On a Mission to Save the Sparrows

There is a mindset that conservation does not include urban landscapes. But the fact is, while our forests need to be saved of their flora and fauna, so do the cities and towns need to protect theirs. Conservation of urban flora and fauna is also something that needs to be considered and sparrows, bees and trees definitely form a part of it.

We caught up with 32-year-old Eco-Warrior Mohammed  Dilawar, the Founder of Nature Forever Society based in Nasik about his mission to save the sparrows. He is one of the 30 eco-warriors to have been awarded the title of “Heroes of the Environment” by the Time Magazine in 2008.

Mohammed has been working in the field of conservation for more than 13 years from his early college days. He has been involved in many grass-root level projects as well.  After a stint as the Head of the Department of Environmental Science, he joined Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS).  He has also been trained at the Royal Society for Protection of Birds for “Training the Trainers” which includes species management and long-term conservation.

Mohammed had even headed a study that was initiated and conceptualised by him and sponsored by the Ministry of Environment and Science to “Investigate the Decline of House Sparrows in the Urban Sub-Habitats of India” at BNHS. Currently Mohammed’s Nature Forever Society that is based in Nashik, pioneers in sparrow conservation and spreading awareness.

How did it all begin?

“My work on conservation of House Sparrows started around six years ago when sparrows were not considered something that needed any kind of conservation or research. The scientific community and conservationists were obsessed with the glamorous and threatened species. The primary reason behind this was that most of the funds are available for conservation of these species and the prestige issue attached towards saving them,” says Mohammed.

What makes Nature Forever unique?

Nature Forever Society was established because at that time conservation of house sparrows and common flora and fauna were not in the mission and mandate of conservation organisations.

Nature Forever Society believes that everything from an ant to an elephant is important for the planet and one should not distinguish when it comes to conserving them. The mission of Nature Forever Society is to involve the Citizens of the country into the conservation movement of India.

He further mentions, “At NFS we design conservation initiatives which are doable by anyone and does not require to much amount of time and money but has functional conservation value in it. We at NFS believe that all citizens who are honest and want to conserve the flora and fauna are an important part of the organisation.”

Challenges faced

Mohammed admits, “Funds and support towards conservation of the common flora and fauna is one of the major road blocks that we face at NFS. NFS does not have regular source of funding. But we believe that solutions are far more superior than problems. We get our primary source of income from our “Adopt Nest Box and Bird Feeder” Scheme so whenever someone adopts a nest box or a bird feeder not only they help us raise the funds for our conservation but in the process they get actively involved in conservation of house sparrows and other birds as they help in providing the ecological needs like nesting sites for birds which are gradually decreasing and a sustainable source of food which is lacking today.”

Why save the sparrows?

The sparrow is the first interaction that we have with our surroundings and probably one of the first birds that most of us can identify. You must be thinking how something as small and tiny as a sparrow could play such a vital role in our environment. But the fact is, sparrows are one of the most crucial bio-indicators.

Since thousands of years, sparrows have co-existed with humans just like many other birds and animals. Sparrows are known to survive in almost every kind of weather conditions from the cold harsh regions of Ladakh to the hot plains and humid coasts of India. Any change in their living patterns and their population is a signal that something’s not right with our ecosystem.

“A common man may not know what is a Sunbird but he will surely know what is a Sparrow. For a large section of people who live in the urban landscapes their only interactions with nature are through sparrows. Since sparrows are declining across the world at an alarming rate that it is now difficult to spot one. Today, even children are not able to see one and hence have no emotional attachment towards sparrows and nature as they are more attached to television and video games, which further gives rise to “ Nature Deficit Syndrome”, explains Mohammed.

Mohammed  strongly feels that sparrows are the ambassadors of conservation in urban areas as most of the people living in the cities are the ones who play a vital role in decision-making.

After so many years people have started discussing about sparrows, which are not as glamorous to talk about as saving the tigers or whales. We have to realize that every element of nature no matter how big like the whale and small like the sparrow needs to be saved and protected.

“I want more people to take up conservation of other lesser known species like Sunbirds, Garden lizards or ants the way we have spoken about the sparrows as the very single species is important towards the functioning of the ecosystem,” adds Mohammed.

Why are sparrows declining?

It is ironic that the very changes that we make to better our lifestyle can prove to be harmful to the environment and it’s beings like the sparrows. Right from heavy urbanization, lack of gardens and trees, heavy use of mobile phones, use of insecticides in agriculture are some of the factors for the decline of sparrow population.

Mohammed  further adds, “The decline of sparrows has been occurring across the world and large scale decline has been observed in cities like London and because the sparrow population has been regularly recorded for over 60 years they have been able to pin point these reasons for their decline.

How can you help?

Everyone has a role can play a role in the conservation of house sparrow and other common birds in the country. For city dwellers who lead a busy life can install a ‘nest box’ and a bird feeder. By doing this they don’t have much to do as it does not require a lot of maintenance but at the same time they can play a important role in conservation of sparrows.

Once the nest box is installed there is no maintenance as such one has to clean it just once a year. In case of a bird feeder depending upon the numbers of birds you get you have fill the bird feeder once in a week or fifteen days. The cleaning of the feeder can be undertaken at the same time.

Common Bird Monitoring of India (CBMI)

You can also join the Common Bird Monitoring of India (CBMI) which is a Citizen Science Programme of Nature Forever Society.

The CBMI is a tool which helps collect data on common species of Indian birds. It is a novel concept that helps monitor the common birds in a region. The success rate of this programme depends entirely on the your participation in monitoring and reporting the information.

So the next time you see a sparrow outside your window, give it a ‘nest box’, a bird bath and a feeder – the simple things in life that will go a long way to sustaining these birds and the eco-system in return. Remember, nature always asks very little of us. It doesn’t cost us the world to save the planet, we just have to take that extra step!

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