International Crane Foundation


North Indian Wetland and Waterbird Survey

Upper Ganges

{loadposition i_photo_slide5}

Agricultural wetlands in Uttar Pradesh, India are used for a variety of purposes, from watering cattle, to fishing,
grazing sheep, and household services such as laundry. Despite this intensive use, the wetlands
continue to provide critical habitat for many waterbirds, including Sarus Cranes.

Project: Mapping distribution, human dependence, and bird use of wetlands in a north Indian SarusScape

Wetlands are globally important habitats for a large variety of biodiversity. They also provide a wide range of natural resources to humans. The majority of the world’s freshwater wetlands are located in landscapes dominated by agriculture, and referred to as “agricultural wetlands”. Despite their ubiquity and immense utility, agricultural wetlands are largely ignored by scientists and conservationists. There is exceedingly little detailed information of even very basic aspects such as distribution, and much less on their utility to biodiversity and humans.

The Gangetic floodplains in north India is the most important landscape for Sarus Cranes, the vast majority of which are able to persist due to agricultural wetlands of all sizes that are maintained by individual farmers and village councils. The people maintain these wetlands not for their value to biodiversity, but for the various uses they accord to humans. Consequently, these wetlands have experienced intensive human use and modification for centuries that continues to this day.

We set out to conduct the first landscape-scale, systematic study of the varied uses of agricultural wetlands in the state of Uttar Pradesh in north India. Specifically, we were interested to assess if these heavily-used wetlands still offered habitats to birds. Also, we wanted to obtain a preliminary understanding of the varied values the wetlands offered to the people that have been responsible for maintaining them on a landscape that is otherwise entirely converted to farming and densely-populated villages, towns and cities.

Here, we present our initial observations as we were carrying out the wetland surveys. We also provide summary and detailed reports of our findings. Collectively, the slide shows and interactive reports showcase the unique landscape with agricultural wetlands, the birds that continue to inhabit them, and the ways in which the people use these important sites. We also provide a thorough understanding of the threats these wetlands face, and directions that are needed to ensure that the globally-important landscape can be conserved.

In December 2013, the wetland survey results were published in the journal Biological Conservation:

Sundar, KSG & S Kittur 2013. Can wetlands maintained for human use also help conserve biodiversity? Landscape-scale patterns of bird use of wetlands in an agricultural landscape in north India. Biological Conservation (December 2013), 168: 49-56.

The research was also covered in the English and Hindi national press:

A range of wetlands needed for bird conservation: study. The Hindu, November 13, 2013

Village council (panchayat) institutions help maintain high biodiversity, Rashtriya Sahara, Kanpur and Lucknow editions, November 19, 2013

Wetland and Waterbird Survey in a North Indian SarusScape

Click on the image above to view our slide show for an introduction to this project. Our research findings are provided in the report below.


Agricultural Wetlands in a North Indian SarusScape

Click on the image above to download an interactive PDF with the summary results of the research.

biological conservation paper 2013 graphical abstract600