An enthusiast speaks about the Auroville Green Belt: what has been achieved over the years, and what are the greatest threats to it today.
“The Green Belt is Auroville's only protection,” says Regina . “But a lot of people don't realize its importance. There should be more consciousness of the land, of our natural environment.”
Regina 's great passion is nature, there is absolutely no doubt about that. She lives in the midst of her element, the forest, in Newlands, a community in the Green Belt, together with her partner Robi and their twelve year old daughter Keya. They live in a beautiful, tiled roof house built on stilts over a pond, depending on solar power for electricity and on a windmill for their water supply.
The house, with its distinct Japanese inspiration, was designed and built by Regina, who studied and specialized in tropical architecture in her native country, Germany . It was built keeping environmental sustainability in mind. The mud walls, plastered with cow dung, are covered with white potter's clay and the floor is slabs of green cadappa stone. The sliding doors and windows help the spaces inside the house blend harmoniously into the natural surroundings. “The living space is not restricted to the inside,” explains Regina , “you can open it up and extend it to the garden, where you can sit down under the trees.”
Behind the house, a beautiful grand old Rain Tree and a Service Tree are in bloom, an explosion of golden yellow flowers. All around there is a multitude of bird songs, and an amazing variety of insects humming, buzzing and chirping.
A nature sanctuary
Regina 's dream is to work, together with other nature enthusiasts in Auroville, on creating a nature sanctuary in the region, of which the Green Belt would be a part. “We have lots of ideas,” she says “like reintroducing wildlife, and having animal corridors which would connect to the outer forests. If we had the land, we could even create corridors all the way down to the Kallivelli watershed, and to the Ousteri Lake . We would also very much like to have a scientific laboratory to study reforestation from wasteland onwards,” she continues. “We could find out how the soil changes, at which stage the bacteria and fungi come in, when the undergrowth begins, when the insects start to appear. It would be fascinating!”
Over the years, Regina has worked on documenting the growth of Auroville's forest through the medium of photography. “When you see slides from the early days, and then you see the forest today, you really get a sense of what has been achieved.”
An Auroville nature guide
She has also been working with Aurosylle and Jana on putting together an Auroville nature guide. They have been doing research and accumulating as much information as possible on the different mammals, reptiles, birds and insects of the area. “We are in the process of creating a unique Auroville nature guide. It would explain how everything came to be, the whole regeneration process, and which plants came in which succession. It would be beautifully illustrated, with information about the habits of the animals, birds and insects, what they eat, where they hide…”
“When you start getting interested in nature and wildlife, it's endless, you keep making new discoveries. It's fascinating! Look at the termites for example. Where do they get their water from? During the summer, when there hasn't been any rain for months, all of a sudden these fresh, moist termite mounds appear. And they actually get the water from the aquifers, they sometimes dig up to forty metres to get to it. Just imagine!”
As we speak, a beautiful butterfly flutters by. “It's a Blue Mormon,” Regina exclaims. “They started appearing around here in the early nineties, after we had a few years of very good monsoons.” She explains how they lay their eggs in lemon trees and the caterpillars feed on their leaves.
The increase of wildlife
Over the years, a multitude of new insects, dozens of different species of birds, as well as a number of reptiles and mammals have been reappearing in the forests. Witnessing this has been one of Regina 's greatest joys. “It's really exciting! Where does all this wildlife come from?” she wonders.
She mentions that in the early days of Auroville, some thirty different species of birds were recorded. Today, there are more than one hundred and thirty. A lot of them are migratory birds, but some stay over in the summer, like the Golden Oriole, which started appearing in the eighties.
There are also a variety of mammals dwelling in the forests. The more common and well known are squirrels, jackals and civet cats. There is also the occasional monkey. Wild cats have also appeared, and there have even been sightings of barking deer. Then there are porcupines, different species of turtles and the star tortoise.
Some years ago Regina even spotted a Slender Loris, a tiny nocturnal primate with large round eyes. “It is very secretive and remains hidden. It is extremely rare to sight one. It was really a special darshan. The fact that all this wildlife is coming back on its own is a clear indicator that the work we have been doing on the land is paying off. It's really rewarding!”
“But on the other hand,” she says “we have to be aware that the environment we have helped create, the forest, is very fragile. And there is a lot of pressure from the outside.”
A couple of weeks ago, a plot of land situated right at the entrance of the Newlands-Forecomers forest was bought and walled off: “More and more people from Pondicherry are buying land close to the Green Belt area for real estate development. They wall off the compound and put up ‘Farm houses'. Pondicherry is growing, everybody wants to invest their money in real estate. And they are ready to pay a very high price per acre, sums that Auroville cannot match. It's a very serious threat and if we don't get it under control now, it will be too late,” Regina warns.
“I am normally a cheerful and absolutely happy person,” she says, “but this is really draining me. And it's difficult to keep going and have faith that things will get better.”
While real estate development is without doubt the greatest threat, it is not the only one. The canyon is not protected. “On the other side of the canyon, towards Pondicherry , there is an open sewage farm, tons of garbage are being burned and there is illegal mining of the land.
“We have to protect the land! I think that's the real urgency,” says Regina , with a lot of emotion. “There has to be a legal protection for our Green Belt, our canyons. Otherwise all our work could be reduced to nothing. And it is not just Auroville and the Green Belt which need to be protected, it's the whole bio-region, the whole area. We still live in paradise, but it's paradise in the midst of Kali Yuga.”
“The children are the future,” she says, “And that is why, some years ago, I started environmental education.” She has worked with students from various schools: Transition, Udavi and New Creation. Recently she also got involved in Joss's project, the Nadukuppam School . “We have to educate everybody, not just the Auroville children. It's also the children of the surrounding villages that we have to reach.”
When she starts speaking of her work with the children, Regina 's eyes light up and she's very enthusiastic. “I take them for walks through the forest, explain to them how natural regeneration works, introduce them to the wildlife. We play games and try to have fun. My goal now is to get them interested, to make them aware of their environment. Then we can go deeper into the subject. When they are very young, you can really get through to them. And there are such amazing children around!
“It's not just about going into the forest, playing games and being loud,” she continues, “It's about focusing, listening, observing. I've also been compiling passages from the Mother, for my work with the children. She writes a lot about the importance of creating a connection with nature, of communicating with nature.”
Though the threats to the land are many and the challenges may sometimes seem insurmountable, Regina is not one to give up.
“One can only protect what one loves,” she concludes, “There is so much the land has to offer. There is so much overwhelming beauty around. Walking the land for all these years, seeing the forest grow, has given me so much joy. I've got so much more out of it then I can ever give back. I feel it is my duty to share that joy, to make others see the beauty of the leaf patterns, to help them discover the land.”