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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

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