Reviving the rainforest

Ecological restoration of degraded rainforest in the Anamalai hills

Can a biologically diverse forest, once degraded or destroyed, be brought back to its original state? Relatively undisturbed forests are best left alone, rather than modified in the belief that they can be restored. Yet, forests already degraded or fragmented may be worth restoring, as in the Anamalai hills.

  • Restored rainforest fragment surrounded by tea plantations

  • Remnant rainforest fragment in the Anamalai hills

  • Rainforest canopy

  • Anamalai rainforest plant nursery

  • Ormosia travancorica seeds in polybags at the nursery

Fixing fragmented forests

Our restoration programme in the Western Ghats focuses on the region’s unique, biologically diverse tropical rainforests. Historically, due to human activities, these forests have been cleared, degraded, or reduced to fragments scattered like islands amidst towns and cities, dams and mines, farms and plantations.  A growing body of field research, including our own, suggests that remnant rainforests cannot be conserved through protection alone. One also needs to restore degraded lands to improve habitat quality to enable the survival of threatened species that live within these forest patches and to reconnect existing patches, if possible, to enhance the entire conservation landscape.

Restoration and recovery

Since 2001, we have worked in the Valparai plateau, Anamalai hills, to ecologically restore ten rainforest fragments (1 to 100 ha in area), three sites contiguous with the Anamalai Tiger Reserve, and a perennial stream flowing through tea plantation. The sites are identified and protected in partnership with the plantation companies (Parry Agro Industries Ltd, Tata Coffee Ltd, Tea Estates India Ltd–earlier Hindustan Unilever Ltd) and the Tamil Nadu Forest Department. While the sites occupy around 300 ha, restoration plantings targeted 45 plots (50 ha) in the most degraded portions, especially fragment edges. In these sites, we have planted 26,500 saplings of over 160 native rainforest tree (and some liana) species.Early monitoring showed that an average of 61% of the planted saplings survived at the end of two years. As these sapling establish along with resurgent natural vegetation, the fragments are on the road to recovery. Visit our Rainforest Restoration Project Showcase to see more.

Native shade trees in plantations

Restoration of rainforest fragments can be complemented by efforts to improve land-use practices and increase native tree cover in surrounding plantations. A large number of native tree species hold potential for use as shade trees in plantations, but have been overlooked or rarely tried out. Using saplings from our rainforest plant nursery at Valparai, plantation companies in the Anamalai hills have planted nearly 15,000 saplings of around 60 native tree species since 2004. A number of species, planted out as shade in coffee, cardamom, tea, and vanilla plantations have established well, some even doing better than commonly used alien species such as silver oak.



  • Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation Ltd
  • Parry Agro Industries Ltd
  • Tata Coffee Ltd
  • Tea Estates India Ltd
  • United Planters' Association of South India
  • Vattakanal Conservation Trust, Kodaikanal


  • Barakat Inc., USA
  • Conservation, Food and Health Foundation, USA
  • Ford Foundation, India
  • GEF-UNDP Small Grants Programme, India
  • IUCN Netherlands (TRP, EGP, and Ecosystem Alliance)
  • Nadathur Conservation Trust


  • Popular Article
    Hornbills: the feathered foresters.
    Mudappa, D. 2016. JLR Explore, 15 May 2016.

    Most of us are familiar with charismatic mammals such as tigers, elephants and apes. And there are charismatic species amongst birds too: bustards, cranes, eagles. But in the Asian and African tropics are birds that gain charisma from their large size, spectacular appearance, and extraordinary breeding habits: the hornbills.

    Read here:

  • Popular Article
    Rātriñcaranmār [In Malayalam: Night rangers, article on small carnivores].
    Koodu, October 4(5): 70-72.

    PDF, 496 KB

  • Art & Literary
    Elephant crossing
    Orion 35(3): 6. (May | June 2016)
  • Popular Article
    Icons of Anamalais: Malabar Whistling Thrush
    Pollachi Papyrus, July – September 3(3): 38-41.

    Shorter, edited version of article ‘Musician of the Monsoon’ that appeared in The Hindu Sunday Magazine on 6 Sep 2009.

    Read here:

  • Journal Article
    Landscape scale habitat suitability modelling of bats in the Western Ghats of India:Bats like something in their tea
    Claire F R Wordley, Mahesh Sankaran, Divya Mudappa, John D Altringham
    Biological Conservation 191: 529-536.

    PDF, 1.92 MB

    To conserve biodiversity it is imperative that we understand how different species respond to land use change, and determine the scales at which habitat changes affect species' persistence. We used habitat suitability models (HSMs) at spatial scales from 100–4000 m to address these concerns for bats in the Western Ghats of India, a biodiversity hotspot of global importance where the habitat requirements of bats are poorly understood. We used acoustic and capture data to build fine scale HSMs for ten species (Hesperoptenus tickelli, Miniopterus fuliginosus, Miniopterus pusillus, Myotis horsfieldii, Pipistrellus ceylonicus, Megaderma spasma, Hipposideros pomona, Rhinolophus beddomei, Rhinolophus indorouxii and Rhinolophus lepidus) in a tea-dominated landscape. Small (100–500 m) scale habitat variables (e.g. percentage tea plantation cover) and distances to habitat features (e.g. distance to water) were the strongest predictors of bat occurrence, likely due to their high mobility, which enables them to exploit even small or isolated foraging areas. Most species showed a positive response to coffee plantations grown under native shade and to forest fragments, but a negative response to more heavily modified tea plantations. Two species were never recorded in tea plantations. This is the first study of bats in tea planta- tions globally, and the first ecological Old World bat study to combine acoustic and capture data. Our results suggest that although bats respond negatively to tea plantations, tea-dominated landscapes that also contain forest fragments and shade coffee can nevertheless support many bat species.

  • Popular Article
    Restoring the fabric
    Sanctuary Asia, June 2015, 35(6): 53.

    PNG, 339 KB

  • Popular Article
    Current ecological concerns in the power sector: options to avoid or minimise impacts
    Pages 89-100 in M N Goswami and P Chaudhry (editors) An Epochal Shift in the Idea of India-Meeting aspirations? IPPAI Knowledge Report, Independent Power Producers Association of India, New Delhi.

    PDF, 1.36 MB

  • Popular Article
    The long road to growth
    The Hindu, Op-ed Comment, 19 March 2015, Page 9.

    As power lines and roads slice up forest cover, it becomes clear that a knowledge economy must tackle development with a wider perspective than that of mere short-term gains. Available from here:

    In Tamil translation by P. Jeganathan in The Hindu Tamil and here:

  • Art & Literary
    Coming home to Borneo
    Fountain Ink, June 2014, 3(8): 91-102.
  • Popular Article
    Integrating ecology and economy
    The Hindu, Op-ed Comment Page, 3 July 2014, page 9.

    For almost every destructive project, there are often alternatives that cause less harm to environment and local communities, and can provide overall long-term benefits.

    Available here: http://www.thehindu.cojamam/opinion/op-ed/integrating-ecology-and-econoajmy/article6170535.ece

Did you know your internet explorer is out of date?

To access our website you should upgrade to a newer version or other web browser.

How to do that »