The Kerala State Biodiversity Board (KSBB) is preparing to take up a state-wide programme for conservation of herons, a species facing threat from habitat loss and game hunting.

The participatory project, to be launched at Panamaram in Wayanad, will involve panchayat-level Biodiversity Management Committees and landowners. The KSBB has plans to set up heronries in areas frequented by the birds.

Once a common sight across Kerala, the elegant birds have undergone a sharp decline in numbers following the destruction of their nesting grounds. Pesticide poisoning and the popularity of game hunting have also worsened their plight.

In 2011, the KSBB had joined hands with the Kottayam Nature Society to implement a pilot project in 21 heronries in Kuttanad. The Board is preparing to take up the new programme based on the lessons imbibed from the pilot project that involved incentives for landowners to protect the heronries on their property.

Heronry on islet

“Panamaram has been identified for the launch of the programme because of the presence of a large heronry located on a small islet spread over 1.5 acres. Local people have alerted us to the need to replant the decaying bamboos on the islet where the herons nest,” says K.P. Laladhas, member secretary, KSBB.

The heronry at Panamaram is home to several species of water birds including the Cattle egret and the Black-headed ibis.

Oommen V. Oommen, Chairman, KSBB, said efforts were on to collect information about the heronries in other districts and develop site- specific plans for conservation.

He said local people would be sensitised to the need to conserve the herons and protect them from hunters.

The sound produced by nesting herons and their droppings are considered a menace, often forcing people to scare them away.

“We are considering a proposal to provide a net under trees where the herons nest, so that the droppings are collected,” Dr. Laladhas said.

Nesting in large numbers, the birds are an easy target for game hunters using air guns. They are also killed for meat.

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