Experts chalk out plans to protect hawks’ roosting ground in Bhavnagar
Alarmed by impending ecosystem changes that Narmada canal water would bring to the world's largest roosting ground for harriers, or hawks, in Bhavnagar district, conservation bodies led by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) met in Ahmedabad Friday to establish a mitigation plan.
Called Velavadar Blackbuck National Park, the 34-sq-km grassland in northern Bhavnagar district is a winter home for three of the 16 harrier species, about 3,000 of whom arrive from Kazakhstan every August and stay till February.
Although harriers are found in grasslands spread over 1.1 lakh sq kms across Kutch, Saurashtra and north Gujarat, GEER Foundation director and senior IFS officer Bharat Pathak said the largest numbers are concentrated in the national park.
At Velavadar and adjoining lands, where farmers grow indigenous cotton and Bhal with minimal pesticides, the birds of prey feed on locusts, fish, reptiles, small birds and mammals.
Naturalists fear the eventual entry of Narmada water into the region under the Sardar Sarovar Projects, and to an extent the planned Kalpsar project in the Gulf of Khambat and the Dholera Special Investment region nearby, may change agricultural practices in the region, inevitably leading to large-scale cotton plantations that require more chemical aids. Scientists say increase in pesticide or fertilizer use could contaminate such prey, travel up the food chain and poison the birds.
"Harriers hunt as far as 25 kms away from the park's borders during the day," said V A Rathod, Range Forest Officer stationed there since 2002.
"Being apex predators, harriers stand at the top of the food chain and are therefore indicators of the health of our plains, downs and lowlands," said Kartikeya Sarabhai, director of the Centre for Environment Education.
Scientists, senior forest officials, activists and agri-business representatives drew up some possible solutions.
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