In a first-of-its-kind initiative, two Delhi-based environmental conservation organisations have created a tree map on which they have represented 59 key species of trees in the capital. According to Chhaya Bhanti of Vertiver and Swapan Mehra of Iora Ecological Solutions, leaders of the two companies behind the ‘Delhi Landmark Tree Map’, “In order to conserve, we have to make the invisible visible and begin with measurability”.
They added that the map brings to people a “new experiential learning tool to understand and explore a variety of trees”, each one of which has been selected as a representation of the key species that dot the city’s green cover.
The map was created through consultations with senior forest officers of Delhi, who helped to identify the locations. These were then spatially tagged and mapped on a Delhi city map using GPS surveys. According to Swapan, there are more than 200 different species of trees in Delhi but the map showcases 59 of the healthiest specimens.
He added, “When Central Delhi was being designed by the British Raj, the mandate was to make Delhi India’s greenest city. The city has a lot of trees indigenous to its landscape as well as those that have been brought from different parts of the world.”
Several trees in the map are found across different parts of the city, thereby helping people to identify the various species and understand their ecological value. The two-month-long process to make the map involved a team of 10 people, said the creators. “We selected the trees based on consultation with senior officials from the forest department. We then set for ourselves a realistic target to make the first such map with 59 key representative species and their healthy specimens.”
The map involved detailed tracking of each tree and geo-tagging them with hand-held GPS devices, which were used by the team to identify the exact latitude and longitudinal coordinates of each tree. Mehra said, “After collecting these coordinates, we plotted them to their exact location on a Google Map of Delhi. Then we used these spatial layers to begin the design process, where we manually placed each tree icon with a unique number map ID on its corresponding location on the Delhi map. We sampled the visuals such that the only highlights were the neighbourhoods and the key road landmarks that lead the eye to the trees. The first copy of the map was given to Union Minister for Environment and Forests Prakash Javadekar on International Day of Forests.”
They added, “We have been working on forestry and conservation in India for almost 10 years now. One of the major drawbacks of the conversation on ecological conservation is the fact that citizens cannot play an active role due to the lack of data available to them. Now, we hope that in Delhi and in other parts of the country where we work, tools like these will improve public information and empower citizens to play a more active role in conservation.”
On being asked why they selected Delhi to be the first city to launch such a map, Mehra said, “Urban spaces and big cities in the country are where significant political decisions with respect to forest conservation are taken. We believe that Delhi provides a great starting point being the greenest capital in the world and with its citizens more and more involved in addressing air pollution through different measures.”
Trees in urban spaces often form a part of any conversation only when they are being felled. This, according to Bhanti and Mehra, is one of the stumbling blocks of being able to address the problem holistically. “If the citizenry in the city is more aware of its ecological heritage and recognises the true value of trees as assets, resident welfare associations and other local bodies will have the ability to take informed actions that protect the biodiversity around the city.”
The team is also working to make the map digitally available through their upcoming forest app platforms.
Asked about their distribution goals for the map, the two said, “If this map is tied to tourism maps in the city, it can go a long way in improving eco-tourism in Delhi. This, in turn, will play a major role in increasing awareness of our city’s ecology and heighten public interest in conservation. We also want the map to be made available as an education tool in schools.