In the first month of 2018, we celebrated several festivals such as Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Makar Sankranti and Lohri in the northern India, and Bhogali Bihu in Assam. All these festivals mark the end of shorter winter days and the month of winter solstice. With this change in seasonality, our trees too are beginning a new cycle of leaf-flush and flowering. Are you noticing the changes in the trees around you? We thank all our friends who are continuing to monitor trees with us and welcome new ones on board. In this newsletter, we share some stories, news, and updates from the program including an interview with Saneesh CS, a SeasonWatch ambassador.
We will be happy to hear your comments and suggestions on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peepal (Ficus religiosa) is a native Indian tree. It can be seen growing naturally on top of old buildings, and even on other trees, having established there from the seeds that traveled in bird droppings. One of the ways in which Peepal tree differs from Banyan, the other common fig tree in India, is by the absence of aerial roots. Peepal tree is considered holy by Buddhists and Hindus in parts of south and south-east Asia, and is often planted near religious sites. The tree has distinctly heart-shaped leaves that have a long petiole and end in a long tip. Peepal, like other figs trees, produces several minute flowers arranged inside a fleshy urn or syconium that develops into a fig (fruit) upon pollination. The pollination is carried out by a specialized wasp that develops inside its syconium. The pollen carrying female wasps enter the syconium, pollinate the flowers and lay their eggs. The eggs hatch to produce wasp larvae that develop into male and female wasps. Wingless males die upon mating and may never leave the syconium. Winged females, on the other hand, gather pollen and leave the developing fig to find another syconium to pollinate and lay eggs. Imagine an insect spending most of her life inside a tiny fig!
Do you know this tree?
This is a deciduous tree with a distinctly pale trunk which gets exposed as the bark peels off. This appearance of the bark gives the tree its common name. Do you know what tree this is?
Guess this tree and be the first one to answer by writing to us on email@example.com.
The answer to our last quiz is Indian gooseberry (Phyllanthus emblica). Congratulation to the following people for getting it right!
Saneesh works with the Foundation for Ecological Security (FES) as a Program Manager. He grew up in a farming family in Wayanad, Kerala and has been interested in land and nature since. This led him to pursue a Masters degree in Geography. For many years, he has been actively participating in bird surveys in southern India. As part of FES, he works with rural people to conserve common lands. As an extension of this interest, he got children from eight rural villages in Chittoor and Anantapur, to observe trees in common village land as part of SeasonWatch. We spoke to him about this experience.
How many children are monitoring trees in their villages? When did they join SeasonWatch? How many trees and species are being observed by these children?
Eighty students from eight schools are observing over 250 trees. We started in mid-2015 and have added new trees every year. This year, we have already added 50 trees. Most trees belong to 15 common species in this region.
You have been interested in nature since early days. What motivates you to encourage young children to watch trees in their neighborhoods? What do you think they expect to gain from this experience?
As part of an organization that works with rural communities and their access to common lands, I realize that we need to help facilitate a process where rural people have access to information that they need to protect their own environment. Our limited funding is never enough if it is directly channelized into land protection. The impact is much greater when we work as partners with rural people. We have been carrying out biomass assessments with village adults for several years on their common lands. Since, the people are directly involved in the process they know what the state of their own land is and how it is changing. Children were not involved in the process and I felt that we should do something to involve them too where they too learn about their own land and environment. We had been participating in Great Backyard Bird Count for some years already but this was once a year activity. I felt SeasonWatch was a good way to regularly engage young children.
You are working with 80 children in two districts. How do you reach out to the children?
We start by having a village meeting. Our team explains the project to the parents and children. Here, we feel that parents are the key to motivate children as they themselves are interested in protecting their land and trees, as most of them are farmers and shepherds.
Children then choose a tree in their village to observe. Sometimes the chosen tree is in a school campus but most often it is in village common land itself. This way the children can continue to monitor their tree even during school holidays. We also involve village government schools. We have also translated the SeasonWatch observation sheet into Telugu so that it can be understood by the parents and teachers.
The children have been monitoring trees for two years now. Can you share with us some anecdotes and observations?
We recently carried out a village meeting to talk to children about their experiences. Different children shared their experience. One of the boys came up and told us that his tree that he had been monitoring for past eight months was recently chopped down. He was very sad for the loss. Another students from the same village was monitoring two trees, and donated one of his trees to his friend. This way the first boy got to adopt a new tree that was being observed. Another girl mentioned that the custard apple had been producing many fruits and while the fruits of other species were being eaten by birds and animals, the fruits of custard apple (much loved by people) were not preferred. She said that it maybe because birds and monkeys don't like the taste of this fruit the way we do. I had never thought about this but found it interesting.
Also, since we are working with children in two different districts we noticed that the Kanuga (Telugu) or Pongamia pinnata flowered profusely in Chittoor in March last year but had no flowers and mostly dry leaves in Anantapur. We spoke to children about this. The two places are very similar except that Anantapur receives less rainfall and is drier. I am wondering if this change in rainfall/moisture pattern could be the reason why the same species behaves so differently in otherwise very similar areas.