Citizen scientists map Bengaluru’s green cover


Screenshots of the mobile application used in mapping trees
Screenshots of the mobile application used in mapping trees  (Photo: Gubbi Labs)

A motley group of Bengaluru citizens have come together to record (and preserve) what remains of the city’s fast dwindling green cover. Using a freely accessible mobile application, citizens map the location of a tree on a virtual map. The global positioning system (GPS) inbuilt in the phones, geolocates a tree and allows the person to mark it on the virtual map. Once the map is fully ready, trees will be monitored on an annual basis. More than 7000 trees have been mapped so far. Two localities, Indiranagar and Cooke Town have been mapped the most. Apart from that people have also started mapping in other areas across the city, such as, Electronic city, IISc, and Basavanagudi”, says Vignesh Kamath, Research Fellow, Gubbi Labs, who has been closely associated with the tree mapping project and has been training people and young students about the process of mapping.

To begin with, citizens are mapping avenue trees only. Trees with – diameter at breast height (DBH)– greater than 10 cm are being included in the map. Smaller trees and shrubs are not included in the map as of now.

The process of mapping is quite simple. Once you open the weblink https://​gub​bi​l​abs​.github​.io/​t​r​e​e-map on your phone’s web browser you are prompted to choose one of the two mapping tools- OSM streets or Mapbox satellite. You can choose either and then you land on a page that looks quite like google maps. This is where you mark your location (and therefore of the tree). Other attributes such as tree name, girth measurements, the height of the tree and canopy cover can also be recorded. However, it is not mandatory to enter these.

A virtual tree map like this creates a powerful scientific tool to quantify the city’s green cover and subsequently monitor any changes in it. It also shifts the onus of environment management and conservation, from a distal government to a more local citizen body. Each citizen who maps a tree on the virtual map automatically becomes a stakeholder in its safe-keeping.

Looking at the success of the project in Bengaluru, a group of Mumbaikars have also reached out to Gubbi Labs to help them map trees in their city. The tree mapping web application is free to use and anyone can go to the link and start mapping trees anywhere in the world. It is hosted on GitHub so the code can also be changed as per the requirements of the user”, says Kamath. The data generated is open source and completely accessible for anyone who wants to use it.

Gubbi labs has been eager to involve the citizens in documenting and appreciating the biodiversity in and around cities and protected areas, as part of its larger citizen science initiatives. As part of this commitment, we were involved in mapping trees around different parts of Bengaluru, says Dennis C Joy, Resident Editor, Gubbi Labs. Successful completion of this citizen science project now depends entirely on how may Bengalureans decide to join hands. 

So, the next time pink Tabebuias on the road drive away your Monday morning blues, or the sight of Mangoes and Jackfruits hanging from the trees make the summer heat somewhat bearable; don’t just thank them, go map them.

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