Community oppose quarrying in White-bellied heron habitat

The habitat is quarried for sand

Environment: Sand extraction from Bermu continues despite Berti community in Zhemgang repeatedly raising concern that the quarry activities is disturbing the feeding and roosting grounds of the critically endangered White-bellied Heron (ardea insignis).

Bermu located opposite Berti village on the left bank of Mangdechhu is home to the heron. With just around 200 birds in the world, White-bellied Heron is now in IUCN’s red list. Bhutan is home to just around 20 of them, according to Royal Society for the Protection of Nature (RSPN) White-bellied Heron population survey, 2013. Tingtibe has from two to four birds.

“The sand quarry has continued despite the community asking the Natural Resource Development Corporation Limited (NRDCL) to stop, as it is on the heron’s roosting and feeding grounds,” Berti Rigsungpa (forest guard appoint by the gewog), Dorji said. “The company told the quarry would be stopped but the extraction has continued even today.

Dorji claims that the birds no longer sleeps in Chabangju where it had a nest on a pine tree earlier.

“The White-bellied heron have stopped coming to Bermu after the quarry was started,” a forester from Tingtibe Park Range (TPR) said. Forestry officials from TPR also said that the quarrying activities is happening in the very area where the bird was often seen feeding in the past.

“The quarry is also close to its roosting ground across Bertichu,” a forestry official from TPR said, adding the bird has now deserted its feeding ground in Bermu since it is repulsive to dust, noise and other forms of intrusions.

According to the Manas National Park pictorial field guidebook to birds, the herons are susceptible to disturbances and stress especially during breeding seasons. The birds could even abandon their eggs or chicks if disturbed, it states.

A professional local birder said proper assessment is needed before issuing permits for developmental activities particularly to areas close to habitat of animals especially if they are endangered species. “It is a sensitive bird and such human activities will definitely cause disturbances,” the birder said.

According to TPR the sand quarry is also environmentally degrading since the sand is being excavated from the riverbed earlier vegetated.

“There is also risk of disturbing the river causing irreversible change in its course itself,” the forestry official said.

The community has reported the issue recently to officials from agriculture and forestry ministry who visited the quarry after RSPN intervened following verbal complaint from the community.  But despite the visit by the officials from MoAF, permit for sand extraction has been renewed.

The quarry is still operational, as Tingtibe has no other possible sites for sand quarry in nearby areas to meet sand requirement for Trongsa, Zhemgang and even Bumthang, according to NRDCL officials in Tingtibe

“We have clearances from both the forestry department and national environment commission,” an official said, adding the operation would continue soon for over a week to collect over 120 truckloads of sand.

The extraction would cease for the year once the natural deposit is exhausted the official said.

Division forest office chief forest officer (CFO), Ugyen Tenzin said department of forest and parks services issued the permit three years ago.

“During the recent assessment with the department, we didn’t see any harm from quarry because there were no signs of the presence of the White-bellied Heron in the area,” Ugyen Tenzin said. He said Berti, which is the heron’s proper roosting ground is over a kilometer away from Bermu.

Tempa Wangdi, Tingtibe

2 replies
  1. pasang666
    pasang666 says:

    The importance of protecting white-bellied herons and its habitat
    There are about 200 individuals of white-bellied herons (WBH) in the world and only 20 individuals in Bhutan. The WBH is now in the IUCN’s red list and RSPN had been studying the bird since long time and by now, they should be able to say whether the numbers in Bhutan are increasing or is it steady. After having spent millions on WBH conservation, RSPN must be able to say whether conservation efforts will help the growth of WBH population. How successful their nesting is and how much is their chick survival rate?
    If there is no increase in the number of WBH, then our conservationist must think whether it is worth spending millions to conserve this species. Till now, RSPN has been studying the bird’s characters and its habitat. They should extend their effort to study whether their low number in the world is attributed to natural extinction. If WBH is nearing natural extinction, there is no use protecting them and stopping economic activities just because few birds were seen foraging or nesting. If RSPN has records and research results of detecting population increase after the conservation efforts, then it is high time, we stop commercial activities like quarrying, damming and other activities disturbing WBH habitats.

    • pasang666
      pasang666 says:

      Regarding the issuance of forestry clearances, the concerned authorities, by now should be able to understand that we cannot state whether there will be adverse environmental impact with just one day (actually few hours) of filed visit. Almost all field reports for forestry clearances are written by foresters and rangers who have little knowledge about biodiversity and conservation. Many rangers may not even know how to calculate a simple diversity index and such important filed works are entrusted on them while officers with degrees and masters congregate at the HQ if there are no enough chairs to sit on.
      What do foresters look for when conducting field visit to issue clearances? They just look how many trees are there to be handed over to FDCL. No details about herbs, shrubs, forbs, birds, mammals, reptiles, etc. We cannot blame the filed staffs for this fall out. They have to rush because they have to submit their field report within given time. For instance, the field staffs have to complete and submit filed report within five days. We at least need one month to conduct filed survey and report on plants and animals within the area under question and such activities should be done by officers. The reports should be directed towards to conservation and not to give list of trees to FDCL.
      Likewise, Tingtibi Park Range staff cannot and will not be possible to predict whether WBH will roost in Bermi area after three years when they conducted the field visit before.

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