World Environment Day: Pune’s grassland ecosystems on verge of ‘extinction’

Grasslands and scrublands on the outskirts of Pune are crumbling to the pressure of cultivation, sending its ecosystem on a downward spiral.

Scrublands and grasslands on the outskirts of Pune are home to several wildlife species and its protection and restoration has become the need of the hour, according to wildlife experts. On the occasion of World Environment Day, observed on June 5, environmentalists from the city expressed the need for authorities to identify such areas for conservation, and the implementation of a policy dedicated for protecting the grassland ecology.

Sachin Punekar, president of biospheres, a city based non-government organisation working for the conservation of biodiversity, said, “The areas adjoining Pune are not true grasslands, but are scrublands with patches of grasses. These areas are home to several wildlife species, including the Indian grey wolf, striped hyena, Bengal fox, Indian porcupine, Indian gazelle, blackbucks, black-necked hare, Indian eagle owl, Indian courser, several lark species, which are grassland birds, yellow wattled lapwing and several other reptile species. Punekar added that these areas are becoming more vulnerable to ecological degradation and that their protection has become crucial. 

“Due to irrigation, the pressure of cultivation is rising in these parts, which is a threat to the habitat. For its protection, it’s important to explore the areas extensively, which is currently not happening. There is also a need for documentation of areas which are home to several flora and fauna and which are under threat. Also, a grassland ecology policy dedicated for the protection of grasslands is necessary,” added Punekar. 

Speaking about the importance of grassland conservation, Kiran Purandare, a wildlife expert, said, “Grasslands mostly include grasses and small shrubs or trees. Such grasslands are home to some of the most threatened wildlife species, including the great Indian bustard and the lesser floricans, among others. Currently, in Maharashtra, true grasslands are not present; what remains are patches of grasslands. Most of the grassland habitats have changed due to plantation and cultivation. There are many patches of grasslands at Nannaj, which need to be identified and protected.” 

Purandare said that grasslands should be identified and left untouched for the ecosystem to flourish. “If these areas are left untouched from cultivation, grazing and plantation, grassland habitats can be regenerated. Plantation of grasses, which are not native species, should also be avoided,” he added. 

Sharing his views, Ranganath Naikade, conservator of forest, Pune, said, “The forest department is carrying out several initiatives to conserve scrublands and grasslands. Special fodder plantations of grasses are being undertaken in areas near Indapur and Solapur on forest land so as to conserve meadows. These meadows are home to several wildlife and plant species and need to be conserved.”