‘There is no Planet B’ – Nature inFocus founder Rohit Varma on the importance of nature conservation
Launched in 2014, PhotoSparks is a weekly feature from YourStory, with photographs that celebrate the spirit of creativity and innovation. In the earlier 500 posts, we featured an art festival, cartoon gallery. world music festival, telecom expo, millets fair, climate change expo, wildlife conference, startup festival, Diwali rangoli, and jazz festival.
The annual Nature inFocus Photography Awards honour photographers who document unique natural history moments and critical conservation issues. Nature inFocus was founded by Rohit Varma and Kalyan Varma to support initiatives that benefit nature and wildlife conservation.
See Part I, Part II and Part III of our photo essay, and our coverage of the 2019, 2018, and 2017 editions. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the awards this year were celebrated at a live virtual event on YouTube.
This year, around 14,000 images were submitted from more than 1,600 competing photographers. With permission from Nature inFocus, PhotoSparks has reproduced some of the finalist and winner images in this article series (see description of all winners here). Award prizes are Rs 50,000 (category winner), Rs 25,000 (runner-up) and Rs 10,000 (second runner-up).
People often associate nature and wildlife with national parks and forests. But urban habitats also offer lots of joy and opportunity for nature enthusiasts and photographers.
“Wildlife is everywhere. There is enough opportunity to explore and document the biodiversity in urban spaces,” Rohit Varma explains, in a chat with YourStory.
“Take our own city Bengaluru, for example. Lakes in and around the city are home to a wide variety of birds, which are a treat to observe and photograph,” he adds. As examples, he points to the IISc campus which has many species of small mammals, including the Slender Loris.
“Various avenue trees flower all through the year, attracting pollinators like bats, birds, butterflies, and other insects. Spiders are in and around our homes,” Rohit says.
Several corporate office campuses encourage and support urban biodiversity by maintaining the right kind of gardens as well. “Wherever there is abundant plant life, one will find wildlife,” he adds.
He calls for a more committed effort in creating urban forests. “This will not only help wildlife at large but also humans. This green cover will help in controlling the temperature and also provide fresh air for all of us to breathe. These forests can also be used to educate people about the importance of nature in our life,” Rohit enthuses.
Unfortunately, cities are rapidly expanding in an unplanned and erratic manner. “This puts the local government under pressure for infrastructural development – better housing, transportation, roads, and so on,” he laments.
Nature takes a severe beating in such situations. “Grasslands get converted into agricultural land, trees are chopped to make way for roads, and lakes are buried under office and apartment complexes," Rohit observes.
This has adverse effects on bird life. “When tree cover is lost, when wetlands are destroyed, when scrubland is used up, birds lose their natural habitat and get away from such disturbances to find greener pastures. The fact that we still see birds around us in disturbed areas only goes to show how resilient and adaptable they are. But again, I feel that we are taking their presence for granted,” Rohit cautions.
He calls for better solutions that do not make nature compromise for human wants. “We are in no position to ignore the kind of damage that has been unleashed on the environment, because we are not equipped to handle repercussions. Look at how we are struggling in this pandemic, which is a result of us meddling with nature,” Rohit warns.
“We must focus on urban forests and improve the floral diversity in cities. Every residential or commercial project should be developed with a clear guidance of including a green cover,” he advises.
If a percentage of the land is mandated to be developed with native plants, trees and water bodies, then birdlife will return to these spaces. “Projects that follow these rules should be incentivised by the government in terms of cheaper water, power or tax rebates. Maybe a rating system could be put in place too,” Rohit suggests.
“If there is a political will to make things happen, they can and will happen,” he emphasises.
Insects are not pests
Many people look down on insects, not acknowledging the important role they play in the ecosystem. “Every living being has a role to play, even a tiny insect has its role in ecology. Frankly, insects are very beautiful too,” Rohit jokes.
Nature inFocus builds awareness about the full range of biodiversity through articles, images and discussions. “Macro photography is a very specialised art,” he adds.
Images of life forms that are too small for the naked eye make a huge difference by making them noticeable to the public. “These photographs give us a peek into the lives of lesser-known creatures, their unique behaviour, and how they interact with other species,” Rohit explains.
The joy of nature photography
Rohit cites a number of community and individual benefits of photography. “Nature photography has changed my life for the better. It has drawn me closer to nature and it made me appreciate all its nuances. It has made me observe the impact of nature in our lives and also helped me in taking some very important decisions. Starting Nature inFocus is one of them,” he enthuses.
“There was a time when I was a part of the corporate rat race and living a life which felt meaningless. Nature photography gave me a sense of purpose in life,” Rohit says.
He continues to learn new things every day and makes requisite changes in his lifestyle. He adds: “Everything we do has a direct or indirect impact on nature. I am trying to control my wants, and now as a rule, I pause and evaluate before I buy anything by asking: Do I really need it?”
The same goes with the usage of water, electricity or fuel. “I believe that one must save as much as one can. How we live makes a huge difference not only for nature but for our lives too. Our life is dependent on nature and we must acknowledge that. There is no Planet B,” Rohit cautions.
As photographers who have inspired him, he cites Dhritiman Mukherjee, Kalyan Varma, Nick Brandt, Tim Laman, Ami Vitale, and Steve Winter.
Looking ahead to 2021 and beyond, Rohit shares some of his aspirations and goals. “Personally, I want to make one film every year on a lesser-known species. We made a film called Mysteries of Monsoon in 2019, about unraveling the mystery around the emergence of cicadas,” he recalls.
“2020 was a washout, as we could not spend much time in the field. I hope to be able to get back in the field more often in 2021,” Rohit adds.
He has also made announcements on social media that he is giving away some of his wildlife photographs online, and requesting donations for the Nature inFocus Foundation. “Images can help nurture a connection with nature and I believe that as photographers we can help this cause,” Rohit explains.
“I had a strong urge to share my images in a way that they can be accessed by all and used for education, conservation, or even for commercial purposes. So I put them all up on an open platform and shared the link widely,” he proudly says.
Rohit even put up a disclaimer that giving him image credit is not mandatory. “At the end of the day, what we really need is people appreciating nature and its importance in our life,” he affirms.
The response so far has been overwhelming. “I did not imagine that such a large number of people would respond positively and appreciate the gesture. People could not believe that I have put up high resolution images without insisting on attribution,” Rohit explains.
“In regard to Nature inFocus in 2021, our purpose continues to be the same – to put the focus back on nature, to make more and more people fall in love with nature, to inspire, motivate, and work with them,” he affirms.
There are plans to make their annual festival larger and amplify its reach. “Films play a huge role in building environmental awareness, which is why we started a film festival and contest in 2019,” Rohit explains.
The goal is to promote upcoming filmmaking talent, and certain sessions will be curated for them. “We will also include fun and learning activities for kids in 2021. They need to be connected with the environment, and turning them into nature and wildlife lovers at an early age will make a huge difference,” Rohit signs off.
Now, what have you done today to pause in your busy schedule and find new ways of strengthening your commitment to nature conservation?
Edited by Teja Lele Desai