A couple in Dubai is on a mission to save natural habitats around the world — and they are not merely planting trees or making donations here and there. They are buying forests.
Vikram and Monisha Krishna believe that every step counts and whatever little people can do can make a huge difference to save natural habitats. Being global citizens, the Krishnas have acquired forests in the UK and Canada.
The Krishnas are very clear about the definition of natural habitats and how to protect them. Next on their list is to expand the rhinos’ sanctuary in India.
“Natural habitat is not just another set of trees. We feel that any habitat that is natural and houses biodiversity is important to conserve. Take for example, a forest that has trees and shrubs and has multiple storeys. They could also be wetlands that support different bird species. Then, there could be peat bogs, marsh and mangroves as every habitat has a purpose in nature; therefore, they’re precious and must be conserved and protected,” said Monisha.
The Krishnas set out on this ambitious journey almost seven to eight years ago. They believe that if they can do it, UAE residents and people around the world can help save nature in their own way, too. In fact, their massive project began with simple changes in their home.
The journey began at home
Besides dumping plastic a long time ago, the couple personally looks after the vegetables they grow in their kitchen garden.
“We’ve made a lot of changes in our day-to-day life. And you can see that we are sitting in front of our kitchen garden at the moment. Even when we go shopping, we take eco-friendly bags along with us to avoid plastic bags,” said Monisha.
Then, they decided to turn their green dreams and ideas into reality — hence, the self-funded Sacred Groves was launched. They registered this non-profit organisation in the UK.
“We’re taking things as we can manage, but we are quite pleased with the progress so far. We do have conversations with various governments and large landowners to have some kind of a partnership and help in the conservation process. Yes, we are a new company but we are very hopeful that these conversations will translate into something concrete,” Vikram said confidently.
What is Sacred Groves?
Here, Monisha and Vikram explain their mission and why they built Sacred Groves.
Sacred Groves is incorporated in the UK as a ‘community-interest company’, which is heavily regulated by Companies House for Community. This means its sole purpose is to serve the community. The company is allowed to make surpluses with the condition that it is deployed for the benefit of everyone.
“We chose this company structure so that Sacred Groves will be able to sustain itself. When we talk about sustainability in every aspect of life, financial sustainability is as important,” explained Vikram.
Another important aspect of this company is its asset-lock structure. People can never change the purpose of their assets. For example, if someone leases out or purchases land for conservation, the land has to remain true to its purpose — even for posterity.
Respect for nature
The couple has been thinking of paying their respects to Mother Earth by buying a plot of land in their personal capacity and letting it just go wild. But they were finding it very difficult to do that, until they went for a family holiday to India’s northeastern state of Meghalaya.
“We visited a sacred forest which was protected and cared for by the Khasi tribe,” Monisha said.
“Our guide walked us into the forest barefoot and gave us clear instructions. ‘You can take nothing into the forest and you can bring nothing out of it, not even a dry leaf or a broken twig because it’s a place of worship.’ This is the kind of reverence and respect all humanity should have for nature,” she added.
“As we get urbanised, we distance ourselves from forests and nature. Probably that was the moment where we realised that we’ve gone too far from nature, and it’s important to come back and get connected, get engaged and get involved.”
Preserving forests in UK, Canada
Vikram and Monisha are looking to preserve natural habitats in pristine condition but are under some danger of destruction. They have bought woodlands in Wales, UK.
“We are convinced that if we hadn’t on-boarded this forest, its trees would have been harvested for timber because timber prices have gone up all over the world. Hence, these kinds of habitats are in danger,” said Vikram.
“In fact, there are no primary forests left in the UK, and that’s a matter of concern. The government, as well as the people of the UK, realise that, so there have been rewilding projects in the UK, where they recently introduced the European bison, which became extinct in the UK many, many years ago. They reintroduced beavers, which were commonly found in the UK but were hunted to extinction. We feel that every country today must exert effort.”
The couple also recently on-boarded a forest in Nova Scotia, Canada.
It’s a beautiful, biodiverse habitat with five sub-habitats, and each one of them is distinct. This forest connects the ocean to a lake, but the challenge is that hunting is allowed.
The Krishnas believe in assisted natural regeneration, which essentially means ‘nature knows best’.
“When you have a piece of habitat, just let it be, then nature takes over it and creates a level of biodiversity which is needed for an area to flourish,” Vikram added.
Saving rhinos in India
Vikram and Monisha are also working to expand the territory of the rhinos in Kaziranga National Park in the Indian state of Assam.
Thanks to the Indian government, the rhinos’ population has increased in the country over the years. Now, the park has to be expanded so the crash of rhinos can grow bigger.
“We are in talks with the government there and the aspiration is to expand the territory of the rhinos, which has been a huge conservation success story,” Vikram said.
Cost of climate change
The destruction of forests and natural habitats costs not just billions of dollars to government exchequers — thousands of lives are lost, too, as climate change wreaks havoc in the form of natural disasters across the globe.
Sharing some statistics, Monisha highlighted how climate change is affecting the environment.
“These are very frightening statistics. While these are very disturbing figures, there is always hope. Although these statistics are important for awareness, we don’t want the negative side of things to be the overpowering message. We want the message to be of hope and positivity, that we can do something about it,” said Monisha.
She emphasised that forests can never be valued because they give so much to humanity and all living species. “You can’t put a value to the oxygen you breathe. Can you?”
The green road ahead
Vikram revealed that buying a forest or a natural habitat is a fairly elaborate process, which starts by appointing a law firm to ensure that regulatory and compliance requirements are followed by Sacred Groves.
Through the law firm, property and surveyors are appointed to help the company understand the economic value of an area. “More importantly, (they help us decide) whether it is really worth preserving. We have risk management consultants as well,” added Vikram.
Over the next five years, they aim to have at least 15 forests under the Sacred Groves platform and a community of at least 10,000 people. “We already have about 500-plus community members who are very active.”
The Krishnas are also planning to work with corporates to take this community service forward.
Emphasising that ‘every little action counts’, the couple encourages UAE residents to act now and help save Mother Nature.
“I may not have a great answer in terms of how we deal with global climate change, but the point really is that every little action can make a difference.”
The couple’s ‘third baby’
The Indian couple has been living in Dubai for 15 years now.
Hailing from Delhi, they are finance professionals. Vikram works for a leading UAE and regional bank, while Monisha has worked for one of India’s oldest development finance institutions.
When the couple moved to Dubai, Monisha gave up the job to become a full-time parent. They have two daughters who are studying abroad.
“Sacred Groves is our third little baby which turned two in February,” the Krishnas said.
“We are Indians and our company is incorporated in the UK and we called the UAE a home and our aspiration is to have a global impact by protecting habitats all over the world.”
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