Trees sheltering thousands of birds cut at Vaagaikulam

Nearly one-third of ‘karuvelam’ trees ( Acacia nilotica ) grown inside the Vaagaikulam tank near Alwarkurichi in the district were cut. These trees were home to thousands of domestic and migratory birds for the past several years during and after the monsoon, thus leaving the winged visitors’ beautiful abode nurtured by nature in a pathetic shape.

The acacia trees at Vaagaikulam were planted by the Forest Department under their social forestry scheme. As per their policy, these trees are scheduled for felling in 10 years. The contract for cutting them is given by the panchayat and the income shared with the contractor on a 1:3 basis.

As the trees inside Vaagaikulam became an excellent roosting site, where researchers could identify 38 species of birds in and around the lake, steps were taken to convert it into a bird sanctuary on the lines of Koonthankulam in the district.

Birds that come

CHASING AWAY BIRDS: Cut trees lying inside Vaagaikulam in Tirunelveli district.

Among the various species of birds that flock to this place are white ibis, glossy ibis, black ibis, chestnut-tailed starling, brahminy myna, cotton pygmy goose, spot-billed duck, spot-billed pelican, Indian moor hen, pheasant- tailed jacana, white-breasted water hen, sandpiper, gull-billed tern, common kingfisher, white-throated kingfisher, pied kingfisher, pied crested cuckoo, western marsh harrier, night heron, rosy pastor, red-vented bulbul, open-billed stork, osprey, pond heron, purple heron, cormorant, darter, egret, little grebe, yellow-wattled lapwing, yellow wagtail, barn swallow, palm swift, black headed munia, brahminy kite, brown shrike and house crow.

When the trees on which the birds are roosting were earmarked for cutting in January 2009, 70 per cent of the trees were removed and the rest were spared because of the rains and subsequent increase of water level in the lake. Moreover, the move was stopped by the villagers then.

After the birds’ new abode was brought to light by The Hindu , Bangalore-based Ashoka Trust for Environment and Education, which first located the tank brimming with water and trees weighed down by thousands of birds, some steps were taken by the Department of Forest to convert it into a bird sanctuary. The then District Revenue Officer P. Ramanasaraswathi even visited the tank to explore the possibilities of ensuring flow of water to the tank throughout the year so that the birds can roost and nest round the year.

Renewing his efforts on removing the trees, a contractor, who has successfully won the ‘cutting order’ in his favour, has been asked by the revenue officials to wait till the end of the forthcoming civic polls. “We’ll take an appropriate decision after the end of the elections,” he was told by the revenue officials it is learnt even as the Alwarkurichi villagers were vehemently resisting the cutting of trees.

Enquiries with the Department of Social Forestry revealed that the ‘cutting order’ that was given by the then Conservator of Forest Rampathi about eight months ago was cancelled after the report on trees inside Vaagaikulam sheltering thousands of birds appeared in this newspaper.

Villagers’ efforts

When the information of cutting of trees inside Vaagaikulam spread, the villagers, mostly farmers, rushed to the water body and stopped further felling of the trees after heated argument with labourers hired for the purpose. Even as the situation was volatile as the arguments continued, the police and revenue officials came to the spot after much delay.

Though the birds’ shelter has been saved as of now, the threat being posed by the contractor with the renewed ‘cutting order’ continues, environmentalists here feel. Officials with the Department of Social Forest refused to comment on this incident.

News source: The Hindu

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