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Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve

General Description

Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, located in the Himalayan Mountains in the northern part of the country, includes as core areas the Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks, which are one World Heritage site. Nanda Devi National Park has remained more or less intact because of its inaccessibility. The Valley of Flowers National Park is renowned for its meadows of endemic alpine flowers and outstanding natural beauty. Together they encompass a unique transition zone between the mountain ranges of the Zanskar and Great Himalaya.

The Biosphere Reserve includes reserve forests, evam soyam (civil) forests, panchayat (community) forests, agricultural land, grassy slopes, alpine meadows (bugiyals) and snow-covered areas. The alpine vegetation mainly comprises herbaceous species and scrub communities such as Rhododendron campanulatum, R. anthopogon and Salix denticulata. These meadows harbour a large number of rare and endangered, native and endemic species. The area has a large altitudinal range (1,800 to 7,817 m) and is dominated by the peak of Nanda Devi. The unique topography, climate, soil and biogeographical location of the Biosphere Reserve gives rise to diverse habitats, communities and ecosystems, and a large number of ecologically and economically important species. Some 1,000-plant species including lichens, fungi, bryophytes and pteridophytes have been recorded. The percentage of native and endemic species is high compared to non-native species. Over 55% of the species are native to Himalaya, over 10 are endemic and 225 are near endemic. Among these plant resources, the inhabitants of the Pindari, Lata-Tolma-Malari, and the Valley of Flowers areas use 224 species for various purposes such as medicine, food, and animal fodder. Seven endangered mammal species find refuge in the area such as the snow leopard (Panthera unica), Himalayan black bear (Selenarctos thibetanus), brown bear (Ursus arctos), musk deer (Moschus chrysogaster) and bharal/blue sheep (Pseudois nayaur).

Over 15,000 people live in the Biosphere Reserve. The buffer zone includes 45 villages and the local communities living here mainly belong to two ethnic groups, the Indo-Mongoloid (Bhotia) and Indo-Aryan. The transition area includes over 55 villages and is mostly inhabited by Schedule tribes, Schedule Castes Brahmins and Rajputs. The local communities practice marginal subsistence agriculture, rear cattle for milk and sheep for wool. Cultivation of medicinal plants, sheep farming, apiculture and horticulture are among the main income sources of the villagers. Local communities in the Lata-Tolma-Malari and Pindari areas are benefiting from the development of alternative sources of income, such as ecotourism, and from the improvement of a rich variety of agricultural activities. The snow clad peaks, presence of over 30 glaciers, occurrence of charismatic animals and birds, deep and vast valleys, meadows and rivers, and a unique culture of the native communities make the Biosphere Reserve ideal for ecotourism.The overall Biosphere Reserve is managed bv the Director/Conservator of Forests, who organises meetings 3-4 times a year in collaboration with the local elected persons (Gram Panchayat) regarding sustainable development and planning.

Brief Description

The two core areas, Nanda Devi National Park and the Valley of the Flowers National Par (World Heritage site), are securely protected for conservation of biodiversity, monitoring minimally disturbed ecosystems, and undertaking research and other low-impact uses such as ecotourism and education. The Valley of Flowers National Park is open for research and tourism. These areas represent a high diversity, endemism and representativeness. A well-defined buffer zone, which surrounds or adjoins the core area, comprises Reserve Forests and Community Forests. These are used for cooperative activities compatible with sound ecological practices, including environmental education, recreation and research. The transition area with 55 villages forms a “cushion” of the buffer zone and the same activities are taking place here as in the buffer zone.

Geology; Hydrology; Soil characteristics; Climatology; Biogeographic and environment hazard mapping in the high-altitude zones of the Himalaya; Designing, developing and testing sustainable natural resource management, models through participation of the local population; Studies on the structure, composition and changes of the vegetation; Regeneration of forest species in relation to canopy gaps; Ecological study of the entomofauna; Studies on biotic pressure - biodiversity - carrying capacity relationships in alpine meadows; Study on ecosystem dynamics; Studies of species and community responses to habitat alternation of the timberline zone; Inventorying, monitoring and conservation of aquatic biodiversity; Critical analysis of plant diversity with special reference to medicinal flora; Studies on animal habitat interactions; Management Information System for land use/land cover changes analysis in relation to conservation-oriented land use priorities; Study of socio-economic aspects for sustainable development; Inventory, commercial utilization and conservation of agro-biodiversity for sustainable development.

The Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, which has been given a UNESCO tag, lies in the Western Himalayan Mountains in the State of Uttarakhand, in North India. Situated at an elevation of above 3,500 mtrs above the sea level, it encompasses the Nanda Devi and the Valley of Flowers National Parks. The total area of the reserve is 5,148.57 km (1,987.87 sq. mi). Due to its unique topography, climate, and the soil, this Biosphere Reserve encompasses diverse habitats, communities and ecosystems and ecologically important species that are exclusive to this region. 

The flora and fauna of the Nanda Devi Biosphere are unique and delicate. The forest cover consists of temperate vegetation and has trees such as fir, birch, rhododendrons, and junipers. No flora or vegetation grows close to the Nanda Devi Glacier, except Alpine and Juniper scrubs. However, these gradually give way to more delicate lichens, grasses, and mosses as we descend, while hundreds of floral species are found in the Valley of Flowers, several of which are rare and endangered. 

The Nanda Devi park area houses animal species like the Himalayan black bear, the Snow Leopard, Goral (small ungulates with a goat-like appearance), Bharal (blue sheep), and Himalayan Tahr (large mountain goat). The leopard, common langur, Himalayan musk deer, and brown bears are also seen in abundance.  The Avifauna is diverse with almost 80 species being noted, of which Warblers, Rose Finches and Ruby Throat are a few.

The local communities living in the forty-five villages within the buffer zone belong to two major ethnic groups, the Indo-Mongoloid and the Indo-Aryan.  The ecosystem of the area is a source of income for them. While their traditional occupation is agriculture and cattle rearing, the recent introduction of cultivation of medicinal plants, horticulture, sheep farming, and apiculture have emerged as alternative sources of income. The locals are also being trained to carry out ecotourism activities for visitors. 

Since this biosphere is also a heritage site, it is well protected and affords very limited access to tourists. It is worth noting that there is no livestock grazing in the area. The State Forest Department regularly monitors the limited access routes to prohibit adventure sport or trekking. For conservation purposes, scientific study and survey of its flora, fauna, and habitats are carried out from time to time. The results of these surveys indicate substantial improvement as these are well protected and managed according to the tenets of wildlife management. The buffer zone, surrounding the core area, which is made up of Reserve and Community Forests, is used for cooperative activities between the administration and the local community. The latter actively participate in the conservation programs of the Forest Department and the local elected leaders of the gram panchayat have regular meetings with the forest officers. While developmental, recreational and spiritual needs of the people are genuine, yet the fragile ecology of the Himalayas is sought to be preserved in this high altitude biosphere by seeking local co-operation.