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Trees for Delhi

With Delhi's trees threatened in the face of urban expansion, transplantation could be an effective method to balance urbanisation with protecting the environment.

Trees for Delhi

Felling trees in Delhi is to push the city to the cusp of an ecological disaster when many of its inhabitants are already gasping for breath. Trees in tropical climes are a habitat for birds, but both work in symphony.

Newspapers have given the statistics of trees that were cut, those that had not been cut and the various permissions that were denied. The situation looks somewhat bleak but the High Court's stay on the felling of trees comes as good news.

While there is a hue and cry, let us also think of the birds. Felling trees means that we are robbing birds and insects of their habitat. As it is, the sparrow population in Delhi has dwindled. In my bougainvillaea and bamboo garden at home, if I had at least 1000 sparrows five years ago, I know that they are barely a hundred now.

Planting the right trees for birds as a part of a bird-friendly landscape will help attract a variety of species to your backyard. Trees are an essential part of bird landscaping and the right trees can meet all of the birds' needs for food, water, shelter, and nesting sites.

Architect and landscape designer Ankon Mitra states that trees need not be felled. They can also be transplanted.

When sparsely populated urban plots of land go up for densification (an urban design term meaning increasing the density of population per unit of land), the first challenge is: "what to do with the existing trees?"

"In theory, one could say, just build around the trees, without disturbing them, but practically it is not always possible to do this," states Ankon. "Trees may be everywhere on such a plot of land, not always planted in orderly rows. The other reason is that if the architecture skirts all the trees and is built in-between, it may not be structurally feasible or even functional at all as an office or a house, especially if high-rise structures are being planned."

"The worst possible solution (traditionally) has been to cut down existing trees to make way for the construction and then plant saplings (either in the designated landscape areas of the new Architectural Master-Plan or elsewhere). It is called compensatory planting or affirmative afforestation/reforestation. In my opinion, it is essentially a criminal act being bandied about as an act of restitution or justice. Because ten saplings cannot take the place of one mature tree. It is like saying – that the wisdom, experience, and value of a grandfather can be matched by ten newly born grandchildren." Thankfully, such barbarism need no longer be perpetrated on nature, indeed on humanity (for we depend on trees far more than they depend on us).

"We now have the technology of transplantation, and fully grown and mature trees can be transplanted," adds Ankon. This is a huge blessing for urban sites which always need green cover, but increasing human densities having increasingly robbed cities of their tree cover. Transplantation makes sure large trees are saved and not cut down and lost forever. In simple laymen terms, the root-ball and the trunk of the tree are its main physical body. During transplantation, these are protected and safely transplanted to a new location. Smaller branches and the canopy/leaves of the tree are usually partially removed to reduce the weight of the tree, as far as possible, and to shift the centre of gravity of the tree as close to its root-ball as possible.

"The roots are covered with root hormone powders and hessian cloth/wood planks soaked in sweet earth and water once it is excavated along with some of the original soil surrounding the roots. Protecting the roots from air and light is very important. It is also important to ensure that the new 'pit' into which the root-ball is transplanted must feel familiar to the tree and, therefore, the mix of earth, compost and sand that goes into the pit must simulate closely the soil conditions of the previous location. The pH or acidity/alkalinity and the humidity of the soil must also be tested and matched to the old location."

Different trees have different requirements and mature trees gradually adjust. Transplantation is the equivalent of a major surgery for the tree and it causes a lot of trauma, but if we consider all these points and take care of the transplanted tree till it settles down and stabilises in its new environment, there is a very high likelihood of the tree surviving. Modern transplantation methods are successful in most cases where all parameters are carefully monitored. It is a small price to pay to save a tree. Nothing is more precious to Mother Earth than her trees.

Gaps in tropical forests are nurseries for the future, seeds and birds coexist. These seedling species simply aren't getting to the gaps and will, therefore, struggle to survive. Losing native seed dispersers from the landscape could irrevocably change the way these forests look.

(The author is a senior art critic and art curator. The views expressed are strictly personal)

Uma Nair

Uma Nair

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