Need to safeguard Asan, Uttarakhand’s premier conservation reserve

The Mallard fed along the edge, tipping, head down and curly tail straight up, to feed in the sparkling shallows. The Tufted Pochard stayed in the deeper waters. One second, he was there, black head and yellow eyes glowing in the sunlight. Then he was gone, leaving behind swirls of water.

Whether observing the flamboyance of the Ruddy Shelduck’s plumage or a Red-Crested Pochard’s striking upper body colour, or witnessing the dynamic body and dive of a Northern Pintail or a Shoveller, gently swimming a few hundred yards in wilderness, or beholding the might of the very presence of a Pallas’s Fish Eagle or whether to resonate the voices made by the waterfowls, these are some of the few views apart from many others, one could always recollect after visiting the small, but astonishingly rich and diverse wetland of Asan Conservation Reserve, wallowing with abounding and unique waterfowl biodiversity. Words could not judge the allure and significance of the conservation reserve, one of the prime halts and wintering ground for the trans-Himalayan migratory birds.

The Asan Conservation Area classified as a man made wetland — as it is a barrage located near the Uttarakhand-Himachal Pradesh border region in Doon Valley situated at the confluence of the Eastern Yamuna Canal and the Asan river and about 11 km from Dakpathar, and 28km northwest of Dehradun. The Yamuna flows gently nearby. The conservation reserve mainly consists of stretches of rivers Asan and Yamuna river beds, a reservoir area, islands and areas covered with terrestrial vegetation, which include natural forest patches, scrublands and plantation area. The aquatic vegetation of the Asan reservoir mainly comprises of Typha elephantina, Potamogeton pectinatus, Ceratophyllum demersum and Eichhornia crassipes. Of these the Typha elephantine-dominated community covers the largest area.

Though the conservation reserve may not be large in size (444.4 hectares), the sheer abundance of avifauna makes it an ideal place for bird lovers, ornithologists and naturalists alike, who can travel easily up to the site, and see thousands of birds who have travelled miles to be there.

The wetland attracts a large number of waterfowl, both waders and divers. It is a favourable wetland for migratory waterfowl during winters and their population swells to more than 6000 birds, of which Ruddy Shelduck alone has been estimated up to 2000 individuals. Incidentally, the wetland supports more than 1% population of two species, namely Ruddy Shelduck and Red-Crested Pochard which qualifies it for a site of international importance.

Trans-Himalayan migratory birds take halt in Asan Barrage during the winter. These birds can be spotted on their way from Central Asia and Europe during October to November and on their way back home from February to March.

By the end of October, the Asan witnesses the arrival of migrants from Palaearctic region. The first to arrive is the Ruddy Shelduck followed by Mallard, Coot, Cormorant, Egrets, and Northern Shoveller to name a few. Birds of prey like Pallas Fishing Eagle, Marsh Harrier, Greater Spotted Eagle, Osprey and Steppe Eagle add to this magnificent diversity. Asan has the privilege of hosting a more than thirty-year- old nesting site of the Pallas Fishing Eagle, which it reconstructs every winter. While rest of the year, this nest is shared by other birds of prey.

The high species diversity of birds in Asan and presence of many of the globally-threatened species makes this area as an important wetland for the conservation of biodiversity. The following birds listed as globally-threatened species in the IUCN Red Data Book, namely Marbled Teal, Baer’s Pochard, Ferruginous Pochard, Lesser White-fronted Goose, Darter, Black- necked Stork, Painted Stork, Black-bellied Tern, Black-headed Ibis, Cinereous Vulture, Pallas Fishing Eagle, Greater Spotted Eagle etc have been listed from Asan conservation Reserve. It again qualifies the reserve as ‘Wetland of International Importance’ under Ramsar Criterion 2: Rare species and threatened ecological communities with the remark that among the 14 IBAs in Uttarakhand, only Asan CR has the potential to be declared as Ramsar site. The area was notified as the Asan Conservation Reserve by the government of Uttarakhand on August 5, 2005 as the 1st Conservation Reserve of the country. It has finally been notified as the 1st Wetland of International Importance in Uttarakhand by Ramsar Bureau on October 16 this year.

The wetland faces a number of ecological and human threats, most disturbing being the weed infestation and siltation of the wetland. Typha elephantia, Ipomea fistulosa, Polygonum glabrum and Eicchornia crassipes, which are growing in shallower parts of the reservoir very rapidly, are converting the reservoir into a marsh at an alarming rate.

There is an urgent need of further necessary steps to be taken for the proper maintenance and conservation of the habitat, which has been seeing a decline in its biodiversity for the past some years, and if the present trend of the decline of the reserve persists, it would further destroy the unique and optimum conditions, which the wetland provides for its rich biodiversity. Our commitment to do so has become all the more relevant since it has been listed as the only wetland of international importance in Uttarakhand recently.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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