The Yamuna Biodiversity Park | Example of Wasteland Restoration

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Backdrop of Wasteland Restoration

Wastelands are degraded lands where the soil might have low productive capacity. Wastelands include areas that are affected by erosion, shifting cultivation, high salinity or alkalinity, riverine lands, or lands that are affected by water logging, or moisture deficiency.

Such areas can be ecologically unstable, with displacement of top soil, and are thus also unsuitable for agricultural activity. However, such lands can be restored. There are several examples of how saline soils have been reclaimed by draining the area and implementing special planting methods to ensure survival of vegetation. Likewise, mine areas have also been restored by landscaping and using of adaptive vegetation to green the area. The Yamuna Biodiversity Park is also one such example.

The restoration of wastelands mainly involves management of soil and vegetation in degraded wastelands. In selecting species for propagating in the process of restoration of degraded wastelands, the decisive factors include selection of preferably site-specific local species, avoidance of exotic or invasive species, potential for utilization of species, the species’ silvicultural properties, and a multi-species approach to afforestation.

What is important in this process is to improve water yield in these areas and reduce siltation. Other factors that determine the management of wastelands include the capability of the soil, climatic characteristics of the site, local policies and infrastructure. This necessitates an integrated ecosystem approach that involves sustainable water management and efficient utilization of environmental resources (T.V. Ramachandra and R. Kumar, undated).

Examples of Wasteland Restoration
Mali, a predominantly arid country with huge swathes of degraded land, was able to mobilize 6.8 million USD for a five year project to boost productivity in the country’s gum Arabic sector. Gum Arabic is a versatile product derived from Acacia Senegal, a tree species that helps reduce land degradation in Mali and thus enhances sustainable land management and also trade for Mali.  Other than improving land quality, the tree species has helped Mali’s cause in case of food security and poverty reduction.

The energy crisis of the 1990s in Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia resulted in massive amounts of unsustainable forestry practices such as logging and overgrazing, resulting in land degradation and desertification. Under the lead of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), a project was undertaken to improve the resilience of forest ecosystems through the restoration of native species and creative planting methods that were based on site-specific plans. Involving also local community resources, the project was able to restore about 1,415 ha of total land area.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) initiated an ecosystem restoration program at the Shouf Cedar Nature Reserve, Lebanon, in 2012 to increase the resilience of river and forest ecosystems to climate change and encourage sustainable land use. In the dry season, water pumping for irrigation reduces water levels in the reserve and in the wet season, there is a threat of floods due to melting snow and rain.

As such, climate change is expected to particularly affect the reserve due to higher temperatures. The restoration plan includes direct sowing of Quercus brantii in steep slopes and places with less vegetation, planting of native species, fencing in overgrazed areas, direct sowing in areas with sandy soil, rehabilitation of old terrace farms, creation of a green barrier between the road and the wetland at the border of the Ammiq wetland, and removing biomass in the Dalboun Oak Forest to reduce forest fires and preserve bird habitats (FAO, 2015).

In India, apart from many other initiatives, one notable one was the hill resource management societies (HRMSs). The Government of Haryana entered into an agreement with The Energy & Resources Institute (TERI) in 1990, with the Ford Foundation providing financial support, to establish village-based HRMSs. The problem was one of a lack of community organizations to check destruction of forests in the Shiwalik hills, and there was widespread erosion and siltation in local water bodies.

The project aimed to develop a local participatory framework of people’s self-help institutions for protecting forests managing water as regards the surrounding forests. The goal involved training for villagers in water-harvesting structures and their upkeep, with the aim of generating awareness of water distribution systems. The communities would also provide labour for which they would be monetarily compensated.

Here, a pressing need was felt for micro-credit and market connectivity for communities. This was necessary especially for the participation of women in HRMSs. The greatest achievement was the substantial achievement of last mile delivery in forest management, although greater inter-departmental co-operation in terms of restoration of natural resources was needed, along with equitable access to benefits (FAO, 2015).

Urban Center Case Study: Yamuna Biodiversity Park
Biodiversity forms the basis of human survival on earth. Urban centers cannot sustain their environmental qualities without maintaining their biodiversity. Urban biodiversity is threatened due to habitat degradation in terms of land mass, water supply and concomitantly due to pollution, invasion of alien species and climate change.

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River Yamuna is very important to the city of Delhi. However high biotic pressures have crippled the life support systems of Yamuna river severely to such an extent that the river may soon be an eyesore to the landscape of Delhi.

Recognizing this, the University of Delhi and the Delhi Development Authority initiated a joint programme to establish a network of Biodiversity Parks. The Yamuna Biodiversity Park spread over an area of 457 acres, the Yamuna Biodiversity Park was developed in two phases (an inactive flood plain of 157 acres and an active flood zone of 300 acres) connected by a corridor. It is situated at Jagatpur village near Wazirabad. Initiated in the year 2002, today it is a fully functioning network of ecosystems (Table 1). To overcome the twin challenges of high alkaline soil (pH upto 8.9) and saline water (electrical conductivity up to μS cm-1), phyto remediation measures using grasses and legumes were utilized for reclamation.

In the Yamuna Biodiversity Park Phase 2, a wetland of 100 acres was restored with the objective of impounding a substantial amount of floodwater. Forest communities such as Hantwickia, Adina cordifolia, Terminalia-, Mytrgyna– and Emblica Syzyzium communities are thriving in Yamuna Biodiversity Park Phase 2.

Table 1: Biodiversity profile of Yamuna Biodiversity Park
2002 2007 2014
Terrestrial Plants 90 656 874
Aquatic Plants 5 76 99
Avifauna 37 168 196
Herpetofauna 3 16 18
Mammals 4 17 18
Fishes 2 12 18
Butterflies 2 46 75

How the Yamuna Biodiversity Park was made into a vibrant ecosystem:

  1. Restoration:Shallow and deep water bodies located on the floodplains downstream of Wazirabad reservoir up to Jaitpur (eg. Shastri Park, Usman Pur, Near Old Railway Bridge, Geeta Colony, Mayur Vihar and near DND Flyover), was restored into catchment wetlands and their connecting channels desilted to facilitate the entry of flood water into restored water bodies. These wetlands hold flood water and recharge the ground water.
  2. Phyto-remediation:Restored water bodies located close to the discharge points of sewage drains (minor and major) particularly on the Western bank, was developed into treatment wetlands. The sewage that enters into the floodplain was channelized (through distributional channels) in a way that passed through a series of treatment wetlands before they entered into the main river channel.
  3. Conservation of native biota:The areas between the wetlands was developed into mosaic of grasslands and flood plain forests. These ecosystems provided a wide range of ecosystem services – buffering ambient temperature, serving as sink to COand other pollutants, entrapping sediments, stabilizing flood plains, serving as habitat for wildlife and providing recreation to the public.
  4. Creation of mini- and macro off- river reservoirs:Waterbodies of floodplains upstream of Wazirabad reservoir was developed into mini- and macro off- river reservoirs. Interspersed with off-river reservoirs was grasslands and floodplain forests. These reservoirs impounded a significant amount of flood water in addition to recharging ground water and can now also meet a part of the city’s water requirements.
  5. Economic values:Some of the restored wetlands is used for pisiculture and for cultivation of aquatic plants that yield products of economic value. These will serve as sustainable alternative livelihoods for local people engaged in practicing agriculture that was unsustainable on the floodplains.
  6. Recreation:Development of greenways of width ranging from 50 m to 200 m all along the marginal embankments/bund roads/roads on both the eastern and western banks of the river. These greenways are landscaped in a way that walkways all along and recreational parks are placed close to the human settlements. Native trees, shrubs, and herbs are used in the development of greenways. This approach not only beautifies the entire riverfront but also provides recreation to the public besides creating a better watershed regime.

Today, the Yamuna Biodiversity Park harbours more than 2000 plant and animal species, ecologically assembled into 30 self-sustaining communities. The finest community wetlands harbour aquatic vegetation, fishes, dragonflies and microorganisms. These wetlands receive flocks of migratory birds (> 5000 individuals) from Siberia and other Palearctic regions every year. Various forest communities interspersed with sprawling grasslands attract many birds, reptiles and mammals.


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