Migratory Birds Face Habitat Crisis in Kashmir’s Wetland Amid Environmental Controversy

Migratory Birds Face Habitat Crisis in Kashmir’s Wetland Amid Environmental Controversy

Arjumand Wani

SRINAGAR, Dec 27: With the advent of winter, when Kashmir’s wetlands should be teeming with thousands of migratory birds from northerly breeding grounds, there is a troubling decline in their numbers.

The second-largest wetland in the Kashmir Valley, spanning 13.54 Sq km, transforms into a birding wonderland between October and April. However, this spectacle is under threat due to a decline in water levels.

Birdwatchers are sounding the alarm, urging the government to halt activities such as dredging that contribute to the drying of the wetland. Riyan Sofi, a senior bird watcher, expressed frustration over the dwindling migratory bird population in recent years. In his inquiry into the matter, he emphasized the adverse impact of dredging, citing a specific instance where a 500-meter area was dredged, leading to the absorption of the entire water in that region and subsequently causing a decline in bird numbers.

The birds, accustomed to living in water, face a critical challenge–a 60-ft Nallah (stream) carved between the wetland, draining water from the land. This not only dries the area but also poses a threat from poachers. Birdwatchers are urging the closure and filling of this Nallah to protect migratory birds from Siberia, Central Asia, Europe, Turkey, and other regions.

Chief Engineer Naresh Kumar from the Irrigation and Flood Control Department rejected the claims, asserting that they are working on entry and exit gates to store water in the wetland.

He suggested contacting the executive engineer for further clarification. However, when approached, Malik Mehraj, the concerned official, refuted the birdwatchers’ claims. He stated that the Nallah actually fills the water, contradicting the bird watchers’ perspective. According to him, closing the Nallah is possible if the bird watchers officially communicate their concerns to the government.

Sofi contested these statements, alleging that the Nallah was initially dug to drain water in 2020. Since then, he claims, the Nallah has consistently drained water, impacting the wetland’s overall water supply.

Sources revealed to Kashmir Despatch that before 2020, the wetland received water from three channels, including Doodh Ganga and Rakh Arth which directly flowed into the entire wetland. However, due to dredging activities, two channels of Rakh Arth were closed, leading to land drying. The 60-ft Nallah now drains the remaining water, causing a decline in migration. The one functioning channel accumulates water in a single place, exacerbating the habitat crisis.

Birdwatchers have observed that during the summer migration, authorities drain water, harming the birds’ natural habitat. Lack of proper vegetation for food storage during winters contributes to the decline in numbers. Sofi emphasized that the reduced natural habitat prompts some species to dominate, forcing others to leave due to inadequate habitation and food sources.

Adding to the concerns, Sofi raised the issue of using massive machines during the migratory season, disturbing the birds’ habitat. The cacophony and disruption caused by these machines further contribute to the challenges faced by migratory birds.

The decline in migratory bird numbers in Kashmir’s wetland is a multifaceted issue involving dredging, the controversial Nallah, and disruptions caused by human activities. As birdwatchers advocate for environmental preservation, government officials assert their commitment to water management projects. The conflicting narratives underscore the urgency of addressing the environmental impact on the fragile habitat that hosts these migratory birds.

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