Chhimi Dema

Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN)’s nature-based project aims to ensure that the population of the critically endangered white-bellied heron (WBH), Ardea insignis, stabilise or increase the bird population while also strengthening the livelihoods of the communities along its habitats.

The five-year-long project called “Developing Ecosystem-based Solutions for Managing Biodiversity Landscapes in Bhutan” has been implemented along Punatsangchhu and Mangdechhu basins, the habitats of the WBH.

Earlier this year, RSPN recorded 19 WBH in Punatsangchhu basin, seven in Mangdechhu basin, and one in Kurigongri basin.

Globally, the bird population is less than 60.

RSPN’s chief of species conservation division, Indra Acharja, said that the project was inclusive; securing livelihoods, restoring, and protecting WBH habitats.

Under the project, he said, the first action initiated was conducting the ecosystem and socioeconomic resilience analysis and mapping (ESRAM). “After which the findings would present site-specific conservation or mitigation efforts required.”

ESRAM is the method of data collection and developing a baseline for appropriate orientation to, and foundation for, ecosystem-based adaptation planning.

The method assesses and integrate climate, ecological, social, economic, cultural, political and institutional factors; focus on interconnectivity; and combine technical skills and science with local and traditional knowledge.

Based on the findings of ESRAM, the priority activities will be developed for implementation.

There are 27 white-bellied herons in the country today (Photo: Tshering Tobgay, RSPN)

After identifying the critical areas, the restoration programme will recreate the degraded habitats such as the feeding, roosting and nesting areas of WBH.

Indra said that the approach included securing the livelihood, building biodiversity and resilience of the communities. The project would support horticulture, organic agriculture, post-harvest processing and promote eco-tourism within the WBH landscape.

Indra said: “The significance of this project is the focus on areas that are outside the protected areas and identify its diversity values and ecosystem services, to decide on the approach to protect and sustainably use those resources.”

He said that protected areas have legal protection status but the areas outside that were equally rich in biodiversity lacked protection from development activities.

Indra said that conserving the two river basins landscape also protects other species in those areas.

Migratory bird, Ruddy Shelduck, using Punatsangchhu basin as wintering habitat, Pallas’s Fish Eagle and otters are some animals in the landscape.

“Through this programme, we will develop policies for the stakeholders and local communities to reduce disturbances and threats in those areas,” Indra said.

There is no direct approach to increase the bird’s population, he said. “But we try to recreate a suitable habitat in the hope that we will have a better population recovery in the country.”

Indra said that the habitat of the bird and population trend is still declining globally and Bhutan is on a stable trend.

The global distribution range of WBH is less than 165,000 square kilometres, he said.

The project is supported by Germany’s Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conversation and Nuclear Safety through International Climate Initiative and co-funded by MAVA Foundation in Switzerland.

The overall support for the WBH conservation project was supported by Punatsangchhu Hydropower Project authority and Synchronicity Earth.

The project has a total budget of Euro 4.11 Million. The project started in July this year.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk