BirdLife: The Magazine Apr-Jun 2018 - Page 52

tackling invasives Ph oto St en e ph B onk / S h u tte r sto ck P ro s o p i s Grasslands, India Spart ina Rudong mudflats, China Otherwise known as cordgrasses, Spartina is a family of fast-spreading aquatic grasses that grows in tight clusters on mudflats and marshes. A North American species was introduced to China’s coastal estuaries in the 1970s to trap sediment and make it easier to build seawalls, but the species quickly took over the mudflats, aided by its ability to spread rapidly via a network of underground stems. Clumps can even break off and take root elsewhere on the bay, making the invasion difficult to contain. In the process, expanses of valuable mud-feeding habitats that support migratory shorebirds such as Spoon-billed Sandpiper Calidris pygmaea have been lost. This is a pressure this Critically Endangered species, with a global population of fewer than 500 mature individuals, can ill afford. 52 The problems affecting India’s grassland birds stem from bad policy. Until recently, India considered grassland habitats to effectively be wasteland, and the Forest Department, where possible, converted them into plantations of trees that could be used for fuel or fodder. Even if that meant planting exotic plants such as the notorious Prosopis juliflora, an aggressively spreading, thorny tree that creates impenetrable barriers that restrict the movements of land animals. Left unchecked, it creates a hostile monoculture – destroying the grassland habitat of Critically Endangered birds such as Great Indian Bustard Ardeotis nigriceps. In India, there’s an extra complication to weeding out invasives – ground work is dangerous and often has to be performed under armed guard, as rhinos, elephants and wild buffalo are often roaming nearby. P rest o Fo h ot & K i m St a r r birdlife • apr-jun 2018