December 11 is observed as International Mountain Day, an annual occasion to celebrate Earth’s mighty mountains.
As pleasing as these mountains are to the eyes, their contribution to nature is also quite precious! These fascinating landscapes cover around 21% of the world’s land surface, providing habitat for animals and plants. Not only this, the mountains directly support 22% of the world’s population who live in mountain regions. Mountains supply about 60 – 80% of the freshwater to the world along with supplying critical resources such as food, energy, water, and biodiversity maintenance.
Unfortunately, mountains are at risk due to the bad effects of climate change, overexploitation, poaching, land degradation, logging, commercial mining, and natural disasters. These happenings take a heavy toll on mountain biodiversity.
The conservation of mountains and the biodiversity living on them is a key factor for sustainable development. Mountains aren’t just important to the inhabitants but also for the people living in the lowlands. They are the sources of the world’s key rivers and also play an important role in the water cycle.
Here are a few reasons mountains matter and the role they play in our lives.
- Mountains are the water towers of the world responsible for providing almost 80% of fresh water to the world
- The snow precipitation in the mountains is stored and melts in the spring and summer season, providing water to agriculture, industries, people, etc. present in the lowlands.
- As half of the world’s biodiversity hotspots are concentrated in mountains, they approximately support a quarter of terrestrial biological diversity.
- Mountains also pose as important centers on the agricultural front and are home to diverse foods that we consume like tomatoes, apples, potatoes, quinoa, rice, to name a few.
- These gorgeous structures of nature foster economic development in remote and isolated regions via tourism. They are responsible for attracting around 15-20% of global tourism along with being important for cultural diversity, heritage, and knowledge.
“We are part of the earth and the earth is a part of us,” said Chief Seattle. Dharana at Shillim is located at an eco-hotspot; in the mountain range of Sahyadris. In 1985, two brothers William & Denzil, acquired a family home in Khandala, a quiet forested hillside getaway located between Mumbai and Pune. On one of their frequent journeys to the valley, the brothers discovered that the folks living in the forests extensively indulged in “slash-and-burn” agriculture. The resultant ashes were used as fertilizer for the monsoon crop. Each year a new part of the forest was identified to repeat the process as it was a one-season crop.
Hence, the only way they could preserve the Shillim forests was by buying and conserving the area to avoid the annual burning of the forested hillside. A team was assembled to begin the process of acquiring affordable and available land for preservation. The brothers finally took possession of more than 2000 acres of land in the Valley after 10-15 years through countless inspections and negotiations.
Moving on with the acquisition, the focal point turned towards reforestation with the help of the local people. Radha Veach, who at the time managed the horticulture gardens on the outskirts of Mumbai, moved to live on site. She set up a nursery on the backwaters of Pawna Lake, starting a forest seed gathering and a planting program limited to native species of trees. The program initiated by Radha allowed the forest to regrow and decimated parts of the landscape were replanted with over 60,000 native trees and the trees watered manually until they could survive on their own.
During this time, the men of the village were employed to look after the property, stop slash and burn, put out forest fires and prevent wildlife hunting for the native species to reset. The women were employed in the nursery in the large annual early monsoon plantation program. Today, Shillim conserves more than a million trees aside from many species of flora and fauna.
With the reforestation program reaching a good stage, attention was driven towards thinking about the long-term maintenance and preservation of the forest. An area of 330 acres was identified for siting the Eco retreat. A collaborative effort by the team of renowned architects and students gave birth to www.dharanaretreat.com, a platform dedicated to sustainable development.
Today the www.dharanaretreat.com continues to conserve the Shillim Valley and has developed a more formal mission ‘ to generate ideas and facilitate positive action in the areas of conservation, sustainability, and healing’, beginning with the Shillim Valley and extending to other like-minded projects around the world”. It remains the guardian and owner of the Shillim Valley.
It took 25 years to conserve the valley and everyone’s contribution to this project has been invaluable. All the efforts, dedication, and sheer determination directed towards the well-being of nature worked out beautifully!