The groves, traditionally protected by the local community as the abode of Gods and Goddesses, are called 'Sarpakavu or Kavus,' where idols of snakes and Durga are worshipped.
'Well conserved sacred groves may be compared to regional natural forests for various ecological attributes.Like any other natural forest ecosystem, sacred groves also harbour a large number of non-flowering plants' said U M Chandrashekara, a scientist at Kerala Forest Research Institute.
The government's plan, with financial assistance of the Centre, also stems from the rapid urbanisation and high population growth rate, which are posing a threat to these 'Kavus', Chief Conservator of Forests (Biodiversity),Bransdon Corrie told PTI here.
'Our ancestors exhibited deep wisdom and keen sense of conservation when they set apart and left undisturbed, parcels of land in their original pristine splendor, he said.
In Kerala, this conservation ethos pervaded the fabric of soceity and it was common practice among Hindus,to maintain part of 'Tharavadu' (Family property) in an undisturbed natural way as the abode serpent god or goddesses Durga.
Corrie said as per the plan, grove owners have to enter into an agreement with the Kerala Forest Department, the nodal agency implementing 'Protection and Conservation of Sacred Groves' under the Centrally sponsored scheme.
The Department has prepared a detailed management plan for protection of sacred groves, which would be submitted to the Centre later this month for approval, he said.
Recognising the local community's effort in preserving the groves,strengthening their initiatives, create awareness about the significance and relevance of biological richness of the groves were some of the focus area under the plan,Corrie said.
Other components of the programme include conducting an inventory of the sacred groves, documentation of flora and fauna of each sacred groves, community involvement incentives and eco-developemnt activities and protection measures.
Kerala Environmental Researchers Association President Sainudeen Pattazhi, who did a study on sacred groves, said 361 of 761 sacred groves are spread over 200 square meters.
More than 721 species of plants, five species of amphiba, 12 species of reptiles and 88 speices of birds were identified in these groves, Sainudeen told PTI.
A recent survey showed there are about 1500 to 2000 sacred groves in Kerala, most of which are linked to temples and Devaswoms and some owned by households and individuals.
Initially, the government has decided to support 28 sacred groves beloning to Devaswoms and Trusts. Each owner of the 'Kavu' would get Rs.20,000 for conservation steps.
Corrie said the Centre has recently released Rs.13.2 lakh for the scheme and the state government has decided to extend the programme by allotting an additional Rs 80 lakh.
'One of the main goals of the scheme is to sensitise local communities to the need to conserve and protect Kavus',he said.
Sainudeen emphasised the need to protect sacred groves, "as they are miniature forests and have attributes of large forests."
'They are considered as one of the land use systems with ecological and socio-cultural importance in the region',he added.