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In a first, Uttarakhand is restoring its meadows

DEHRADUN/UTTARKASHI: In what is being touted as the first of its kind conservation effort for alpine meadows in the country, the Uttarakhand forest department is using eco-friendly engineering to ward off soil erosion that’s devastating Dayara Bugyal — ecologically precious pastures in Himalayas.

Jairaj, head of forest force and principal chief conservator of forests (Uttarakhand), told TOI that conservation efforts started at Dayara Bugyal in Uttarkashi last year and soon meadows across the state will be restored. “The project to restore other meadows will cost Rs 6 crore,” he said. S P Subudhi, member secretary, Uttarakhand Environment Protection and Pollution Control Board, added that the first phase of Dayara Bugyal repairs was nearing completion.

The rolling patches of Dayara Bugyal at 11,000 feet are a perennial tourist attraction but soil erosion is marring the landscape and adversely affecting plant ecology. The meadow spread over 28 sq km is home to endangered plants like spikenard (Nardostachys jatamansi) and kutki (Picrorhiza kurroa) used in traditional medicine. Over the past few years, at least 2.5 km of the bugyal has been damaged, with huge cracks appearing in a 600-metre area. A six-member committee called Dayara Bugyal Conservation Committee, which was set up in 2019, is overseeing the project.

Former dean of Wildlife Institute of India and technical advisor to the committee, G S Rawat, said it was important to arrest soil erosion in meadows in time else it could lead to floods as well as loss of Himalayan biodiversity. “Alpine meadows are extremely important as all streams and rivers in the Himalayan region originate in the meadows. Their conservation should be a top priority.”

Under the first phase, large coir mats made up of coconut fibre — a natural fertiliser — have been used to prevent soil erosion in the severely damaged 600m area. Sushil Bhatt, assistant manager of Coir Board of India, Dehradun, said, “The coir mats grip the land firmly, thus keeping the soil from loosening. They would remain effective for at least two years,” he said.

Sandeep Kumar, divisional forest officer of Uttarkashi, said coir mats were also stuffed with pine leaves and used as check dams to prevent streams from eroding soil when they are in full flow during monsoon. In the next phase, the department will use the same techniques in other parts of Dayara Bugyal while also setting up nurseries — planting local grass and small plants and herbs — to offset effects of overgrazing on the pastures. Local villages have also been roped in for conservation efforts. Counselling and awareness camps are being held to help village residents understand the demerits of overgrazing.

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