A Home To Avian Visitors Under Threat

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Spread across over 1500 hectares of land and surrounded with beautiful willow and popular trees, three to four streams that pass through the wetland is its lifeline “The main source of its water is Nigle and Balkoul streams which originates from the upper ridges of Gulmarg,’’ said Mohammad Shafi who lives close to this wetland. 

Imtiyaz Wani

Image: Imtiyaz Wani

Hygam: Fifteen kilometers ahead of Baramulla town close to the Srinagar – Baramulla highway is located a beautiful wetland – Hygam Wetland, every year from October to April this place becomes temporary home to thousands of avian visitors. However, this wetland is under threat from the encroachers and if efforts are not taken this wetland will lose its sheen and avian visitors will stop visiting this place.

Over the years, this wetland has shrunk and encroached by the villagers who live in its neighborhood. “This wetland could be turned one of the beautiful places for the migratory birds. Unfortunately, the government is not paying any attention towards it,’’ a former village head said while narrating the threats faced to this wetland which was once a famous tourist resort and was visited by erstwhile Maharajas of Jammu and Kashmir and the English tourists.  “Once again Hygam wetland could become a famous tourist destination if government takes interest in its development” he said.

Spread across over 1500 hectares of land and surrounded with beautiful willow and popular trees, three to four streams that pass through the wetland is its lifeline “The main source of its water is Nigle and Balkoul streams which originates from the upper ridges of Gulmarg,’’ said Mohammad Shafi who lives close to this wetland. 

Being located on the fringes of the Wullar Lake – Asia’s second largest fresh water lake this wetland attracts large number of migratory birds that use this tiny wetland as their transitory camp before moving towards forward destinations.

Pawanjit a bird watcher who frequents this wetland said that the wetland plays a vital role in sustaining a large population of wintering, staging and breeding birds and migratory birds from Siberia, Central Asia and other parts of world use this wetland as their transitory camp from October to April every year.”

He said that every wetland is an environment that combines the properties of land and water. “’The combination of wet and dry areas means that many more different kinds of animals, insects and plants could sustain here compared to other type of habitat,” he says.

 In winters when the wetland stretches into neighboring villages its depth is about 1 to 15 meters.

“In winter when water is full, it has different kinds of fishes and attract different species of birds and their chirping and songs attract every common villagers towards this place for solace,’’ said another villager.

In fact the habitants of this area hunt these birds and even poachers from other area could be seen hunting these birds.

“For us this wetland is a sustenance as it provides food and fodder for our animals,’’ said a farmer while cutting fodder inside the wetland.  

Typha Latifolia is a kind of grass which can be also found here. “”It has broad leaves but strong and thin stem. Before ten years people used to make roofs of this plant in Huts -(Kachha Houses). In summer season people used to harvest it and manage its broad leaves on the upper side of their huts in order to make the roof of this plant which can’t pass the rain water in their huts besides fodder for animals.

Image: Imtiyaz Wani

While some migratory birds stay here for a limited period, many a few species of migratory birds spent their entire winter here. With season’s first snowfall – the migratory birds like duck, tufted duck, Gadwall, Grey leg Goose, Mallard, Common Merganser, Northern Pintal, Red Crested Pochard, Shoveled and Common Teal are seen on the placid waters of wetland. “This is one of the beautiful wetlands and could be easily developed as a good tourist destination,’ said Mushtaq Ahmad a wildlife department employee who has spent years at the wetland. “Lack of knowledge towards environment and human interference has changed this wetland.”

In the past human interference and official apathy had threatened this wet land that once used to be the favourite spot for English tourists and erstwhile Maharaja’s. In fact, to attract tourists and bird lovers towards this wetland – a road leading towards the wetland was built by the Maharaja. Now, the road is in a dilapidated condition. The two rest houses constructed by the wild life department are in decrepit condition.  

 Also by the human interference, the wetland now has shrunk from 4.5 square kilometers to 1.5 square kilometers. A decade ago, hundreds of acres of the land belonging to the wetland were encroached by some greedy villagers. Only, when police swung into action the land of wetland was retrieved. To restore the glory of wetland wild life department is taking up massive conservation works. 

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