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One of the Big Ideas of WTI is simple in its statement but extraordinarily ambitious in its vision. The idea is to secure critical habitats outside the traditional protected area system, especially habitat linkages, wetlands, grasslands, community reserves, important bird areas and sacred groves, thereby increasing the effective protected area of India by 1%. Currently India protects nearly 6% of its land under its protected area system. Increasing this by 1% is no small feat. Of the 3,287,263 sq. km. of land under the Indian flag, we would need to bring under protection nearly 33,000 sq. km. The elephant corridors of India came under the first category of habitat linkages, the Garo green spine under the community reserves category and then WTI has helped the government in declaring new tiger reserves and create new montane reserves. We have only once helped the government of Jammu and Kashmir in declaring new wetland reserves and in fact touched the whole freshwater aquatic regime only once earlier in saving the habitat of the tallest Indian bird, the sarus crane in Etawah and Mainpuri through litigation. That was when it was about to be drained for a housing project. The Uttar Pradesh government acted promptly to save its State Bird and withdrew the project, proactively formed the Sarus Protection Society of Uttar Pradesh and started conservation of the bird in western UP, its stronghold.
The vision of WTI slowly then crept eastward. Nobody was talking of the sarus in eastern Uttar Pradesh; not the conservation community in India, not the crane conservation community globally, not even the UP Forest Department. The critical catalyst in the game was a trusted friend, partner and donor, Abhay Gandhe of the Tata Trusts. The Trusts funded a large number of agricultural development projects in eastern UP and they gave us a clue on the significant numbers of cranes that existed on the farmlands. It is well known that destruction of wetlands pushes the species into rice paddies which resemble the near natural habitat of the crane. Here, it seeks the farmers’ support in protection of their nests, eggs and chicks against damage and poaching. Could we not help protect the species with the help of the NGOs working with Tata Trusts on agriculture, asked Abhay. WTI and Tata Trusts chalked out a conservation plan for the species in the region by documenting its presence, protecting nests and organizing communities to volunteer for sarus conservation. We found that although sarususes agricultural lands extensively, they nest preferably near or inside a wetland. Herein came the need to identify such wetlands, hitherto unprotected perhaps but critical for the sarus. The result of this two year project is here - 30 such important wetlands spread across 16 districts in the region have been identified as Important Sarus Wetland Sites. It is clear that this wetland mosaic— some natural, others man made agricultural ones needs to be maintained with the active involvement of farmers and other stakeholders. This publication is the first step towards ensuring the existence of these wetlands. Wehope it will further pave out a road towards improving, maintaining and conserving the constituencies of the crane.
In addition, the protection of these wetlands will drive us towards the habitat securement goal ofours. The 30 wetlands occupy an area of about 100 sq km (9561 ha). Of this about 75% is hither to unprotected. If the government of UP protects them, WTI would have moved that much closer to its aim of protecting 1% of India.
Executive Director, WTI