest Division
Accompanied by the Assistant Conservator of Forests, Sirsi, Range Forest Officer, Banavasi Range, and other forest ground staff, with required maps a team of ecologists and botanists and local environmentalists (Messers M D Subash Chandran, G R Rao, Sumesh Dudani, Vishnu D M, Shrikanth Naik – all from Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore- and Narasimha Hegde, Raghunandan Bhat and Ganapati Hegde from Sirsi), visited in January 2013 some of the forest patches in Banavasi Range that are badly degraded and often encroached for human settlement or cultivation or both. A description of these forests, along with maps, illustrative photographs and recommended action are presented in this report.


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