Bird reserve along Upper Lake mooted

BHOPAL, MARCH 17. Environment and conservation experts who attended a consultative committee meeting at Van Vihar here today to evolve a long-term strategy as a follow-up of the Bhoj Wetland Avifauna study unanimously supported the idea of declaring a large area of the Upper Lake and its catchments here as a bird conservation reserve.

The consensus at today's consultative committee meeting organised by the Madhya Pradesh State Biodiversity Board and Van Vihar was that instead of setting up a bird sanctuary stretching over the shallow waters of the Upper Lake and the catchments adjoining Van Vihar, this area should be declared as a bird conservation reserve. Any success in this direction would be possible only through people's participation and by adopting an inclusive approach that would ensure that the interests of the stakeholders are fully protected, it was commonly agreed at this meeting.

Initiating the discussion, the Member-Secretary of the State Biodiversity Board, B.M.S. Rathore, said that the Upper Lake and the adjoining catchments have tremendous value and potential for birding. "The challenge before us is how to enhance, conserve and explore new values."

The WWF-India Director-Environment Education, Lima Rosalind, cited the example of the Chilka Lake bird sanctuary in Orissa and said "it is one of the best working examples in the area of eco-conservation".

She also talked of the community conservation initiative launched by WWF-India in Laddakh and said that the Laddakh experience can be replicated in other parts of the country as well.

Speaking further on the awareness issue, the Madhya Pradesh Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), Suhas Kumar, stressed the need to go beyond awareness and said what was actually needed was conservation education.

The Van Vihar National Park Director, L.K. Chaudhary, drew attention towards the problem of fishing in the shallow waters of the Upper Lake and said that Van Vihar could provide alternative employment to those engaged in the fishing activity for at least nine months in a year. He said that since the number of birds being sighted near the lake had been decreasing over the years, conservation steps were needed on top priority.

There should also be a comprehensive study of all inter-related aspects, he added. Kaustabh Sharma, who is a Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) Research Fellow and has earlier done the Bhoj Wetland Avifauna study, said that 204 different bird species and over 35,000 birds were sighted during peak migrating season during the avifauna study in 2000-2001. The sightings included an aggregation of 161 Sarus Cranes, four species of Storks, five species of Kingfishers, he said adding that Bhopal is a haven for migratory birds possibly since it is located on a North-South migration corridor. "The Upper Lake can also be developed systematically as a potential site in Central India for bird-oriented tourism and research using various media," he pointed out.

As a follow-up to the Avifauna study, Mr. Sharma suggested that a volunteer programme called Sarus Watch Group could take up various research and awareness related activities that could be institutionalised through collaboration with schools and colleges.

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