Forest Department sends Rs 20-lakh proposal to make the mostly privately-held areas a protected zone

Malyady, a hamlet about 22 kilometres from Udupi, is a paradise for birdwatchers between September and March. Various individuals, organisations, and the Department of Forests, are working to protect and promote Malyady.

Many birds – both migratory and domestic — flock to the wetlands unintentionally created by farmers of Malyady over the last two-and-a-half decades. According to environmental biologist N.A. Madhyastha, the bird lovers in the district have recorded as many as 48 species of birds at Malyady, ranging from small bushchats to large grey herons and white-necked storks. In the last census of the regions three years ago, enthusiasts counted 1,600. The biologist said migratory birds are fewer in number and more in variety.

The migratory birds visiting Malyady include golden plovers (Pluvialis dominica), the red shank (Tringa totanus), green shank (T nebularia), common sand pipers (Actitis hypoleucos) and ringed plovers (Charadrius dubius).

The local migrants to Malyady include the black winged stilt (Himatopus himatopus), spoonbills (Platelia leucordia), white-necked stork (Ciconia episcopus), nakta (Sarkidiornis melanotos) and marsh harrier (Cirus aeruginosus).

They come from Northern Europe, Afghanistan, and across Himalayas, said Dr. Madhyastha, and added that the best time to watch these migratory birds is in January and February.

Besides these, there are resident birds such as grey heron (Ardea cinera), purple moorhen (Porphyrio porphysio), pond herons (Ardeola grayii), cormorants (Phalocrocorax) and egrets (Egretta sp.).

Since the topsoil at Malyady was regarded as good for manufacturing tiles, it was being dug for up to two metres and taken to the tile factories of the district. The depressions created wetlands of about 1.5 sq. km holding enough water though the summer months, attracting many migratory and resident birds.

The migratory and resident birds have contributed immensely in maintaining an ecological balance in Malyady. According to Dr. Madhyastha, “The nutrients of birds’ excreta helped algal growth in water and provided food for aquatic insects and animals. The abundance of insects and fish attracted more birds to the area.”

But Malyady requires more protection and improvement in habitat. It requires a large tree cover to provide roosting for the birds.

Not a breeding ground

The Flora and Fauna Club of Kundapur, under the leadership of its president Subodh Malli, has been creating awareness among the villagers and the people around about the importance of these birds and the wetlands for the last 16 years.

The club wants to take up measures such as constructing a watchtower and planting more trees.

“Our long-term plan is to see that Malyady becomes a bird sanctuary,” said Dr. Malli.

Malyady is not yet a breeding ground. “If we can grow more trees and bushes around the wetlands we can facilitate breeding,” said Dr. Madhyastha.

But all the wetlands in Malyady are private properties. Dr. Madhyastha said Malyady should be declared a ‘protected area.’

“A ‘protected area’ is one where the private parties could continue owning their lands, but the animals and birds in such area are protected. With proper planning, Malyady can become a place for perennial bird watching,” he said.

Meanwhile the Department of Forests has submitted a Rs. 19.51-lakh proposal to the district administration to construct five watchtowers and an information centre, to fence where possible, and plant fruit/ bamboo seedlings in the area. “We are aiming at making the wetlands a protected area,” said Manjunath Shetty, In-charge Deputy Conservator of Forests, Kundapur Division.