SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir

Bird watchers in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir have reported a decline in the number of migratory birds citing depleting wetlands.

The magnificent lakes and picturesque wetlands lying along the floodplains of River Jhelum in the region have been hosting waterfowls besides winged visitors that start arriving in Kashmir towards the mid of October from Siberia, China, Central Asia, Japan, and other countries in the northern hemisphere.

Reyan Sofi, a 25-year-old birdwatcher who has documented 272 migratory species since 2014, said many species are skipping to visit the region due to the bad health of wetlands.

“Many birds like Smew ducks and graylag goose are not coming because of the deterioration of our wetlands,” he told Anadolu Agency coinciding the World Wetlands Day, which is being observed on Wednesday.

“I think more than one million birds used to visit Hokersar every year as it was their resting ground. But due to the dredging of the wetland, large portions of the wetland have dried up,” said Sofi.

He said this year only 200,000 birds have visited the wetland which amounts to a decline of 60%.

Sofi has now formed a team of youngsters to rejuvenate the habitat of migratory birds in the Hokersar wetland.

“We are trying our bit so that birds can return,” said Sofi.

Living in the vicinity of one of the beautiful wetlands called Hokersar also known as Queens Wetland of Kashmir, Sofi said that at night a large number of birds used to sit on the rooftops of many houses producing a beautiful sound that was very soothing.

No more chirping sounds

He recalled that in 2014, as a teenager, he was fascinated by the sound of chirping of birds that came flocking from different parts of the world.

“The sound was so soothing that you wanted to hear it all the time but now there is no such sound,” Sofi said.

Hokersar wetland (also known as Hokera), 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) northwest of capital Srinagar, is included in the Ramsar Convention, an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for the conservation of wetlands.

According to conservationists, the wetland has been seriously degraded over the years after under the flood management program, intended to protect nearby Srinagar city, the earth dredged out from rivers and canals is being dumped in the wetland.

According to local authorities, the region hosts 1,230 wetlands. But according to conservationists most of them have been encroached and polluted.

In 2018, the High Court stressed the implementation of the Wetlands Conservation and Management rules that included the creation of a Wetland Authority to attend to the health of wetlands.

Huge level of unawareness

Shafkat Nazir, a lawyer and one of the members of the environmental policy group, told Anadolu Agency that nothing can move without prompt government action despite directions from the court.

“Here some wetlands have been converted into full-fledged colonies and government has extended civic and other facilities to such colonies thereby sort of regularizing them. Nothing can be more ironical than this,” he said.

Sofi said in the past many people were earning livelihood by catching fish from the Hokersar wetland. But due to heavy siltation and loss of water, the fish have also abandoned the lake. The fish was also an important source of food for migratory birds.

Atufa Regu, a scholar specializing in climate change issues, said there is a huge level of unawareness and mismanagement at an administrative level to attend to environmental issues.

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