Tag Archive: learning about nature






Gujarat National Law College, Gandhigram, Gujarat


By Nanditha Krishna


In 2002, the Indian Parliament enacted the Biological Diversity Act followed by the National Biodiversity Rules in 2004. The main objectives of the Act were the conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use of its components and fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources. Earlier, the Wildlife Protection Act, 1973, and its 1991 Amendment provided for the protection of birds and animals, while the Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980, a vast improvement on the earlier Act of 1927, was intended to provide a high level of protection to the forests and to regulate diversion of forest lands for non-forestry purposes.


Biodiversity – or biological diversity – includes all the organisms found on our planet, the plants, animals and micro-organisms, the genes they contain and the different ecosystems of which they form a part. India is one of only seventeen mega diverse nations in the world, with over 85,000 out of 12,00,000 animal species in the world, and 45,000 out of 3,90,000 plant species. It is estimated that the world knows only about 17,70,000 species out of 5 to 10 million. We hardly know what we have, leave alone what we have lost.


Biodiversity is essential to the survival of every species, as each organism is linked to another in a fragile web of life. These form a food chain that links food producers to consumers, and maintains ecosystem diversity. The amount of green plants in any environment should be much more than the animals or insects that feed on them. Humans are only a strand in this delicate web of relationships. Every living creature is a part of a food chain. There are several food chains which, depending on the environment, could be simple or complex. But all food chains are fragile, and if even one link is broken, it sets off a series of reactions that could cause the collapse of the ecosystem. If predators are killed, the herbivores will multiply and eat up green plants and grains, leaving the land barren and unproductive. This is how a biologically-rich region like North Africa became the Sahara Desert. What would happen to public health if scavenger birds like the vulture were wiped out? Every species has its role, making species diversity essential.


Loss of biodiversity impacts immediately. There is the example of the genetic similarity of Brazil’s orange trees causing a terrible outbreak of citrus canker in 1991. The rapid deterioration of the ecology due to human interference is aiding the rapid disappearance of several wild plant and animal species.


Biodiversity is under serious threat in India for several reasons. Poaching and the wildlife trade are major national concerns, and all the international laws in the world have not been able to stop it. Habitat loss, caused by population growth and housing needs; pollution from sewage and effluents; the indiscriminate use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers which is wiping out entire insect species on which are dependant birds that pollinate our plants; encroachment, siltation and eutrophication that are destroying wetlands; oil spills, toxic effluents and sewage, blasting and dredging, collection of ornamental fish, trawler fishing, nylon nets, destruction of coral reefs and hot water from nuclear plants which are destroying marine life; chemical pesticides, sewage and other organic wastes and sand mining that are destroying rivers; forests which are cut down for timber and urban use; mining of minerals and so on. There is no natural resource that is not under threat, leading to biodiversity loss.


As natural resources are depleted, there is less to go around, less to share. Economic, social and political problems are a natural corollary. Water, the most important natural resource which comes from hills and forests, is a source of discord today.


Loss of biodiversity is a threat to civilization, second only to thermo-nuclear war in its severity. The consequences could be quite incalculable. Other environmental problems like pollution, global warming and ozone depletion could be overcome, but not the erosion of biodiversity or extinction of species. Species once lost cannot be brought back.


The current Covid 19 pandemic, which has emerged from the wet animal markets of Wuhan, China, is the result of human interference with nature, the destruction of the intricate web of life and the loss of biodiversity. The virus always existed. Its predator is missing. Habitat destruction, air and water pollution, indiscriminate poaching and killing of wildlife, intensive farming of animals and the disappearing green cover have combined to cause global warming, climate change and now this destructive pandemic.


In this lockdown, people are celebrating the return of avian and terrestrial wildlife, or birds and animals in cities and in the countryside. Air and water pollution have decreased, while the North Pole’s largest-ever Ozone hole has finally closed. What humans could not achieve despite spending millions of dollars or rupees, Nature has achieved – a rejuvenation of planet earth. Humans are a very small part of the web of life, but cause the greatest damage. Celebrating biodiversity is celebrating Mother Earth.


I would like to end with a hymn to the tree and the forest from the Rig Veda (IX 5.10.):

The cosmos is a tree with a thousand branches…

The tree is the lord of the forest…

Which is a symbol of life that is self-regenerating and immortal…


And a Hymn to the Earth from the Atharva Veda’s Bhoomi Sukta (XII.I.26, 28):

Earth, my mother, set me securely with bliss…

The earth, which possesses oceans, rivers and other sources of water;

Which gives us land to produce food grains on which human beings depend for their survival;

May it grant us all our needs for eating and drinking: water, cereals and fruit.

Let us celebrate biodiversity by making time and space for nature, by remembering that the earth was made for animals and plants too. Ahimsa is non-violence in thought word and action, and non-violence to all creation would be the best celebration of biodiversity.


June 5, 2020 global online broadcast, World Environment Day, 2020:



Hinduism and Nature, one of Dr. Nanditha Krishna’s recent books, can be found at



Photo Credit:

Alosh Bennett / This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Valley of flowers, Garhwal, Uttarakhand, India.




*Ravishankar with students

By Sriya Narayanan


A tree is a quiet pillar of endurance, continually infusing life into earth and sustaining thousands of species, many of which are practically invisible to the human eye. But S. Ravishankar sees them all – and wants us to as well. A former math teacher, amateur astronomer, volunteer at Tumkur Science Center, and passionate advocate for the protection of our planet, Ravishankar has spent eighteen long and fruitful years with CPREEC (C.P.R. Environmental Education Centre) turning young children with no prior information about conservation into wide-eyed explorers whose first task is always deceptively simple – just count how many living things they see on a nearby tree.

The task titled ‘Exploring a tree’ always results in the delightful discovery that even a casual, preliminary count could come up to 15-20 kinds of insects, birds and other animals. This serves the dual role of teaching children about the wealth of biodiversities in their own backyards, and fostering empathy for a living being that silently bears the responsibility of nurturing more species than one ever knew existed.




Ravishankar conducts environmental education camps for two age groups – the first group consists of children from Grades 6 to 8 who get to learn basic environmental concepts such as trees, soil, water and leaves with presentations on the above, piquing their curiosity about the world around them. The second group (Grades 9 to 12) gets to go on field trips and also gets the opportunity to become volunteers themselves, conserving nature and helping out with similar camps. Also in the curriculum are nature walks, bird-watching tours, sky watching and learning more about water sources. Students also get to drop seed balls in forest areas just before the monsoon to give tree cover a much-needed boost. As expected, the saplings that resulted are now thriving.

By tailoring the experience to their level of knowledge this way, Ravishankar removes the barrier to learning about conservation, and does so in a way that feels more like fun than an education. He fondly recalls how one such session at Devaraiyana Durga caught the attention of two onlookers who drew closer to the group to listen to what was being taught, even though they were not part of the delegation or even aware of what the camp was about.  Fast forward to the present, and the duo – Ramkrishnappa and Indramma – are permanent resource persons at CPREEC, inspiring other children the way Ravishankar unknowingly inspired them all those years ago.

Ravishankar believes that every child must know of the intricate relationship between humans and the delicate, yet powerful ecosystem that surrounds us. He firmly believes that no educational mobile app can match the thrilling moment that one experiences while seeing so much life buzzing under the surface upon exploring a tiny 50-square-foot area in the real world.

He also demonstrates to children how resilient even a barren patch of land can be, by encouraging them to collect seeds and throw them in areas where nothing grows. He tried the experiment in Siddarapetta and Didigulpetta and was happy to see that two years later, 20-30% of the seeds had sprouted and grown. The farmers in the area believe that it could take a decade to see significant results.



Ravishankar reveals that while he doesn’t have the resources to own or operate farmlands, he hopes that these initiatives encourage his students and shape their choices. He observes that many young people do care deeply about environmental protection but are often at a loss for what exactly to do.  He hopes that his camps and educational programmes are the seeds that lay the foundation of everything they will do next. He’s proud to report that his success rate is fairly high, and that between 3 and 4 students out of every 20 become conservers of nature when they grow up. Even if it feels like a tortuously long wait, as a man who has spent nearly his entire adult life working with Mother Nature, Ravishankar knows that anything worth accomplishing takes good intentions, relentlessness… and most importantly – patience.


Sriya Narayanna is the Senior Editor at Karadi Tales, a children’s publishing house in Chennai, India. https://www.karaditales.com


How you can help

The Centre for Environmental Education
(C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Centre for Environmental Education)
in Chennai, India

– Safeguards water

– Revives tribal arts

– Runs ecological study projects for students

– Restores forest groves – planting trees, improving water sources, and providing places of peace and joy for both wildlife and village people.

To help, click on Donate and choose Centre for Environmental Education.

Sending this link to a friend is another great way to help.

Bless you for caring!

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In among the trees dozens and dozens of spotted deer munched on their breakfast of leaves and grass.


This August morning, Ravi Shankar, the CPREEC field officer for Karnataka, in south India, was taking a group of college students into Devarayanadurga Forest, where they soon encountered the herd of deer.


The students were from the nearby Sri Siddaganga College of Arts, Science, and Commerce.


Their task for the day however, wasn’t just to stand there in awe of the deer, it was to clean up a section of the forest.


The younger sister of one of the college students had tagged along. No one could discourage her because she had been quite determined to join the outing.


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When they set to work to gather up some of the trash to make the area clean as part of their service project, she picked up more litter than anyone else. Late that afternoon, not tired at all from a hard day’s work, she was all smiles.


Villagers and water birds


Throughout the school year, Ravi Shankar leads groups of students on outings away from city centers, crammed with shops and motorcycles, and out into the green, beautiful world of nature.




In Kokkrebelur, a village near Mandia, in the state of Karnataka, the people have an extraordinary bond with water birds. In fact, “Kokkare”, the name of the village, means painted stork. Ravi Shankar took a group of students there to learn about the way that the villagers and the birds interact with each other. The whole village is a sanctuary for the birds. Instead of relating to the birds as a nuisance, they have long welcomed them and, over the centuries, have built up a close bond with them, viewing them as harbingers of good luck and prosperity. The villagers watch over and care for the painted storks, pelicans, and the other migrating species — little cormorants, black ibises, and herons.


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On this occasion, one of the baby storks had fallen out of his nest. When this happens, parent birds, unlike mammals, aren’t able to pick up and move the baby, much as they would like to. So, the villagers had picked him up and stepped in to become foster parents, feeding and caring for the youngster. Since he was still surrounded by his flock, he would have no trouble rejoining them later as soon as he was old enough to fly and could feed on his own.


Watching how much the villagers loved the birds was an amazing experience for the students. The village women even sang songs to the birds to welcome their return; they viewed them as friends and companions, as blessings sent from heaven.


The situation of wild birds is rather different in India compared to that in the U.S.


In the U.S. people are rightfully encouraged to leave wild birds alone, not to interfere with them, and especially not ever to try to tame them, so that the birds will always be well adjusted to their lives in the wild.


But India is a country of over one billion people. There are villages everywhere, and many villages are located right near or even inside forests, so the people and the wild birds are already living together in the forest. The ideal situation in India is just what is happening in this village – to have a very close bond between the people and the birds. The birds fly free, and yet they live close to humans and are comfortable around them. This is in keeping with the age-old reverence that has always existed in the culture of India for nature and wild creatures.


The Indian Forest Service encourages the villagers to live in harmony with the birds. In this area there are crops of sugar cane and also many large artificial lakes, called “tanks.” During the nesting season, nearby trees are overflowing with water birds. Because they can’t grow crops directly underneath trees filled with nests, the villagers are compensated with a fixed sum for each tree in which there are nesting birds, which provides a much-needed supplement to their income.


This is a wonderful example of co-existence. The trees too, which are the homes of the birds, are nurtured and cared for. The population of spot-billed pelicans is thriving and has doubled in recent years.


Forming a deep appreciation of nature




Spending a day keeping the forest clean and picking up litter formed a tie between the forest and the students. Now they will truly care about the well-being of the trees and the wildlife there.


Meeting the young pelican being raised by the villagers and watching people happy to be surrounded by thousands of migratory birds made a lasting impression on the students – a vivid memory of harmony with birds in the forest that will shape their future views of the natural world.



How much water does a train use?


Does a train use water? Who knew? Well, some high school students in Chennai, in the south of India, can tell you all about it.


As part of a school project at the Daniel Thomas Matriculation School in Koyambedu, to the west of Chennai, they did a study of the water usage of the Mangalore Express.


Visiting the railway station and talking with the yard manager in charge of keeping the trains ready, they learned about the storage points of water on the train. Most of the water is kept on top of the train. When the compartments are air conditioned, then water is stored underneath the train and has to be pumped.


The students calculated the amount of water being used – and how it can be conserved. “Even we didn’t know that much information,” one of the train officials commented.


The C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Environmental Education Centre (CPREEC), based in Chennai, conducts programs like this in schools all across south India, and even in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The program is offered jointly by Wipro, an Indian IT company based in Bangalore and CPREEC, Chennai.


Generating data that can be useful to engineers and scientists, these studies engage students in scientific field work that is precise and meaningful.



Who needs water?


Why is it important for students to know about water use? As we all know the world is running out of water. In India, with over a billion people, with widespread drought conditions, and with disputes between states over river water,  there is already a growing crisis.


But there is hope and a ray of light around the corner when a future generation is being trained to think and act in terms of conservation.


This work gives these students an eye-opening glimpse of the problems at hand and tools for knowing how to search for solutions.



Birds, squirrels, frogs, and fish


At another school, L’École Chempka in Trivundram, Kerala, also in south India, every student in the school is involved. Assigned to a particular wetland and guided by a teacher who has been specially trained for this program, the students visit the wetland three or four times. They come up with a report, cataloguing the biodiversity of this spot – the trees, plants, insects, birds, mammals, amphibians, and fish. They develop a complete map of all the species and how they are all interrelated as part of the eco-system.


In a world where species are going extinct faster than we can discover them, what better way to shine a light on the inter-connectedness of natural species and the need for preserving them?



Catching rainwater


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In Nerul, in Goa, on the west coast, in a village school run by the parish, students installed a percolation pond for their school. Working hard out in the sun for two months, they dug up the ground and carried away stones. Now, water flows into the pond from surrounding areas, for storage. The Parish Priest, Father Bolmax Periera, could often be spotted among the students, encouraging them and lending a hand.


A percolation pond, a shallow pond that catches rainwater, prevents excess evaporation and erosion. It helps the water to be conserved and filtered into the ground, improving soil moisture and mitigating drought.



Working together with Wipro


Mr. Arasu, the Senior Environmental Education Officer who administers CPREEC’s Earthian program, explains that the projects chosen may relate either to water or to biodiversity.


Recalling the day he met the Wipro Earthian team – Mr. Mr. Abhijit, Mr. Paul Zacharia, and Ms. Arathi Hanumanthappa in early 2015, Mr. Arasu muses, “Dr. Sudhakar of CPREEC introduced us, and this was the start of a really great time working together.”


A major highlight of the program happens every year in February Wipro when holds an annual award event to recognize the accomplishments of the students.


Mr. Arasu reflects, “The children travel to Bangalore for the event. They are shown royal hospitality and treated like special guests. The Chairman of Wipro, Mr. Azimpremji takes their questions, ranging from “Why do you care about the environment?” to “What do you think of smart cities?” Music, wildlife photographers, and artists make for a lively atmosphere, and the students get to know others who, like themselves, are captivated by the world of nature.



Reaching tens of thousands of students


Every year CPREEC promotes over 400 of these projects in nine Indian states and two union territories: Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha, Goa, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.


Just in these states alone, CPREEC enriches the lives of tens of thousands of students with the Earthian program.


There is no lack of enthusiasm among the students. Getting out of the classroom for a day in the countryside is a big hit, and learning is fun. Each project to be undertaken is designed and submitted by a group of five students guided by a teacher. Then the students carry out their project.


Some of the students go on to become scientists or engineers; others, no matter what their chosen field, will always carry with them a deeper understanding and an enduring love for nature and the environment.


This innovative program is working to create a new generation of environmentalists in India, a land where the environmental movement first got its start many centuries ago.


Traditionally, in India, there has always been a deep reverence for nature. In recent decades, the overwhelming influences of the modern age have sometimes pushed this ancient worldview into the background.




But now this age-old love of nature is finding ways to reassert itself in a new generation of environmentalists.