The state of Uttarakhand has got its first Ramsar Site—a wetland of international importance. The Asan Conservation Reserve, located on the banks of River Yamuna in Garhwal region in Dehradun district, was designated as the Ramsar Site. The nearest town or population centre of this Conservation Reserve about 8 kms away, at Herbertpur. It falls under the Indo-Gangetic monsoon forest wetlands category, based on the categorisation by Hussain and Dey Roy (ZSI 2003).Asan Conservation Reserve—a human-made wetland cleared five out of the nine criteria needed to be declared a Ramsar Site and get identified as a Wetland of International Importance. The criteria cleared are rare species and threatened ecological communities, biological diversity, support during critical life cycle stage or in adverse conditions, more than one per cent waterbird population and fish spawning grounds. This wetland, primarily a freshwater system, has been created by the Asan reservoir. It is a perennial habitat and is fed by the river Asan and smaller discharge channels of river Yamuna.
A notified Conservation Reserve
Asan wetland is a 444 ha portion running along the Asan River, stretching to the confluence with the Yamuna River. It is also a conservation reserve, a protected area that typically acts as a buffer or a connector. Asan, therefore, serves as a migration corridor between established national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and reserved and protected forests in the region. The Uttarakhand Government had notified Asan as a conservation reserve under Section 36A of Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. The Asan River, originating at Chandrabani in the foothills of the Shivalik hills, flows for about 40 kms before merging with the Yamuna at Dhalipur. The unique feature of this river is that unlike other rivers which flow north to south, it flows in a west to east direction. The reservoir remains filled throughout the year, fed by the Asan river and several other minor channels in a perennial manner.
The damming of the river and consequent siltation above the dam wall has created favourable habitat for avian species. It supports 330 species of birds that include even endangered vulture species such as red-headed vulture and white-rumped vulture. Some of the other bird species that can be sited in this wetlands are Ruddy shelduck, Indian Spot-billed Duck, Painted Stork and Bar-headed Goose. The ecosystem, which includes grasses and trees, supports many wintering birds, particularly waterbirds. It is therefore aptly described as the ‘paradise of wintering birds.’
Besides birds, the Asan reserve also supports 49 fish species, which includes the endangered Putitor mahseer.
What are Ramsar Sites?
Ramsar Sites are a list of wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands adopted on February 2, 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar. The Convention on Wetlands came into force for India on February 1, 1982. There are over 2,000 “Ramsar Sites” on the territories of over 160 Contracting Parties across the world. As of October 2020, India has 39 Ramsar sites—third highest in Asia and the highest in South Asia.
In general, wetlands provide many ecological services, including clean water, flood abatement, wildlife habitat, recreation, tourism, fishing and groundwater recharge. Countries where wetlands are designated as the Ramsar Sites, agree to establish and oversee a management framework aimed at conserving the wetland and ensuring its wise use. Ramsar Convention defines the ‘wise use’ of wetlands as ‘the maintenance of their ecological character, achieved through the implementation of ecosystem approaches, within the context of sustainable development’. The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has also notified the new Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules 2017. This is also known as the Wetlands rules in which ‘wise use’ has been appropriately defined. The Rule has outlined permitted and not-permitted activities in the notified wetlands, including the Ramsar Sites. Wise use allows local people to practise sustainable agriculture, fishing, forestry and tourism using the available renewable resources. In a nutshell, wise use emphasises the sustainable management of these ecosystems by humans which is compatible with conservation. Besides, the Ramsar tag gives international importance to a wetland, which increases its publicity and brings prestige and prominence. In this way, it encourages sustainable tourism and uplifts the life of the local community.
Ramsar Sites in India
Ramsar sites are wetlands considered to be of international importance. The Ramsar convention, an international body, forms the basis for identification of such wetlands. The international treaty came into effect in 1971 after identifying the first such wetland at the Ramsar city of Iran. The Convention is an international treaty for the conservation and wise use of wetlands.
Wular Lake, Jammu& Kashmir
Largest freshwater lake of river Jhelum Basin. Provides flood protection to Kashmir Valley.
1,375 haHaven for water birds
Surisnsar-Mansar Lakes, Jammu & Kashmir
Wildlife sanctuary and a sacred site supporting several species of high conservation value
Tsomoriri, Jammu & Kashmir
Breeding ground for endangered black-necked crane (Grus nigricollis) and bar-headed geese (Anser indicus)
Chandertal, Himachal Pradesh
Natural habitat to rare flora and fauna species of alphine region
Pong Dam lake, Himachal Pradesh
The Maharana Pratap Sagar created by Pong Dam supports highly diverse waterbird habitats
Storage area for irrigation.
Harike Lake, Punjab
It is the main source of water for Indira Gandhi that irrigates Rajasthan.
Important bird watching and boating site.
Renuka, Himachal Pradesh
A natural wetland with freshwater springs
Second largest breeding ground for flamingos in India
Keoladeo National Park (KNP), Rajasthan
Known as the Bharatpur bird sanctuary, also a world heritage site.
Upper Ganga River (Brijghat to Narora Stretch)
Ganga river dolphin, crocodile and otters are some of the mammalian species found here.
Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary, Gujarat
Largest wetland bird sanctuary in Gujarat with around 250 species of water birds
Bhoj Wetland, Madhya Pradesh
Main source of water for Bhopal City
16. Deepor Beel, Assam
Supports high concentration of migratory waterbird
17. Loktak Lake, Manipur
The only known natural habitat for Manipur brow-antlered deer
18. Rudrasagar lake, Tripura
Ideal habitat for riverine fish species
19. East Kolkata Wetlands, West Bengal
Sewage fed fish ponds
These wetlands treat the city’s sewage and provides for fish and vegetables
20. Bhitarkanika Mangroves, Odisha
Home to endangered salt water crocodiles and Gahirmatha beach is the largest known Olive Ridley sea turtle nestling in the world.
21. Chilika, Odisha
One of the only two lagoons with population of Irrawaddy dolphins. Its rich fishery resources sustains 0.2 million fishers
22. Kolleru Lake, Andhra Pradesh
Acts as a flood balancing reservoir and was once known for its spot-billed pelicans sighting.
23. Point Calimere Wildlife and Bird Sanctuary, Tamil Nadu
Coastal swamps and salt pans
Supports high diversity of water bird
24. Vembanad-Kol, Kerala
Floodplain estuary complex
Known for backwater tourism and rich source of live and sub-fossil clam deposits.
25. Ashtamudi, Kerala
A palm shaped estuary with eight branches, gateway to the backwaters of Kerala.
26. Sashthamkotta Lake, Kerala
Source of drinking water for half a million people in Kollam City and its suburbs.
Sundarban Wetland, West Bengal
The largest mangrove forest in the world that encompasses hundreds of islands and a maze of rivers, rivulets and creeks
Constitutes over 60 per cent of India’s total mangrove forest area and includes 90 per cent of the Indian mangrove species.
Nandur Madhameshwar, Maharashtra
Lakes, marshes and riparian forest
Formed by shallow backwaters of Nandur Madhmeshwar dam and is also a bird sanctuary.
Keshopur-Miani Community Reserve, Punjab
A mosaic of natural marshes, aquaculture ponds and agricultural wetlands
A community-managed wetland, which provides food for people and supports local biodiversity.
Samaspur Bird Sanctuary, Uttar Pradesh
Perennial lowland marsh
Six connected lakes are heavily dependent on monsoon rains and harbours threatened bird species.
Parvati Agra Bird Sanctuary, Uttar Pradesh
A permanent freshwater environment consisting of two oxbow lakes
Roosting and breeding sites with over 100,000 birds and a refuge for some of India’s threatened vulture species.
Sarsai Nawar Jheel, Uttar Pradesh
A permanent marsh
An example of co-habitation of humans and wildlife and sustaining the vulnerable Sarus crane.
Nangal Wildlife Sanctuary, Punjab
A human-made reservoir
Supports abundant flora and fauna including Indian pangolin, Egyptian vulture and the leopard.
Nawabganj Bird Sanctuary, Uttar Pradesh
A shallow marshland
Known as a haven for birds, with 25,000 waterbirds regularly recorded.
Sandi Bird Sanctuary, Uttar Pradesh
A freshwater marsh
A typical Indo-Gangetic plains wetlands and a habitat for waterfowl with over 40,000 individuals counted in 2018.
Beas Conservation Reserve, Punjab
A stretch of the Beas River
Dotted with islands, sand bars and braided channels creating a complex environment supporting substantial biodiversity and hosts the only known population in India of the endangered Indus river dolphin.
Saman Bird Sanctuary, Uttar Pradesh
A seasonal oxbow lake on the Ganges floodplain
A wintering site for many migrants including the greylag goose.
Asan Conservation Reserve, Uttarakhand
A stretch of the Asan River running down to its confluence with the Yamuna River
Supports 330 species of birds including red-headed vulture, white-rumped vulture and Baer’s pochard
Kabartal Wetland, Bihar
Also known as Kanwar Jheel located in the Indo-Gangetic plains
An important stopover along the Central Asian Flyway.