Noida and Greater Noida, along with being a developed and well-planned industrial and residential area, are also home to several wetlands. These wetlands are home to rich biodiversity, including several species of migratory birds which use these as their winter homes. Besides the birds, these wetlands draw in a hoard of bird watchers, photographers, and nature lovers. One fine example of this is Dhanauri Wetland. Or we should rather say, Dhanauri was a fine example of it.
Once a rich habitat of domestic and migratory birds, Dhanauri, according to the bird watchers, is almost finished as a birding site. Discovered and identified in 2014 by a Noida-based birder Anand Arya, this small wetland in Greater Noida is 11 kilometers from the Buddh International Circuit. Its relatively small dimension may make it look insignificant, however, it is a place where several birds roost and live during winters. Other than birds, the wetland also provides a home to several reptiles like the rat snake, checkered keelback, and monitor lizard, which helps in preserving the ecosystem. The biggest attraction of the Dhanauri was its population of Sarus Cranes, which is the State Bird of Uttar Pradesh. Today despite its fame the Dhanauri wetland is in dire need of conservation. Many conservation plans have been discussed but so far, nothing seems to be reflected on the ground.
Narinder Kohli, a Wildlife Photographer from Noida, says, “None of these wetlands are protected apart from Surajpur and Okhla Bird Sanctuary. That too because it is under the Forest department. Nobody really takes the responsibility of managing or maintaining these wetlands and that is a big concern. Dhanauri Wetland also has the same story. The forest department says it's not under their purview because it's not a declared wetland. Because of the same reason, Yamuna Authority also doesn't take any responsibility."
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Mukund Kumar, another birder who frequently visits Surajpur wetlands, says, “Dhanauri is famous amongst bird enthusiasts for Sarus cranes and migratory birds. It used to be visited by bird watchers and photographers year-round and in winters, especially for migratory water birds. Some years ago, a board was put up by the forest department declaring it a protected area, but no officials were allocated and nothing was done to protect the area."
Narinder further talks about what problems do unmanaged wetlands pose. He says, "The biggest problem of the unmanaged wetland is the hyacinths in water. It spreads and blocks the view of the water, which further obstacles the landing space for migratory birds. It is very important to clear these hyacinths especially during the migration period”.
Dr. Pranab J Patar, an environmentalist, and a Noida-based birdwatcher says, “Dhanauri is a dream destination for every birder and nature photographer in the Delhi NCR region. Western UP – Gautam Buddh Nagar is indeed very lucky to house a wetland of Dhanauri’s stature – a unique aquatic habitat and a home away from home for migratory birds. However, like several other water bodies, it also has its share of challenges, the authorities need to look into all that and offer sustainable solutions that factor in the local needs and communities’ interests. We also hear about demand for considering this as a RAMSAR site, which is a good thing but we shouldn’t forget that mere a RAMSAR status alone, will not help much, unless fundamental issues such as water availability, habitat quality, proper demarcation, protection to name a few are addressed on a priority basis”.
Today the number of visitors to the Dhanauri site has come down to a mere trickle. Says Narinder, “Earlier, we used to visit Dhanauri wetland quite frequently. However, now we have reduced the frequency because of the overgrown hyacinths. Few birds have started coming in during the past few weeks but it is less due to the unavailability of landing space. This was about the migratory season. If I talk about the summers, the challenge is that the water in Dhanauri Wetland dries. This poses a threat to the natural habitat of Sarus Cranes, which are resident birds. Thus, if we don't save these wetlands, we are also not saving our designated State bird. But the truth is most of the wetlands in Noida and Greater Noida are unmanaged and unprotected”.
There have been efforts by this Dhanauri community to save the wetland. Says Mukund, “Dhanauri wetland needed protection and it was highlighted also by few people at the ministry level. The primary cause of wetland loss is the utter neglect by the Forest Department”.
While talking about his and other people's efforts for saving the wetland, Narinder says, "We reached out to Yamuna Authority last year. We even collected money. We have a photography club in Noida and we started raising the funds together. We offered this fund to the Authority but they didn't accept it. This year, some work started on the ground but it stopped in between. Nobody seems to really care about saving these wetlands."
Water hyacinth is a major problem inflicting the wetland. Says Mukund, "Earlier, there used to be cleaning of hyacinth grown during monsoon to make enough place for the migratory birds. Now, the cleaning has not been done properly, and also the farmers have started to use one side of the wetland for farming purposes. Land grabbing, human interference and zero maintenance have affected the wetland badly, which has caused the migratory birds to skip this place and find another. This has also affected resident Sarus cranes nesting area and their night resting place.”