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The Bishop Cotton Deodar Forest, Shimla

Written by BCS Director, Simon D Weale MA (Oxon)

The deodar forest at Bishop Cotton School is a special place. Cloaking the heights of the ‘Knollswood Spur’ on which the school was constructed, the trees act as a protective filter and green swathe between the school and the hustle and bustle of modern-day Shimla. In the days before ‘Uber’, generations of Cottonians knew of secret, but well-worn paths through the woods that allowed clandestine evening forays into town (*before security guards).    

I am not sure of the actual scientific effect the huge trees actually do play in providing a better environment for our school community, but they certainly give a psychological reassurance when set against ever growing concerns about the challenges we face from pollution and warmer temperatures. The local wildlife population also enjoys the sanctuary they provide. Our resident monkey population choose to sleep in the safety of the upper branches at night and deer, jungle cats, hares and jungle fowl can regularly be seen. The odd leopard has even been known to visit which helps keep the stray dog population fit and on its paws. A walk to the ‘jungle gate’ along the main school drive during a glorious red winter Himalayan sunset or a warm summer’s evening is enchanting and a popular activity for many on site.
In 2023, Himachal Pradesh endured a turbulent monsoon season which led to many landslides across the state and caused widespread destruction to lives, transport and property.  Fortunately, at BCS we are blessed with a well-designed and enduring campus and by whatever grace is forthcoming in these circumstances, we escaped any serious outcomes when many others didn’t. Some damage was done to the road leading up to the school’s main gates, but this has quickly been repaired by the government, otherwise the campus’s other significant loss was a number of trees that could not cope with the saturated soil – the roots of deodars are surprisingly small for such giants of nature. However, I suspect their surviving ‘team mates’ protected the population of New Shimla that live below from a great deal more damage by helping to hold the mountains together – we will be planting saplings in the spring to replace the trees we lost. This week came further proof that the forest continues to be at the heart of the wellbeing of our school community and its latest gift is that the wood which was salvaged has been used by our brilliant carpenters to produce lovely paneling for all of our senior classrooms. BCS has been harvesting monsoon rains for many years and using solar power to heat the water – our promotion of sustainability will be supported by a new and very clear example.

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