As we head into winter, Kashmir’s wetland reserves are witnessing the arrival of migratory birds from across the world. Flying across continents, they seek refuge from the winter harshness of their habitats. And this has been happening over centuries. Last year alone, around twelve lakh migratory birds descended upon these waters.
The birds, coming from places like Siberia, China, the Philippines, Eastern Europe, and Japan, start arriving in October, seeking respite from extreme cold conditions. The wetlands of Kashmir, including Hokersar, Wular Lake, Haigam, Shalbugh, among others, become bustling habitats for these visitors until March when they return to their homelands.
But the birds face two challenges: one, the threat of poaching and second, the vanishing wetlands. has been a concern for both the migratory birds and the Wildlife Department. Efforts have been made to mitigate this threat, with increased vigilance and regular checks conducted to curb illegal hunting activities. Measures to maintain adequate water levels in the wetlands have also been undertaken to ensure a conducive environment for the visiting birds.
A recent report from the Government of India has revealed that between 2006 and 2018, Jammu & Kashmir lost over 2372 kanals of precious wetlands. This loss equates to more than 120 hectares and signifies a grave environmental challenge. The wetland ecosystems in Kashmir, including Dal Lake, Anchar, Wular, Haigam, Shallabugh, Narkara, and Hokersar, have suffered a drastic reduction in size over the years. These waterbodies, once revered as “nature’s kidneys,” are now at the brink of extinction.
Hokersar wetland, hailed as the ‘queen wetland of Kashmir’ and designated as a site of international importance under the Ramsar Convention in 2005, has lost 5.75 square kilometers of its area over the last forty years.
And this should be a cause for deep concern. As for poaching, the Wildlife Department should mount increased vigilance and periodic crackdowns to prevent it. But saving wetlands themselves calls for a much broader effort. The government needs to adopt comprehensive measures to safeguard vital ecosystems. To start with, we need an immediate and concerted action to counter the factors contributing to their decline, something that has been absent so far.
The recent designation of Shallabugh and Haigam as Ramsar sites offers some hope as it signals international acknowledgment and commitment to protecting these fragile habitats. However, mere recognition is not enough. It demands concerted efforts, collaborative action, and stringent measures to stem the tide of degradation.
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