Haidepur is significant as it supports rich biodiversity, offers livelihood opportunities for locals
The forest department in Uttar Pradesh is working along with conservation organisations to eventually make the the Haiderpur wetland in Muzaffarnagar district a Ramsar site.
Fed by the Ganga and Solani rivers, the wetland came into existence in 1984 after the construction of the Madhya Ganga Barrage on the former. It is spread over 1,214 hectares.
“As it is located within the boundaries of the Hastinapur Wildlife Sanctuary, the wetland enjoys some level of protection,” Suresh Babu, director, rivers, wetlands and water policy, World Wide Fund for Nature-India (WWF-India).
“However, WWF-India and the Uttar Pradesh forest department have identified some challenges with respect to fluctuation in the river flow, agricultural practices in vogue in the wetland and uncontrolled growth of aquatic invasive vegetation,” Babu, director, rivers, wetlands and water policy, WWF-India, said.
Many bird species inhabit the Haiderpur wetland and it is an important stopover destination for winter migratory birds like the Greylag goose and the Bar-headed goose.
According to the divisional commissioner of Saharanpur, Sanjay Kumar, who initiated conservation plans for Haiderpur, after the place was opened to the public last year, a bird festival was organised in February 2020.
The bird count which stood at 174 species in June 2019, rose to 224 species by December. “At present, it has gone up to 295 species,” Kumar added.
He said the wetland was important as it was situated at a strategic location on the banks of the Ganga where it meets the Solani, a small tributary. After the barrage was constructed, the spill over water of these two rivers formed the marshy land, now an important bird habitat.
“An important wetland such as this which falls in the Ganga basin should be protected at all costs so that biodiversity can be conserved,” Shailendra Singh of non-profit Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA)-India, said.
TSA is conducting a survey of river turtles in Haidepur to assess their habitat and population. The turtle survey, the total funding for which stands at Rs 3 lakh, is almost over. The funding has been given by the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG).
“We are finalising the report. We have found nine species of river turtles and we think two more can be found,” Singh said.
Apart from turtles and migratory birds, river dolphin tourism is another way to draw visitors and ensure livelihood opportunities for local people.
As part of Haiderpur’s conservation plan, there is also equal emphasis on the creation of livelihood opportunities for communities through the promotion of ecotourism.
For this purpose, a dolphin safari by boats has been started recently and dolphins will also be counted to assess their population. Along with the population assessment of dolphins and turtles, Uttar Pradesh’s state animal, the swamp deer, will also be tracked through radio collaring.
The Haidepur wetland has been identified under Namami Gange, a flagship programme of the Government of India launched in 2014, as a model wetland along the Ganga.
A brown-roofed turtle. Photo: TSA-India
NK Janoo, chief conservator of forests, Meerut zone, said the forest department was involved in protecting the wetland and was building watch towers to promote the place as an ecotourism hub.
“There is an attempt to develop nature trails and bicycles have been kept for tourists for this purpose. Locals will be asked to act as guides,” he added.
There are several significant wetlands in Uttar Pradesh. All these wetlands support numerous ecosystem services like ensuring water security, recharging groundwater and regulating micro-climate.
The state government has identified 1.23 lakh wetlands for protection. Many wetlands are important habitats for the Sarus crane, the state bird of Uttar Pradesh. These sites also provide famers space to cultivate water chestnuts.
While WWF-India and the forest department have developed a formal proposal to declare the Haiderpur wetland as a Ramsar site, Babu says all wetlands are important.
“All wetlands need to be conserved. Wetlands are important as they ensure base flow in rivers. There is an urgent need to move towards zero loss of wetlands in our country,” Babu added.
Haidepur is specifically significant as it not only supports rich biodiversity but also offers livelihood opportunities for local communities dependent on it for fisheries and growing water-based crops, Babu explained.
The WWF-India expert also pointed out that it was important to facilitate stakeholders at the local level as well as encourage and empower them to work with the local administration and Panchayati Raj Institutions for adoption of wetlands.
“In this context, the idea of wetland mitras (friends of wetlands) is a powerful one and has the potential of making every citizen care for wetlands,” he said.
While the NMCG is funding the turtle survey, watch towers and viewpoints are being built with the help of funds from the Muzaffarnagar Development Authority and benches and dustbins from the gram panchayat and zilla panchayat funds.
Babu said that with participatory initiatives like Haiderpur, the Bashettihalli wetland in Karnataka and the Sirpur lake in Indore, the number of positive examples of community-based conservation of wetlands was on the rise. These examples could inspire people to take suitable action, he said.
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