But all that is set to change. As a deterrent, a compound wall , most likely concrete, will be erected, and access would be possible only through a dedicated entrance.
Spread over 320 hectares, the NRF lies a few kilometres west of the Pallikaranai marshland. The forest is home to nearly 500 species of flora and fauna, and over 83 species of birds have been spotted here. The NRF, where deciduous, thorny shrub grow, was once the target practice ground of the Indian Military. The forest also boasts a quarry, but quarrying work was stopped in 1985, three years after the passing of the Forest Conservation Act.
The disused quarry is home to the horned owls. At a recent count at least a dozen horned owls were found to be roosting there. The breeding season is between November and March, and a couple of years ago, one of the horned owls had laid five eggs, although the standard is only three eggs.While their healthy head count is a cause for celebration, experts point out that the horned owls for their sustenance, particularly the snakes and frogs which live around the pond . It is these ponds that have turned into an impromptu washing area for many slum dwellers, and the strong detergent used in the washing has added to the alkaline content of the water. Experts say such a state could drive away the prey of the horned owl, and everything should be done to preserve the habitat. The forest is also home to the black-naped hare, jackals and small mammals.
It is not a disheartening scenario, since remedial measures are being taken up. Naturalists say they have also spotted yellow footed pigeon, long -tailed Minivet and migratory birds such as the Rosy Pastor . “The spot billed duck is a visitor, and there are some insects which closely resemble those found in the Himalayas, and these need to be studied,” says KVRK Thirunaranan, of Nature Trust, an NGO. “We are very happy with the action taken by the government in preserving this area. The NFR will turn into a live biological space, and will not lose its distinct wilderness touch,” adds Thirunaranan.
The first priority is to contain human interference, and allow the eco system to flourish, says a ranger. “The wall would keep out anti social elements, and once systems are in place, we hope to allow nature trails in the near future,” he adds.
The road map to conservation has won widespread acclaim, and some experts say it is necessary to safeguard against turning the forest into a fortress. “ A barbed wire fence would be less obtrusive compared to a concrete wall, since a wall could be a hindrance to small mammals, and can disorient birds to some extent,” says D Narasimhan, department of botany, Madras Christian College. “Some amount of transparency would be beneficial all round,” he adds.
With officials focusing on improving the NRF, naturalists say this area, on the, could turn out to be another Guindy National Park. Other columns by the author... Should 'VIP darshan' in temples be done away with?Chennai has never been this unlivable! Will TN graduate with top honours in higher education?Petrol trumps politics in ChennaiBooze curfew stifling Chennai's IPL fun
Bhama Devi Ravi is a Chennai based journalist