COVID-19 may have struck humanity causing much anguish to our normal mode of living.
But much before COVID and strikingly even during the pandemic, the distressing fact of our depleting tree cover owing to increased urbanisation and a questionable model of development, hit many of us especially with the announcement of the three infrastructure projects cutting through the Mollem National Park.
Protecting our ecosystem couldn’t be a more pressing and imperative mission especially when there is growing evidence of the disastrous after effects.
So, how can the common person who isn’t an activist, environmentalist or armchair critic make a difference?
The Living Heritage Foundation after many months of research has launched the Living Heritage App. This App that can be downloaded on both Android and IOS, helps in mapping trees.
After downloading the app, anyone with a smartphone can take a picture of a tree in their neighbourhood; measure the circumference of the tree with a tape; fill in health checks (even rudimentary information is good); mention any risks that they perceive whether they foresee an imminent threat of it being cut; add photos and then just upload to the App - all of this using just the dexterity of one’s fingertips.
“Having been involved in conservation and community work, we realised that there was no database on the trees that exist in Goa. Without a database, it is very difficult to ascertain the quantum of loss. No tree census has been done by the government despite it being mandatory to do so as part of the Goa Preservation of Trees Act,” shares Mohan Kumar, co-founder of Living Heritage Foundation. An important feature of the App is the SOS button that allows users to report any kind of illegal action with trees and notify the team. Just as it gets more people to notice the trees around them, the app can also be used by people from multi-disciplinary sectors - education, conservationism, botany and even environmental law.
Sreeja Chakraborty, an Environmental Lawyer points out, “The immediate application of the app is as a Private - Public partnership model that helps in building a repository of trees and allows active engagement with citizens. Even in litigations, it helps us lawyers since data on tree enumeration is often a challenge. Through this citizens have the right to appeal and this app allows for a transparent information exchange.”
Some of the questionable policies followed by our State government are in the afforestation of neighbouring states to compensate for forest loss or deforestation that happens in Goa. This app could help track all afforestation measures given that legally for every tree cut, it is mandatory to plant more trees in the State.
Avertino Miranda who champions the Goa Green Brigade suggests, “This app is a milestone in the state of Goa. However, with no official government backing and its adoption by the Forest department, the larger concern for its sustainability and usability is only warranted.
Making a strong case for its use in urban areas as against forests, Chakraborty adds, “The Goa Tree Act is separate from the Goa Forests Act and this app perhaps won’t be useful in mega infrastructure projects but extremely useful for revenue lands in urban spaces and that’s a big step forward. This gives scope to collaborate with the biodiversity teams of village panchayats, making it a more effective tool at the village and panchayat level.”
If ecotourism is the way forward for Goa, then saving its ecosystem should be the top priority.
As Alex Carpenter, owner of the Tribe Goa - a creative eco project based in the Western ghats of India observes, “In the past 10 years, insects have disappeared. We see fewer frogs too. With the tree cover loss, we are losing the habitat that they need and all of these have a detrimental effect for us humans. We need to be less eco destructive and more eco generative. This App also has the potential to draw in eco conscious tourists who can now follow the mapping of trees to see a Baobab or any other endemic species through the classification that this app throws up.”
Dispelling any negative concerns, the team is excited about including monthly analysis of trees, specific notifications and alerts that could foster greater community participation.
“People can also register as volunteers. Those who use the app can share their tree tagging information on social media and can also be alerted when an SOS is shared in their neighbourhood,” says Kumar.
If tree hugging was a way to express our love for trees, it’s time we upgraded with the times to tree tagging through the Living Heritage app and do our basic bit for the conservation of trees - our silent and ever generous companions.