If we love our children, we must love the earth with tender care and pass it on, diverse and beautiful, so that on a warm spring day10,000 years hence they can feel peace in a sea of grass, can watch a bee visit a flower, can hear a sandpiper call in the sky, and can find joy in being alive.
-Hugh H. Iltis
Biodiversity is the totality of all inherited variations in the life forms of Earth, of which we are one species. We study and save it to our great benefit. We ignore and degrade it to our great peril.
The biodiversity on campus is quite vibrant as one takes a walk on the campus. It is interesting to note that the diversity exists at different levels of habitat, seasonality, species, natural and planted. The hill-top with its natural beauty is more of a biosphere reserve in itself, interspersed with human habitation. Different kinds of natural habitats and microhabitats, such as patches of woodland and thickets, open scrub land, streams, dead trees, puddles; artificial habitats such as gardens, ponds and even the built environment is home to various species of animals. The reservoir (back water of chas-kaman dam) also influences the biodiversity of the campus being a neighbouring aquatic habitat. Over the years, since the school has come into being, we have played a role in modifying or enhancing various habitats on the campus. However, it is truly owned by the plants, animals and microorganisms and we share this natural environs with them.
The seasonal diversity, that is in monsoon followed by winter combined with autumn and spring and then summer is quite profound with the lush growth of plants, shedding of leaves and blooming of various flowers. Monsoon brings its own variety of short lived hundreds of wild herbs and grass species. It is also the time for different kinds of fungus, microbes, algae, moss, ferns to flourish along with active insects, amphibians, earthworms, snails, slugs, millipedes and many other creepy crawlies. Monsoon is the time of display for hundreds of moth varieties, mostly seen under the light sources, even witnessing the spectacular ones such as Altas and lunar moth. As the monsoon is fading out, the hill-top becomes the haven of butterflies fluttering from plant to plant, with occasional visits of the Blue mormon. Post-monsoon is the activity period of the birds getting busy with nesting as there is an abundance of food. Sahyadri also becomes the winter home for many migratory birds coming from north and becomes a birder’s paradise. As these migrants return, spring season is at our doorstep and the canopy level gets sprinkled with colours with many trees in bloom, native and exotic. At this time of the year the resident bird population becomes quite active, and other insects such as cicadas, fireflies, crickets etc. show their prominence. The reptilian population of lizards, geckos, snakes are experienced by individuals on the campus from time to time. Children hold a lot of excitement around the sightings of snakes around the classrooms, dorms, road-side and they have learnt to respect these beauties from a distance. With clear visibility during this time, mammals such as hare, mongoose, fox also show up in and around the campus. Post-monsoon vacation period has been sometimes used by the leopard as a hide out for the last 2-3 years.
Children participate in plantation activity during the monsoons wherein the focus has been for native varieties. There are certain areas on the campus such as old Astachal hill(a hillock), streams along the slope, open areas, hill slopes which are representative of the native flora of this region and have served as a cue for augmenting plantation. In the initial period some of the exotic, ornamental and fast growing species were also planted which has also helped in developing the soil. In any given year close to 200-300 saplings are planted and post-monsoon they are tended for about 2-3 years until they are independent. Over the years, with regular plantation on campus, one sees a varied range of animal species becoming part of this reserve gradually, as it provides refuge in terms of food and shelter. However, quite a few native plants have also been regenerating on their own as the campus is protected area, mainly from cattle grazing.
In the junior school EVS curriculum, the outdoor exploration to learn about the biodiversity on the campus through the year is integral. Tree walks to know more about the plants on campus is regularly done with seasonal blooming of plants. As an introduction to the plants on the campus, each class 4 child also adopts a plant of their choice and studies the changes and other life forms in and around it for the whole year. Over this period children start to associate with their plants as a friend, along with interesting observations and some may even continue this bond. The wild monsoon herbs of the campus are studied along with library reference work by class 5 students. Children of class 6 also take up research based study regarding plants (wild & crops) and animals inhabiting the campus. Monsoon provides an opportunity to study a variety of fungus, insects, spiders, millipedes, snails, frogs etc. and to experience the diversity first-hand. Micro-habitats such as ponds, percolation tank, puddles, and individual plants are studied over a period of time for the life it supports and changes it goes through. Children being highly observant and curious very quickly get into exploration, sighting insects and other creepy-crawlies. In this process, some are too inclined to handle them, which is discouraged and others would find dead insects, which are then preserved for studying. The school campus is a living laboratory where one experiences the process of nature in action very closely.
Nature club is an open space for children to join and learn about the biodiversity found on the campus in different seasons. Mostly the younger ones have been the enthusiastic participants and few have carried through with their interest in wildlife in all the years of schooling here and even later. Over the years, this has been a space of exploration and study of mainly, birds, insects, other arthropods, fungus and incidental sighting of other animals. In addition to identifying the species, it also provided an opportunity to learn about the behaviour, habitat, different associations between plants and animals, within animals and observe the population trend closely. It has been noticed that the variety of birds and the number of certain species has certainly been on a rise. One of the avid student birders had also compiled their years of study into a project and made an assembly presentation in the school.
Assemblies and bulletin boards have also been another forums to acquaint children with the diversity of flora and fauna on campus or other parts of the country or world.
With the farming activity under the aegis of rural outreach, the opportunity to learn about the crop diversity within a particular species has been enormous. The junior school has been actively visiting the farms and familiarising themselves with different crop varieties, some which are now rarely cultivated or seen.