Even from 3000 BC foreigners like Assyrians and Babylonians were drawn to Kerala for spices. In 5th century AD, Romans and Arabs were conducting a brisk trade with Kerala in pepper, cardamom, lavender, ginger, garlic, and other spices and condiments. The volume of foreign trade increased during 9th and 10th centuries AD. Commodities like pepper, lavender, teak, ivory were exported and fishing nets, potteries, silk etc were imported.

 Three-fourth of the land area of Kerala was under thick forest even up to 18th century. History of forestry in Kerala can be dealt with separately under three separate regions- Travancore, Cochin and Malabar areas, as these erstwhile geographical and political areas later merged to form the present Kerala State.


In the beginning of 19th century Mr. Edyve visited South India to explore the possibility of exploiting the teak timber for ship building. Later, in 1816, Lieutenants Ward and Coner came to survey Travancore and Cochin, “The Memoir of Travancore Survey” prepared by them gives valuable information on the forests of Travancore at that time.

 In 1820, the government started exploiting timber directly and a timber depot was set up at Alapuzha. Captain Robert Gordon, the commercial agent was also holding charge as the Forest Conservator. His duty was to collect and make available timber and cardamom from forest areas for shipment to Great Britian.

 Mr.U.V. Munroe was appointed as the first Forest Conservator. All the forests were considered as government property. During the period, timber extraction was confined to teak only, at the rate of 1500 logs/year. In 1844, rosewood and anjily were also deemed as royal trees. Collection of cardamom and wax was treated as the monopoly of the government.

 In 1844, Mr. Vest succeeded Mr. Munroe. In 1864,Mr. Kunholf was appointed Conservator. Till 1853, teak had been supplied to temples, churches, illams and palaces free of cost.

 In 1864, Dr.Brandis was appointed the Inspector General of Forests in India. The first Forest Act came into existence in 1865. Scientific forest management and forest protection in all provinces under the British Rule in India were codified. To train foresters, a Forest School was established at Dehra Dun during 1878. First National Forest Policy came into force during 1894.

 Mr. J.S. Vemela was appointed as Asst. Conservator of Malayatoor in 1865. During this period Sir T. Madhava Rao, the Diwan of the king ‘Ayilyam Thirunal’ had taken the initiative to raise a teak plantation in Travancore. Accordingly, Vemburam island near Malayattoor was selected and teak seeds were sowed. The exercise failed. Subsequently Sir Thomas who was looking after the teak plantation in Nilambur was appointed as Asst. Conservator in Konni. During 1866-67 teak planting was done on a small scale in Konni and Malayattoor and the practice continued.

 The Travancore Forest Act came into force in 1887. As per this Act, Konni was declared as the first Reserve Forest in 1888 (October 9). More areas were declared as Reserve forests in 1889.

 Mr. Bourdillon was appointed as the Conservator in 1891. He is considered as the pioneer forester in Travancore. Mr. Bouridillion prepared the ‘Report of the Forests of Travancore’ in 1892. Large scale planting of teak was started during this period. Mr. Bourdillion developed a successful technique of stump planting to raise teak. His book "Forest Trees of Travancore" is considered even today as a very authoritative work on the tree flora of the State. It is indeed an authoritative list of trees to check how many trees have become extinct in this area.

 In 1893 a detailed Forest Act was passed as a Regulation and in 1894, rules were framed based on the Act. In 1896, the Forest Department was totally re-organised on the lines of the British Forest Administration and the State was divided into Divisions and Ranges. More divisions were formed in 1913.

 In 1906, Sri.V.K. Govinda Menon was asked to prepare a report on the management of teak plantations, with special emphasis on thinning regime for the initial 10 years. The system of sale coupe was started in 1907 to prepare more area for teak planting. The extent of teak plantation was increased. The taungya system in teak plantation was introduced in Konni in 1910. Though the system failed, it was re-introduced in 1922. Studies in the Forest Research Institute revealed that the system was the main cause for soil erosion and degradation of forest land .

 Mr. Bourdillion was succeeded by Mr. Rama Rao. He published a book, "Flowering Plants of Travancore" in 1911. Though he described 3535 plants in the book, only 1104 could be identified in Travancore area.

 In 1923, wastelands were sold in bits of 200 ha to individuals and companies for cultivation of coffee and tea. Teak, rosewood, sandal and ebony were considered to be government property and these trees could be cultivated only by the government. The need for conserving the wildlife wealth was felt only during the 1930’s. Mr.S.C.H. Robinson was appointed as the first Game Warden in 1933 for the protection of wildlife. The Periyar Lake Reserve was declared as Nellikkampetty Game sanctuary. This was later declared as the Periyar Wild Life Sanctuary.

 Agro Forestry practices, combining agriculture with forestry, were started as early as in 1905. Forest areas were leased out for cardamom cultivation since 1905 and the rules were modified in 1935. Forest areas were also given to tribals free of cost at the rate of 1.2 hectares per family.

 An extent of 9,600 ha of forest areas were leased out for paddy cultivation in 1942. Considerable damage was done to forest land due to this. However, the leasing process was allowed to continue. Later pressure began to mount from the lessees for permanent ownership (Patta) of the land.

 Plantation forestry was started in a systematic manner in 1940s on the basis of carefully prepared working plans. The first Working Plan for Quilon, for the period from 1944 to 1958 was prepared for planting Teak, Thembavu, Venteak, Anjily, Elavu, Bamboo and Cinchona and other economically useful trees. Even rubber plantation was tried out in some places.

 The Government took active interest in starting forest based industries. Punalur Paper Mill (formerly Meenakshy Paper Mill) was established during 1940 with the government holding one-third of the shares. The government had assured supply of raw material , mainly bamboo and reeds, to the mill at reduced rate.

 When scientific forestry practices were intensified the forest department felt the need for more trained personnel. To meet this requirement, a Forest School was started in 1923 in Naduvathumoozhy to train forest guards. The school was later closed.

 Forest administration also was streamlined by preparing a forest manual The Forest Manual (1st Part) was published by Sri. Narayana Iyengar in 1933. The second part was published by Sri L.A.Krishna Iyer in 1947. Part I dealt with forest laws and part II with administration. The Forest Manual guides the administrative procedures, selling of forest products, auctioning of trees and every other activity in the forest.     


As a practice, forest lands were leased out to private individuals for collection of timber, There was no limit for the exploitation and the result was depletion of the forest areas. The system was stopped by Col. Munroe in 1812. In 1813, a head of Forests by name ‘Malamel Vicharippu’ was appointed with supporting staff to collect timber from forests. During the period, the Forest Department collected only teak trees directly and private individuals were allowed to take the other trees after remitting the prescribed cost.

Lt. Leth Bridge took charge of the Forest Department 1880. He exploited the forest ruthlessly to improve the financial position of the state. However he tried to grow more trees particularly teak by sowing tones of teak seeds. In 1835, Mr. J.A. Kolholf was appointed the first conservator of Cochin. He framed rules for the collection of forest produces. Accordingly royal trees were collected departmentally, miscellaneous trees by permit system and Minor Forest Produce by contract. Rosewood and Ebony were declared royal trees in 1837.

Over exploitation of trees resulted in the destruction of vast forest tracks during the period. Moreover large areas were cleared and converted to agricultural lands during 1855- 1875.

Raising teak plantation in Cochin on the banks of Parakkadavu Puzha started in 1873 and continued till 1891. Over 200 ha of plantations were raised during this period. Due to various reasons, these plantations failed. An attempt was made in 1893 to raise sandal plantations.

Sri. Alvar Chetty of Madras became the Advisor of the Maharaja in 1897. He imposed restrictions on the collection of timber from forest. Cochin Forest Act based on the Madras Forest Act of 1882, came into effect in 1905. Rules were framed to protect and exploit forest. For collecting firewood a system called ‘Coppice with standards’ was introduced. Construction of a Forest tramway was started in 1901 and completed in 1908 at a total cost of Rupees 18.47 lakhs to transport timber from Orukomban areas to Chalakudy. The tramway helped to transport about 10,000 cu.m in a year and exploit about 32,000 ha of forest areas. The total extent of forest areas in Cochin during this period was about 50,000 ha.

In 1908, the department was brought under the range system. Forests were divided into Ranges and Sub Ranges. Division system came into being in 1944. Regular Teak plantations were started from 1915. Artificial regeneration of other species were also started during the period. The monopoly on royal trees was ended in 1923. In 1944 Machad Range and Trichur Range were converted as Divisions. Sri. S. Venkiteswaran was the Conservator during this period. A Forest Development Division under the charge of an ACF was formed to construct roads for colonization of Ex Service men. Extensive forest areas were given on lease for cultivation of varieties of crops.


 As per the agreement of 1792 - Sriranga Pattanam, complete Malabar Area, except Wayanad, came under the British rule. Later, Wayanad was also brought under their control. In contrast to the practices followed in Travancore and Cochin, the forests in Malabar Area were considered as private property under the British rule. But some areas for which, there were no claimants were kept under the control of government.

The teakwood, required for Naval Dockyard, Bombay, were collected from Kanara, and Malabar areas during those days. To meet this requirement, even immature trees were felled. Though the Principal Collector Mr. Shefield pointed out the necessity to ban the felling of immature trees, no steps were taken till Mr. Canolly became the Collector in 1880.

Considering the extent of forest under government ownership and its potential to grow more trees, he had prepared a note and brought to the notice of the government the immediate need for raising plantations considering the projected needs. He assessed the timber requirements as 2230 cu.m / year for the construction of one ship each year. According to him 2000 teak trees were to be felled annually to meet the projected need. Considering 60 years as the minimum rotation for teak, he anticipated to plant 1,20,000 trees in a phased manner. For this, 670 sq.km of forest land from private owners had to be purchased. His suggestions were promptly accepted by the Government and Canolly made forestry history by raising the first ever teak plantation in the world. Accordingly the forest land under Thrikalayur Devasom was taken on lease. Later forest area of Nilambur Thirumulpad, and Zamorin of Kozhikode were also taken on lease in 1841 and 1843. When large teak areas was identified in Kanara, further leasing of forest land was stopped in 1843.

The extent of forest land was increased by Collector Canolly for regenerating teak artificially. Mr. Smith was entrusted with this work during1841. The over exploited area in the western side of Nilambur was selected for the work. In 1842,teak seeds were broadcasted and natural seedlings were transplanted in the degraded areas. Since the attempt of Mr. Smith had failed, Mr. Graham, was appointed in 1842 October in his place to continue the artificial regeneration. Various trials were conducted for germinating teak seeds. Then, Collector Canolly entrusted the work to Sub-Conservator Sri. Chathu Menon, who was able to raise many seedlings in nursery by germinating pre-treated seeds. The Silvi culture technique developed by Chathu Menon involves pre burning of seeds. These seedlings were planted in 1844. The seedlings 10-20 cm height were planted in June. The planting was done in a spacing of 1.8 m x 1.8 m quincunx and in pit of 30 cm cube. The plantations were well maintained by Chathu Menon. Thinning was practiced from 1854 and was continued.

A sample plot of 100 teak trees belonging to the 1844 plantation is still preserved as an experimental plot. The KFRI with the help of the Kerala Forest Department, has set up a teak museum at Nilambur in recognition of the fact that the first ever teak plantation in the world was raised in Nilambur.

Madras Forest Act came into force in 1882. The forests of Karimpuzha New Amarambalam, Silent Valley, Valayar and Chennath Nair Reserve were declared as Reserved Forests during 1883-87. More areas became Reserved Forests later. Maj. Campbell the Conservator, suggested to continue teak planting in 1886 which stood suspended from 1877 to 1885. The plantations were not successful due to poor site quality.

One of the commercial important exotic tree planted in Nilambur was Mahagony. Mahagony is one of the few tree species suitably adopted to the natural condition of Kerala. Planting of Jack and Angily along with teak was also practiced. The first working plan for Nilambur division (1896 – 1905) was prepared in 1894. This indicates that management of forests guided by Working Plans started in Malabar area much before the practice started in Travancore. Mr. Ribbon Troup, the Inspector General of Forests visited the Teak plantations of Nilambur in 1898. Mr. Rodez Morgan, District Forest Officer had made a study of Flora & Fauna of Malabar and included in the book of Mr. Willian Logan in 1887.

During ‘Mappila Lahala’, Forest officials were harassed and many of the forest buildings were burned and destroyed in 1921 – 22. One of the oldest collection of books and other authoritative records of forestry in Malabar kept in the Divisional Forest Office in Nilambur, were also destroyed during the ‘Mappila Lahala’. Many of the teak plantations were affected by flood in 1924. For economic and swift transportation of wood from Nilambur, a Nilambur – Shoranur railway line was laid in 1927.

The private forests were over exploited and mismanaged during early 1900. Lot of people from Central Travancore colonized Malabar and large areas were brought under cultivation destroying the forest cover. The Madras Preservation of Private Forest Act, 1949 came into force and all private holdings of forests exceeding 40ha came under the purview of the Act. Nevertheless, the Act could not fully control the destruction of forests.
The new state of Kerala was formed by merging Travancore, Cochin and Malabar areas on 1st November 1956. Mr. E.A. Lazredo (Madras) was the first Chief Conservator of Forests of Kerala. The Forest Department was reorganized into three circles (Quilon, Chalakudy & Kozhikode) and 14 divisions (Trivandrum, Thenmala, Punalur, Konni, Ranni, Kottayam, Malayattoor, Chalakudy, Thrissur, Nenmara, Palghat, Nilambur, Kozhikode & Wayand) for administrative convenience. The forest boundaries of divisions and ranges were prescribed by government notifications. The administration of each of the division was put under the charge of a Divisional Forest Officer and the management of these divisions were on the basis of working plans. Working plans were prepared for all the divisions.

The extent of virgin forests at the time of re-organisation was 8635.11 sq.km. excluding forest plantations. A number of forest divisions and circles were created to make forest management very effective. Munnar division was started in 1963.

A number of administrative reforms have been brought for the sustainable utilization of the forests. The important ones formulated include the Kerala Forest Act 1961. Under the Private Forest Vesting and Assignment Act, the government took over all the private forests of the Malabar area.

In spite of the best efforts of the department to maintain maximum land under forest cover and exploit the tangible and intangible benefits out of it, the area under forest cover has been shrinking due to a multitude of reasons.

Canolly’s Plot

The Canolly’s Plot is the living monument that illustrates the integrity, zeal and honesty of late Sri. Chathu Menon, a Sub Conservator of Malabar who played the pivotal role in raising the first ever teak plantation in the world. It is located in the right bank of Chaliyar river in Nilambur. An extent of 5.75 acres from 1844 teak plantation are retained as a permanent preservation plot. The total number of trees in the plot are at present is 123. The biggest tree is tree number 23 with 24 metre clear bole and 416 cm GBH. The volume of the tree is estimated as 26 cu.m. The average volume per tree in the plot is 8.8 cu.m and the total volume is 1082 cu.m.

This is one of the most famous forestry plot of the world, attracting foresters from all over the world to pay homage to those stalwarts, responsible for teak planting in India.

Teak had been over exploited even at the time of British Colonial rule to meet British Ship Building requirements. Therefore they started raising teak in plantations in Nilambur as early as 1844. The experimental plot preserved from the 1844 plantation is named after Canolly who conceived the idea.

To highlight the glory of teak and its diversified use, a teak museum has also been setup in Nilambur jointly by the Kerala Forest Research institute with the help of Kerala Forest Department.


Kerala Forest Department (KFD), like other state departments in India, has evolved over last one and half century in response to changes in Forest Policy, priorities in five year plans and demands on the forests. However, it has by and large inherited the basic institutional framework of the colonial forest administration, with the emphasis on protection and management of government forests with limited involvement of the public.

There was gradual expansion of manpower and administrative units during the next fifteen years. Thus, in 1972, KFD had three territorial circles (Southern, Central, and Northern) and five functional circles, i.e. (i) Working Plan and research circle (ii) Industrial plantations circle (iii) Special Circle, Kozhikode (iv) Vigilance and evaluation circle and (v) Rubber plantations circle. At that time KFD also had two Chief Conservators of Forests. Apart from the above, two posts of Conservators were created for planning and industries in 1972.

Major Milestones


Establishment of a Development Circle at Forest Headquarters


Establishment of a Development Circle at Thrissur for Teak and Eucalyptus Plantations under third five-year plan. It had five divisions.


Kerala Forest Act Passed


Kerala Forest School established at Walayar


Indian Forest Service Revived.


Kerala Private Forests (Vesting & Assignment) Act.


Vigilance and Evaluation wing established


Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 adopted in this State


Kerala Forest Development Corporation established


Kerala Forest Research Institute established


Project Tiger Circle formed with Headquarters at Kottayam


Forest Conservation Act of 1980 came into force.


Creation of High Range Circle at Kottayam


Abolition of Industrial Plantations Circle


Forest School at Arippa started


Social Forestry Programme started


Slient Valley Constituted as national park.


Separate Ministry of Environment & Forests established in Government of India


Separate Wild Life wing established


Head of KFD designated as Principal Chief Conservator of Forests


National Forest Policy announced by Government of India


Convenor system for forestry works introduced


State Forest Policy - guidelines issued


Kerala Forestry Project (World Bank Aided) commenced


Two regional CCFs appointed


Establishment of Forest Management Information System Wing under CCF(FMIS)


Establishment of IHRD wing under CCF(IHRD)

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