First tree census by volunteers in Delhi – Report by Compassionate Living

“He that planteth a tree is a servant of God, he provideth a kindness for many generations, and faces that he hath not seen shall bless him.” ― Henry van Dyke

India International Centre and The Green Circle of Delhi organized the release of a report based on a first of its kind initiative – the “First Tree Census Report of Delhi by Citizens: Sarvodaya Enclave” on 17th October, 2012. The report is a compilation of the rigorous, consistent and focused tree census survey by volunteers led by Padmawati Dwivedi of Compassionate Living.

The report was released by Shri Praveen Kumar Tripathi, Chief Secretary of Delhi and was followed by a Panel Discussion chaired by Suhas Borker, Founder-Member of the Green Circle of Delhi with panelists - Dr. Gautam Vohra, President, Vasant Vihar, RWA, Shri D M Shukla, Chief Conservator of Forests, Delhi and Shri J P Sharma, Director of Horticulture, NDMC. The key presentation on the report was delivered by Ms. Padmavati Dwivedi, Compassionate Living.

The Chief Secretary of Delhi speaking on the occasion said that such a census should be replicated across the city and that there was a need to sell the idea to other Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs). He said that while lamp posts and even manholes are identified and marked in the Capital, trees are not. There is a need for a website with this information that can be used by residents and others. He said that “we must also first train people who will help in carrying out such an exercise as they would need to be able to recognize species of trees, birds, etc. Delhi has a geo-spatial map and I suggest that we can also incorporate Delhi's green cover in it".

Suhas Borkar of Green Circle of Delhi, added that the condition in Sarvodaya Enclave mirrored the general condition of trees in Delhi. "There are rules to safeguard trees but nobody takes them seriously. A space of 6 feet by 6 feet should be left around trees while paving footpaths, but that is not followed.” 

 tree census

Image courtesy: Compassionate Living

The tree census

According to the tree census at South Delhi's Sarvodaya Enclave, the first and only in the city there are more vehicles than trees in the locality. The colony has 4,011 people, 1,583 vehicles and 1,122 trees and the survey results indicate that even these are highly vulnerable due to rampant construction and senseless pruning. The report spoke about the will and also the need to document the trees of Delhi before we lose them to mindless and unplanned construction activities.  The census was carried out over a year by about 20 volunteers: residents, homemakers, children, environmentalists and teachers. Padmavati Dwivedi, who coordinated the exercise, said they marked 722 trees along the roads, about 300 trees in parks, and another 100 inside buildings.

Sarvodaya Enclave is one of the tree dense colonies of Delhi, surrounded by vast expanse of greenery on all sides. DDA Park towards Adchini, runs the whole length of the colony on the southern side. On the eastern side running the whole breadth is the 46 acre DDA Begumpur Park. On the northern side is the Aurobindo Ashram and the western side is Adchini, extending into Katwaria Serai and NCERT.

Inside the colony there is the bigger 2.5 acre Central park in the heart of the colony and three smaller parks making up for 2.5 acres greenery, one in C block and two in D Block. There is a green corridor running the length of B and A blocks parallel to the four colony gates on the MIS side in front of Rhymes Nursery, Katha and the Waves restaurant. These green corridors have almost a hundred trees standing on open soil.

Sarvodaya Enclave is a haven for tree lovers; it is a peaceful and a very green colony to live in. This perhaps is the very reason to protect the trees and make it the pilot colony for promoting the idea of citywide tree census.

The need

Sarvodaya Enclave is currently under an onslaught of construction with more than fifteen reconstructions coming up in this 311 building colony with a potential of adding 60 families to the colony by 2013.

Most of the new constructions are being built with basements and four storeys, replacing the former independent single or double floored Kothis. This puts the trees surrounding the new buildings under great threat as the space is cemented and ramped for accommodating the cars. The new constructions are having requirement for eight to twelve cars per plot in place of earlier two to three cars per plot putting additional pressure on the trees per 1000 vehicles index. Not only the trees but recharge of ground water reduces with rapid cementing of once brick lined storm drains and the side walk.

tree census

Image courtesy: IANS

Our journey

Our tree census started in the month of April 2011 and we completed it in May 2012. We had volunteers from different parts of Delhi, there were environmentalists, teachers, homemakers, children, journalists totaling up to an eclectic group of 20. Some of them were one time volunteers and a few supported till the end of the census. We would do census only when we felt like and did not set any target date of completion of this journey.

In all it took forty five days of volunteering. Most of all enjoyed the experience of watching nature unfold its beauty. We have counted trees on sidewalks and some, inside homes. The trees inside parks are less vulnerable and therefore we have not included them in the count. But approximately they could add 300 to the count of the census. Most people were not open to trees in their bungalows being counted and marked. In the course of our census we managed to intervene and save trees from being lopped, got nails and rods inserted into trees removed and protected open spaces from being cemented.

Tree census has been conducted by some cities such as Nagpur, Mumbai and Calcutta. The New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC), which covers only 3 per cent of the Capital, has also done a tree census in its jurisdiction.

Objective of tree census

Planning plantation, regulating pruning, regulating felling, ensuring longevity of trees and creating community awareness are the five fundamental objectives of tree census. The aim was cleaner air, recharging of groundwater, maintenance of biodiversity, reduction in sound pollution/ electricity consumption/ local warming.

Our methodology

Tree walks preceded tree census to enthuse and educate volunteers. During the tree walks it was observed that the major portion of roadside trees were under stress due to heavy cementing around trunks, lopping and nails in their trunks, in contrast to the trees in the parks. The trees in the colony are vulnerable and therefore need to be protected. It was decided to first study these trees in the colony in front of homes and in the parking areas.

The information to be captured was put into an easy tabular form. It had two distinct areas of data. Tree appreciation data and tree concern data. The first captured data related to the presence of flowers, fruits, nests and burrows. The second aspect captured elements of either human or natural that might damage the tree for example nails, lopping and cement choking.

The basic format was shared in a meeting where volunteers from all across Delhi shared ideas. The format was then finalized and final copy with required fields was printed for capturing the data.

Trees were first numbered with a crayon with the house number in front of which the tree can be found as its location. Linking the number of the trees with the plots address helped in an easy traceability of trees.

The Volunteers started the Census with A Block and ended with D Block covering a total of 787 trees.

tree census

Image courtesy: Compassionate Living

Summary of census statistics

Indigenous vs Non Indigenous

In total there are 58 identified types of trees and including the three unidentified types the total variety is 61. Dominant trees are Saptaparni, Ashoka, Amaltas, Frangipani and Gulmohar. Saptaparni is the most common tree found in Sarvodaya Enclave. The top five trees are non-fruiting and both Saptaparni and Ashoka comprise more than half the trees found in this colony, preferred perhaps due to narrow canopy cover. The indigenous tree most commonly found is Amaltas followed by Bakain. The tree diversity is very low and the non-indigenous trees are less than 35 percent. Future plantation in this colony must include indigenous trees only, to improve the ratio.

Interdependency of fauna

The birds we have seen during the census are crows, mynahs, pigeons, bulbuls, doves, tailor bird, green pigeon, sunbirds, sparrows, wood pecker, treepie, oriental white eye, coppersmith barbet, pied robin, grey hornbill, parakeets and kites. The total number of trees with nests is very low and six of the total trees with nests had wasp nests. Some trees had three to four wasp nests on each.

Damages to the tree body

The biggest damage to tree body is lopping, especially in winters. Some trees got annually lopped. Amaltas variety got lopped annually more than others. The next human induced damages to the body are nailing, iron hooks and rods. We have found a tree riddled with more than 22 nails, this Bakain tree was being used to recharge mobiles and an electric stove burner was connected to the power point nailed into the tree, rods were inserted into trees in front of construction sites and dhobi shacks. Termites are the most common natural pests on trees in Sarvodaya Enclave, found frequently on Gulmohar and Harsingar.

Open space around trunk

The ground around tree trunks has little scope for water percolation and even in cases with ample space the soil is highly compacted. The highest space is termed ‘E” which is as per the High Court order of 6x6 feet open space around the trunk. The green corridor comprises close to hundred trees in front of houses A1 to A5. So the other trees in front of homes or parking which have more than 6 feet space could be as less as 67. 65 per cent of the trees have less than 2 feet open space around the tree trunk putting the trees under great stress and threatening ground water recharge.

Even to maintain 1 Tree per Person and 1 Tree per Vehicle, Sarvodaya Enclave, most probably the greenest colony in Delhi, needs approximately 1000 trees to be planted immediately and maintained assuming that all the trees planted would survive. The very low ratio in the greenest colony also creates the need of identifying the status of other colonies, corporates, office / commercial complexes and undertake tree census followed up with rapid plantation of indigenous trees for improvement of the situation.

Regulating pruning

Stringent policy on lopping and the frequency of pruning must be decided based on the necessity and the species. Record must be maintained as to which individual trees were pruned. No tree which has less than 6 feet open space must be given permission for pruning. Tree census data can be a useful tool. Awareness campaign must be in place to stop unnecessary pruning.

Regulating felling

Indigenous mature trees must be avoided from felling if there is an alternative while seeking or giving permissions by MCD/Forest Department. Record of number of tree lost by calamities, diseases and human intervention can be recorded through tree census submitted by RWA every year.

Ensuring longevity

The tree census data can be used for maintaining the health of the trees. The Horticulture Department must educate on interventions for common tree diseases and pests and the data of Tree census can be used to get all the nails, rods and tree guards damaging the trees immediately removed. MCD department has to create a massive campaign to protect open spaces. Recommendation of porous tiling is a big step forward wherever tiling cannot be avoided.

Creating awareness

Tree census provides a great opportunity for collaborators to get into first hand contact with the trees in colonies. Appreciation of trees leads to higher protection. Regular tree walks followed by tree census is recommended to build sense of ownership.

At first I thought I was fighting to save rubber trees, then I thought I was fighting to save the Amazon rainforest. Now I realize I am fighting for humanity

- Chico Mendes, Rubber tappers' leader

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