Lessons from London for Bangalore lakes

Lessons from London for Bangalore lakes

Right in the middle of the Heathrow flight path in London is a beautiful wetland brimming with birds and other wildlife. What makes it interesting is that four Victorian reservoirs have been regenerated to attract over 180 bird species and a host of other wildlife every year.  The wetland, named the London Wetland Centre, is an award winning wetland reserve managed by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust in the Barnes area.

As you wander into this 105-acre reserve, you can spot many rare and beautiful birds which otherwise would usually give any metropolis a miss. Among the birds that frequent the wetland reserve are the white-spotted bluethroat, reed warblers, bittern, little ringed plovers, curlew, greenshank, green sandpiper, teal, whitefaced whistling duck, cetti’s warbler, swift, yellow warbler, bearded tit, water rail, pochard, shoveller, gadwall, widgeon, sand martin, kingfisher and little grebe. A third of Britain’s dragonfly species, reptiles, foxes, insects, fish, amphibians, bats and molluscs have all moved into this reserve.

What makes reserve attractive?

But what makes the wetland reserve so attractive to birds and other organisms in a huge city like London? Every bit of the wetland has been thoughtfully re-created to resemble the natural habitats of various water birds and other wildlife. There are also nesting and breeding spaces for birds and places for birds to hide. A mosaic of habitats have been created ranging from a network of lakes and ponds, large reed beds, lagoons, marshes and even an artificial deep water reef, used as a nursery ground for fish. As for the flora, over 300,000 aquatic plants and 27,000 trees have been planted in this wetland reserve.

The other special feature of this impressive wetland reserve is that one can get close to wetland wildlife without disturbing it. This has been made possible by the numerous trails and boardwalks over ponds and lagoons.

Hides have been set up (some are two or three-storeyed high) within the reserve for visitors to observe wildlife at close quarters without the wildlife noticing the visitors. Even live images from the wilderness areas of the reserve can be transmitted back, coupled with interactive computers allowing visitors to explore the secret life of birds and other wetland wildlife.

The reserve has become an educational and inspirational centre for people to conserve wetlands. In fact, the reserve has also been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) by Britain in 2002 as a tribute to the positive ecological impact on the area.

What the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust has recreated in London has several conservation lessons for India which is losing its wetlands at an alarming rate. We could learn a lot about how to bring back life to our wetlands by planting trees, reeds and other aquatic plants, and regulating water flows. Wetlands across India are being drained rapidly to build housing colonies, bus stations, roads and industries at the expense of biodiversity. Wetlands are also dying due to dumping of industrial and domestic wastes and sewage.

Disappearing wetland habitats

In Bangalore, which was once called a city of lakes, wetland habitats are fast disappearing due to mismanagement and encroachments. The only measures that have been thought of are to de-silt the lakes and make them boating ponds and fringe them with a jogging track.

Our city planners and bureaucrats should take a cue from London’s practices and think out of the box, and come up with creative ideas.

They should make use of habitat restoration and management techniques, and reserve wetlands as conservation education centres. Until we incorporate ecological techniques in our planning and management, we will not be able to provide a safe home for many of our wetland wildlife including threatened ones.

Till that time, we will only continue to see the disappearance of wildlife from our remaining water bodies.

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