Dr Bilal A Bhat, Saima Farooq
Climate is changing at an unprecedented rate and that man-made emissions of greenhouse gases are the leading cause of these changes. Climate change, affects more than just a change in the weather; it refers to seasonal changes over a long period of time. These climate patterns play a fundamental role in shaping natural ecosystems, and the human economies and cultures that depend on them. Because so many systems are tied to climate, a change in climate can affect many related aspects of where and how people, plants and animals live, such as food production, availability and use of water, and health risks. Climate change will bring with it significant negative impacts on wetlands also. There is unanimous agreement among climate models that atmospheric temperatures will increase throughout world and that precipitation may increase or decrease, depending on location. As a result, the impacts of a changing climate on wetlands will be diverse and include: Small wetlands will dry up and disappear, Permanent wetlands will become seasonal and subject to greater variation in water levels; Wetlands underlain by permafrost will shrink or disappear; Biodiversity of plants and animals will decrease as habitat for wetland-dependent species; Fire frequency and intensity will increase; The water retention and purifying ability of many wetlands will be impaired, resulting in increased flooding and lower water quality.
Considering that much of Kashmir land base is covered by wetlands, it is imperative to recognize the potential magnitude of negative impacts that climate change can impart on these important ecosystems. The researcher of Kashmir reported that mountains are sensitive to climate change and that the implications can be seen in less snow, receding glaciers, increasing temperatures and decreasing precipitation. Climate change is a global issue and it is the duty of every citizen of the globe to deal it. The Government of the state is not is not providing any direction on how to mitigate potentially negative impacts on Kashmir’s wetlands resulting from climate change. The valley of Kashmir valley worldwide popularly known as paradise on earth is famous for its beauty and diverse types of fresh water bodies. Majority of these natural aquatic system are shallow basined and classified under western Himalayan wetlands. The wetlands of Kashmir valley are mostly located in the flood plan of River Jehlum and Sind and are characterized by the varying in Hydroedaphic features. All the wetlands are linked with each other. Wetlands form a significant part of our ecosystem. Wetlands can decrease flooding , remove pollutants from water, recharge groundwater, protect shorelines, provide habitat for wildlife , and perform other various important functions. In a study by Wetland International, it was found that Wular Lake was actually 217.8 square kilometers. The study found that lake was reduced to 157.74 square kilometers.
Records say that there are 29 wetlands in J&K State, 16 in the Kashmir valley, eight in Jammu and five in Ladakh. All of these have been brought under conservation plans. The winged visitors from Central Asia and Europe start arriving Kashmir valley in lakhs towards the first week of November and the concentration of migratory birds will peak around first week of February. Kashmir presents migratory birds a comparatively hospitable alternate habitat compared to the extreme freezing conditions in their natural habitats in Siberia, China, Japan and other countries in northern hemisphere. Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Brahminy Duck, Garganey, Greylag Goose, Mallard, Common Merganser, Northern Pintail, Common Pochard, Ferruginous Pochard, Red-Crested Pochard, Ruddy Shelduck, Northern Shoveler, Common Teal, and Eurasian Wigeon are some of the most sighted birds in the wetlands of Kashmir. It is reported that there are around 106 species of birds nestle in these wetlands, including 25 species of land birds which visit occasionally and several endangered species. Wildlife Warden, are blaming the Revenue Department for failing to take any preventive measures to save the wetlands. They feel helpless as Revenue Department is not providing them the details about the possession of the lands. Nothing is being done to sort out the issues with the locals who have encroached upon the land around the wetlands in the absence of proper records. Beautiful Valley of Kashmir is bestowed with large number of impressive wetlands like HAIGAM RAKH, MIRGUND WETLAND, SHALBUG WETLAND as discussed in this article. Hokersar – 13.75 Sq.Km: The Hokersar wetland, which was one known as the “Queen of Wetlands’ was recently in news for being on the brink of extinction due to encroachment activities. Hokersar Wetland in Kashmir is filled with the migratory birds who prey on fish and insects in this protected territory. Migratory birds start their annual sojourn here in early September and stay until mid-February or early March. Hokersar is an important refuge for migratory waterfowls, shorebirds and trans-Himalayan species during winters. It also acts as one of the major flood absorption basins. Hokersar has been declared as Conservation Reserve under the Jammu and Kashmir Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1978. It was also declared as Ramsar site on November 8, 2005 under the Ramsar Convention. The study shows that the open waters of the wetland have been colonized by the weeds and other aquatic vegetation. Some areas of the wetland that existed in 1969 have been converted into paddy fields. About 10 hectares of the wetland has been converted into built-up area. This wetland is on the brink of extinction as per various environmentalists.
Narkara – 3.25 Sq.Km: The Narkara Wetland in Kashmir valley receives its water supply from Doodhganga catchment and is surrounded by the paddy cultivation and willow plantation areas. It is observed that due to heavy encroachments, the considerable amount of marshy area has been converted into the solid land masses. Narkara wetland is the favorite habitat site for a number of water fowl species like Grelag goose, Ruddy shelduck, Pintail, Common teal, Mallard, Gadwal, Wigeon, Shoveller and Tufted duck. As per the census data the population of migratory birds has reduced from lacks to only 3,275 birds in winter season.
Manibugh – 4.50 Sq.Km: Manibugh Wetland is located in Pampore Area of J&K. Manibugh Wetland was managed for organized shooting from November/ December till April. However this practise has been stopped from past few years as protection to the wetland and flora and fauna. At present it is spread over 2 square kilometres of land and marshes. It is the breeding ground and the meeting point of many birds. This wetland is characterised by the low level body. This wetland is at present characterized by low water levels since they are surrounded by cultivation areas which washes organic and inorganic constituents in wetland.
Chatlam – 0.25 Sq.Km: Chatlam Wetland in Kashmir valley was initially a game reserve, however now it is being maintained by the fisheries and fish farms. It is a spring fed wetland. The shores of this wetland are elevated due to the deposits of fine grained sand and loam. Migratory fowls are majorly found in these areas.
Mirgund- 4.00 sq.Km: Mirgund wetland in Kashmir is a shallow temporary wetland. The water supply for this wetland is Sukhna Nalla and other channels that are used to irrigate the adjacent paddy fields. The wetland is being extensively used for harvesting fodder and graing livestock. It has fluvial type of fresh water origin.
Shallabugh- 16.0 sq.km: Shallabugh (Ganderbal), According to officials, Lakhs of migratory birds come to Shallabugh wetland in Sherpathri area of Ganderbal from far off places like Siberia, Central Asia, Northern Europe, Ladakh, China and Central Asia.
Some of the popular migratory birds visiting the Shallabugh reserve include Geese, Bar Geese, White Heeled Duck, Shoveller, Red-Crested Pochard, White-Eyed Pochard, Common Teal, Pintail, Mallard, Gadwall, Coot, Hoonk and Graylag. Among these, Pintail, Common Teal and Gadwall are the birds visiting this wetland in maximum numbers. The flying visitors started to throng to this wetland from the first week of November and the outward migration is expected from March up to mid April.
Hygam-7.25 sq. Km: Hygam Wetlands is one of the famous wetland areas in District Baramullal 30 kilometres from District Srinagar of J&K. It has the 1400 hectares of land and the area is dominated with extensive reed beds. Hygam Wetlands drains into Wular Lake of Kashmir valley through Tarazoo. The main source of water is Nigle Nullah and Babakul. The area of Hygam Wetlands is used by waterfowls. The depth is 1 to 25 meters as it is located on the flood plains of Jhelum River of Jammu and Kashmir. Hygam Wetlands has dense settlements and the people in this area are dependent on reed business and fishery. The extensive reed boats help to allow the passage of the boats between the areas of open waters. Hygam Wetlands is the rich belt of birds of local and migratory origin and the fishes of all types that are easily available in Jammu and Kashmir. Strips of willows species have been planted around the perimeters of wetlands of Hygam. It is most important for the national and international tourists for the rich source of natural beauty in the waters. The blue sky, blue waters and the snow capped mountains and the green colour soothe the tourists. Hygam Wetlands has the rich source of water lilies that allure one to have a photograph there. It is now a protected game sanctuary in Jammu and Kashmir.
The Kashmir valley in J&K state has a large number of wetlands. However, their ecological and socio-economic values were rarely explored. Wetlands in Kashmir valley are currently facing multi-dimensional threats due to human encroachments and government apathy. Public awareness is an important factor in saving wetland of Kashmir. The famous wetlands of Kashmir are Dal Lake, Anchar, Wular, Haigam, Malgam, Hokarsar and Kranchu lakes. These wetlands face serious threat from anthropogenic activities like increasing human settlements, urbanization, siltation, expansion of agricultural fields and the expansion of roads. Recently in the first week of February, we too got the opportunity of visiting few wetlands of Kashmir valley. Indeed, the increasing wetland encroachments, unscientific and improper waste disposal, noise pollution and poaching are posing a threat to the migratory birds. Illegitimate poaching and hunting is still going on in wetlands and large scale encroachment of water bodies also amounts to the interference to the aquatic habitat. Worriedly, there is no sufficient food for the birds now in the wetlands as water level is decreasing. Birds use to settle on the banks, but pollution has left no place for them to find enough food. It was reported that people from adjacent areas forage birds and no one really cares about the biodiversity of water bodies. People even coming from other places like Srinagar hunt them down here during the winters. The elders surrounding the wetlands told that a large variety of birds used to fly over in our wetlands but now we only find few of them. Earlier, only licensed hunters could hunt birds that is in contrary what we see now. It is sad that human greed had not left wetlands untouched. People living adjacent to the wetlands and land mafias turned the areas of wetlands into agricultural land and plantation of trees is on the rise which amounted to the reduction of the aquatic habitat of birds. We need to bestow hospitality to our migratory avian guests by protecting their habitats and preventing their poaching. Otherwise these beautiful creatures may stop visiting us in large numbers like tourists. It is concluded in the name of mad development by masses coupled with inefficient vision of policy makers the situation with reference to wetlands in Kashmir is quite unhealthy. We need to protect our wetlands and people should take a lead in this otherwise we are doomed. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) has declared: “Every one of you is a guardian and every one of you shall be answerable for that which they have been made to guard”. Environment needs to be treated with justice and compassion.
(The author write regularly for “Kashmir Horizon”. Views are their own)