Track Bengaluru’s green cover

Citizens launch a tree census initiative to keep tabs on city’s depleting green cover.

The next time a tree in your neighbourhood is cut, you may actually be able to track it online. NGO Sattva Welfare Association has created a website www.vruksha.com, which aims to make details of all trees in the public space in Bengaluru available online.

As a pilot project, the association has completed the tree census of Hampi nagar ward. Around 3000 trees belonging to 39 species were identified in this ward, which has an area of only 1.11 sq km. They covered 102 roads within six months – the main roads had 100-300 trees while the smaller cross roads had 10-50 trees.

The team first geo-tags a tree in Google map with the help of GPS devices or guides. They then go to the location, record all parameters manually and upload the information in the website. Once the data is uploaded, volunteers will make periodical visits to map the condition of the tree over time. If any tree is cut illegally or removed for road widening, the data will be recorded.

[Click on image to enlarge]. A screenshot of the data on the trees of 5th C main road, Hampinagar Pic: Navya P K.

As of now, the species of the tree, its GBH (Girth Breadth Height), whether it’s a rare species or has any bird nests, health of the tree etc., are available. "This information can be used while planning about the kind of trees that can be grown in the city. If citizens are ready to watch one tree at a time and record its progress online, there will be accountability," says Narayan Ranganathan, a member of Sattva Association. None of the eight members of the association have a degree in botany. These Jayanagar residents call themselves field botanists – "we got together as we shared an interest in trees and gradually educated ourselves about the details," says Narayan.

The NGO already has contacted the BBMP Forest Department and has agreed to share the information with it. The Palike hopes to use the information for its future projects. BBMP Conservator of Forests Shantakumar said, "Once tree census is done in more parts of the city, we can use it to check illegal tree felling and to raise awareness. This information is essential as the city’s tree cover is depleting." But the department itself is not supporting the census directly with manpower or financial aid. Though many other Indian cities are already taking up tree census, BBMP has never done this, and does not have a record of trees in the city.

The association also plans to use the data to quantify the benefits of trees. "The data can be used to study tree growth, climate data, regional patterns of energy use and pollution levels. This in turn can be used to quantify the rupee value of the benefits of each tree – from pollution reduction to savings on air conditioning bills," says Vijay Babu, member of the NGO and a student of BNM Institute of Technology.

The Association now hopes to attract more manpower and financial support. It has already been contacted by many citizens who are interested in participating in the initiative. "We hope that more volunteers will come forward to do tree census for their respective areas. We are also planning to approach corporates for funding," says Vijay Babu.

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