‘So what if they are thorny? Don’t fell trees’

Conservationists urge Odisha farmers to help protect Baya weaver birds.

Farmers in Odisha’s Ganjam district have been receiving unusual requests from conservationists to not cut down thorny trees such as palm, date and babul although they have “lesser” economic value. Conservationists are worried that felling and uprooting of these trees spell doom for the Baya weaver, a nesting bird.

“We are fast losing Doub palm, date, coconut and babul trees to cyclones. Moreover, with concrete houses replacing thatched houses in villages, trees like palm have lost their relevance. In earlier days, palm and dates trees were found on the edge of agricultural fields. Since they do not have much economic value left, farmers prefer to get rid of these trees,” said Rabindranath Sahu, an environment conservation activist.

“During a survey conducted in the past six months, we came across 2,000 nests hanging from trees like palm, date and babul in six blocks across Ganjam district. In one palm tree, 105 nests were spotted,” said Mr. Sahu.

“One cannot take eyes off the stunning sight of 105 Baya weaver nests hanging from a palm tree belonging to Mohanta Sahu at Subalia village,” he said.

Baya weavers often build their nests in thorny trees near water or hanging over water, where predators cannot reach easily. The nests are compactly woven with strips of paddy leaves, rough-edged grass, and twigs. The nests have a long, vertical, pipe-like entrance.

“We invariably request farmers not to cut down thorny trees. While some farmers understand the seriousness of bird conservation, some laugh it off,” said Mamata Behera, another activist.

They said the birds were already threatened due to the over use of fertilizers and pesticides in the field.

Mr. Sahu, the honorary wildlife warden for Ganjam district, said, “One cannot force individual farmers to protect thorny trees. It is incumbent upon the government to undertake multi-species tree plantation rather than giving unnecessary emphasis for timber species.”

Earlier, the two conservationists who are associated with the Rushikulya Sea Turtle Protection Committee (RSTPC) had successfully generated awareness over sparrow conservation. People in rural pockets of Ganjam have started providing space for house sparrows.

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