8

Maninag- Degraded Forest Study

Introduction

In the district of Nayagarh, east Orissa (see figure 1.1), a study was undertaken to determine the effects of a no-management and protection scenario on designated forest land. All the forest in the area is designated as Reserved according to the Forest Department. Several areas, which will be considered in the next case study, are under the protection of the Ranpur Village Forest Protection Committees. The area is a former kingdom, and still often referred to as Raj-Ranpur, and its forests were once the hunting grounds of the local royalty.

The place chosen for the study is a sloped area called Maninag. Despite a 'Reserved' designation, Maninag forest is little more than a hillside of open, low, sparse scrub, dotted with an occasional tree toward the bottom, as can be seen in plate 8.1. Apparent from the photograph also is the considerable erosion, and visible lateritic red soil. A lack of vegetation cover can be observed, rendering the ground more susceptible to erosion by wind and rain, and gully forming erosion was noted. Intensive grazing from several hundred goats and cattle (see plate 8.2), continues to exert a pressure that may accelerate degradation.

From local accounts, Maninag was, indeed, once a mixed forest with species typical of the region, such as sal (Shorea robusta), teak (Tectona grandis), bamboo, (Dendroclamus strictus), neem (Azadirachta indica). Thirty years before, the forest was dense and tigers were common. When Maninag was a kingdom, many locals gained employment in watching over the forest, and were helpers in the royal hunts. After Independence, and the dissolution of kingdoms across the subcontinent, the forests were overseen by the FD.

Deforestation was thought to have occurred about twenty years before, as a consequence of the Forest Department leasing out Maninag to a national corporation (though independent verification was not possible). Like many other areas of forest leased out for extraction, deforestation was a common result, either through deliberate clearfelling, or as a consequence of the over-working of areas. Agreed leases and coupes were frequently transgressed, particularly as there was little redress for doing so. In this way, Maninag appears typical of many other areas of forest that have become degraded.

Presently, Maninag is used by the local community as grazing land. Land for pasture has been restricted in recent years, due to the establishment of cashew nut plantations in the area. It seems likely, therefore, that there is a concentration of grazers on Maninag, in higher densities than would perhaps otherwise occur.

No protection is given to Maninag, according to Ranpur VFPC, due to its distance from villages. The nearest settlement is Ranpur town, approximately 6 km away, which was also a contributing factor to the degradation of Maninag, by harvesting what little biomass was available. The town appears to use 'conventional' fuels, such as kerosene in its commercial outlets, though biomass was widely available for sale in the bazaar, suggesting a biomass-based domestic sector.

The aims of this study are to sample the degraded forest area of Maninag, to gain an

understanding of the effects of a non-management and protection scenario.

Methodology in the field

  1. Three sites, in different parts of the hill, and considered representative of the area were marked off into 10 x 10 m plots.
  2. A brief description of each site was made, noting general appearance, vegetation cover, height, erosion, and other features of interest such as evidence of grazing, etc…
  3. All vegetation was noted, and was identified to species level (often local names were used in the field, and were formally identified later). Height of trees (rather, saplings), height and diameter of shrubs were recorded, while forbs were only counted.

Analysis

  1. Frequency diagrams were made for species of tree, shrub and forb respectively.
  2. Shannon diversity index (H=S PilnPi) and equitability index (J=H/lnS) were calculated.
  3. Rank-abundance diagram was created.

Description of sites

The slope is south facing, and the hill is approximately 1000 ft in height. Towards the bottom of the hill, and lining the road are mature trees, including mango (Mangifera indica) and tamarind (Tamarindus indica). Large boulders are dotted around the hillside, which is sparsely vegetated with low scrub. Lateritic soil forms the visible substrate. Gully erosion is evident, and eroded patches of soil prevent any vegetative growth in some areas.

Site 1: ~150 ft from the road, and bottom of the hill. Sparse groundcover on the eroded, rocky soil, less than 20%. Half of the site was particularly eroded. Some rootstock noted under the soil surface.

Site 2: Approximately 300 ft from the road, further up the hill. The site was very eroded. Large patches of bare red/brown earth, worn out areas of grass. Water erosion noted, which has formed gullies 30cm deep. Occasional shrubs and forbs, patchily distributed, accounted for less than 30% cover. Cowdung, goat droppings and rabbit pellets were present.

Site 3: Approximately 250 ft from the road, and east of the previous two sites. The site was eroded and very rocky. 9 large boulders, some greater than 1m were present. Occasional shrubs were patchily distributed around the site, most of the vegetation was less than 1m in height. Goat droppings were present. Cattle and goats were observed grazing near by.

 

Results

Figures 8.1, 8.2 and 8.3 show the frequency diagrams for trees, shrubs, and forbs respectively, for three sites at Maninag Reserved Forest. Eighteen species of tree in total were found over the three sites, as shown in figure 8.1. Five species (28%) were common to all sites, while ten species (55%), were found at one site only. Of these four were found at site 1, and three each at sites 2 and 3. They were also found to be 'singletons' (with one exception, Adina cordifolia, where two were found at site 2), and in contrast to the species common to all sites, which were found to occur in higher numbers. What the data does not show, however, is the height of the vegetation. Most of the trees observed were less than 1m tall, with the exception of Ankula, where six were found to be over 1m, though the highest was 118cm. Many (53%) of the trees occurred in clusters, often amid the protection of thorny shrubs, such as Hesperethusa crenulata. Some trees were found to occur only amongst protective cover, such as Azadirachta indica.

The shrubs in figure 8.2 show a similar, marked difference in distribution. Of the six shrub species observed at Maninag, three (50%) were found to be common to all three sites, one, the castor oil tree (Ricinus communalis) occurring in markedly higher numbers than the others. The remaining three occurred singly; Leucas aspera at site 1, jajangi (local name) and Zigyphus spp. both at site 3.

There appeared to be a greater uniformity in the distribution of forbs. Four were noted at Maninag; achina and Tephrosia purpurea were found to occur at all sites, while the remaining two, Andrographis paniculata and laundabagula were found at sites 2 and 3.

Figure 8.4 shows the rank-abundance of species at Maninag. It appears to be less geometric than the rank abundance diagram at Budhikhamari. Shannon diversity was calculated as 2.21 and equitability, 0.76.

 

Discussion

Regarding the tree species found at Maninag, it is immediately apparent that there is a considerable diversity, which belies the degraded appearance of the area (to the surprise of everyone, including the Doctor of tropical forest ecology who kindly assisted in the field!). Diversity was found to be relatively high, at 2.21, (the highest for all studies), and equitability also was high, at 0.76 (second highest of all studies).

Eighteen tree species were recorded in total at Maninag, more than the 14 observed in Budhikhamari forest, while the rank-abundance diagram also suggests a more equitable distribution. However, from plate 8.1, it can be seen that mature trees are present only by a temple and road. Stretching up the hill, away from the road, scrub predominates. All the tree species were small saplings, or sprouts from old rootstock visible in the soil, such as Erythrina suberosa- evidence of the forest that once clothed the hill. Some species, notably Azadirachta indica, were only found inside the thorny protection of shrubs such as Hesperethusa crenulata, perhaps indicating the relative palatability of this species to the grazers. Perhaps the dense thorny shrub also created a microclimate conducive to germination/sprouting, by providing an increase in water and humidity, shade, nutrients, etc. while many areas 'outside' may not have been suitable for germination, given the advanced erosion over large patches of the sites. In one Hesperethusa crenulata shrub, nine saplings of four species were found.

The shrubs and forbs noted at Maninag are likely to be species unpalatable to goats, cattle and rabbits. Certainly the most abundant shrub was found to be the castor oil tree (Ricinus communalis), a highly toxic species. In the field, the grazing behaviour of cattle and goats appear to confirm this, as many were seen to ignore the accessible forbs and shrubs, in a determined search for more preferable species inside and underneath shrubs, as plate 8.2 shows.

Altogether, the data for tree species present at Maninag show a species richness considerably greater than expected from the outset, considering the highly degraded appearance of the area. In all likelihood, if a section was to be closed-off to grazing, forest regeneration may well occur rapidly, given the generally favourable climatic conditions of east India; the sprouting rootstock, and presence of saplings etc, which would, from a forest conservation/reforestation perspective, appear a desirable aim. Reasons for not doing so, however, may be articulated by the words of a political ecologist, who said: 'one man's degradation is another's fertility'. In this case, the degraded forest is providing valuable grazing land, particularly since the 'enclosure' of other areas traditionally used for grazing, and is therefore maintaining a vital component of the rural economy.

In conversation with a local shepherd and his daughter, it was discovered that for eight or nine months of the year, their herd of 500 goats and 200 cattle graze daily at Maninag, across a 6km stretch along with other herds. Maninag has been used as a grazing ground for about a year, and it was interesting to discover that in this herd, the number of goats had increased. The same shepherd reported also that the goats travel further up Maninag hill in search of food. Perhaps this change is indicative of increased pressure on the diminishing grazing lands.

Forest Protection is unlikely to occur at Maninag. Ranpur VFPC pointed out that it was too far from villages to be meaningfully protected. However, what is more likely, is that in the context of shrinking grazing grounds, Maninag, despite its degraded and eroded state, is more useful to the local community as a site for grazing, than as a forest. Whether this will continue to be the case in the future remains to be seen. Certainly browsing pressure appears to be high, perhaps in excess of the land's capacity, which may exacerbate erosion and result in the ultimate reduction of its biological potential.

 

 

Conclusion

The study highlighted the considerable biological potential at Maninag, against all expectations, in what appeared to be an extremely degraded area. Eighteen tree species noted exceed the number found at Budhikhamari Forest, which is the subject of community management and protection.

Lack of grazing grounds in the area account for high densities of cattle and sheep, in numbers that appear to be accelerating conditions that contribute to degradation at Maninag. This is indicated by the change in herd composition and foraging behaviour, and also by the vegetation. Lack of grazing grounds can be partly attributed to the government, by the creation of cashew plantations. Large-scale forest protection in other areas may also result in a local shortage of grazing grounds, though this point was not discussed in India.

What appeared to be a simple case of forest degradation has shown to be a more complex issue. Initially the study set out to sample an area of degraded forest, not subjected to protection and management. This has been achieved, but the context in which the degradation occurs, has proved illuminating. At Maninag, it may be less a lack of management, and more a consensus regarding land use. In order to maintain the cattle integral to an agricultural economy, the locals need Maninag as a grazing ground more than they need it to be a forest.

 

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