Jagdish, 44, has been active in conservation work in the Chambal region for a decade and is currently involved in a project to protect the nests of the Indian skimmer.Chambal is rich in biodiversity and hosts the migratory Indian skimmer. Sandbars and islands of river Chambal are nesting grounds for the bird.Attacks by free-ranging dogs, cattle trampling and sand mining are some of the threats to the endangered skimmer and its habitat. In stories, in art, poetry and more, villages along rivers find a frequent mention. But far from the romanticism associated with life nadiya kinare (along the riverside), is Jagdish’s life of realities, in Jaitpur near the Chambal river, where he has lived for over four decades. In the Chambal region, which lies at the confluence of the states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, Jagdish grew up seeing the river getting destroyed by sand miners and poachers. The 44-year-old now raises his voice and is involved in conservation projects to protect the rich biodiversity of the Chambal region. From a school dropout to becoming a champion of conservation, Jagdish has come a long way. Jaitpur village lies in Morena district, which falls in the part of Chambal near the Madhya Pradesh-Rajasthan border. Infamous for harbouring dacoits, the region is also known for its rich biodiversity, with more than 500 species of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles like gharial, jackal and monitor lizards. In the Chambal river in particular a variety of aquatic life has been observed over the years including the Ganges river dolphin (Platanista gangetica), gharial (Gavialis gangeticus), crocodile (Crocodylus palustris), seven species of freshwater turtles (Aspideretes gangeticus, Lissemys punctata, Chitra indica, Batagur kachuga, Kachuga dhongoka, Pangshura tentoria and Hardella thurjii), otter (Lutra perspicillata) and a variety of fishes. Many villages that align with the Chambal river, including Jaitpur, host the migratory bird Indian skimmer (Rynchops albicollis). India is the only country that has a breeding population of the Indian skimmer. There are a handful of birds recorded in Pakistan, Myanmar and other countries but no present nesting records. Bangladesh has wintering records only. Jaitpur village in Morena district of Madhya Pradesh along the river Chambal. Map from Datawrapper. The black and white bird with a unique orange-yellow bill recently went from vulnerable to the endangered category in the IUCN Red List, indicating a growing extinction risk to the bird. Researchers estimate an overall population of 2000-3000 Indian skimmers. Nesting starts mid or end of March and continues till June. The bird nests on sandbars – a small area of sand usually in a river. The nests are threatened by predators such as jackals and wildcats but also face human-caused threats like sand mining as well as attacks by free-ranging dogs and cattle trampling. Here is where Jagdish and his fellow villagers come in. Jagdish is part of a Nest Guardian project by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), where he monitors the nests of the Indian skimmer and protects them from the looming threats. Since the skimmers nest on the ground (on sandbars), the natural protection for them is the water around the island and when the water level declines the natural protection is over. In the effort to protect the birds, the protection of the wetland habitat is key. An Indian skimmer and a gharial on a sandbar on the river Chambal. Sandbars emerge when the water level in the rivers goes down during summer. Skimmers nest on sandbars. Photo by Rito1987/Wikimedia Commons. Parveen Shaikh, a research biologist from Bombay Natural History Society and co-founder of the project, started working in the region in 2016. She realised through her work that the major threats for the survival of the species and other riverine birds were attacks by free-ranging dogs and cattle trampling on eggs. In this region particularly, there is low water level in the river. Because of this, the sandbars, small islands which the birds reside on, get connected to the land. This makes access easy for other animals like dogs and cattle which are threats to the ground-nesting bird, explains Shaikh. “Solving the core issue is going to be a long term thing and needs policy intervention. So till that time if we need to control the loss of the skimmers, we thought of trying a different method with the Nest Guardians project,” said Shaikh. By involving some locals and providing them basic training as field assistants, the project started off small in 2019. The guardians go to the islands early morning when the temperature is low and note the number of nests or chicks and the overall status. They also stop cattle, dog, and jackals from coming onto the islands. “We have not asked them to stop natural predators like raptors,” she notes. The guardians are paid a basic amount for their efforts. With COVID-19 restrictions slowing down the project soon after it launched, Shaikh, who is now back in the field in Chambal, hopes to ramp up efforts this year. “The project started on a very small scale but this year we hope to do it properly with control islands and see how efficient it is,” says Shaikh, adding that they don’t want to claim conservation measures without testing it, but overall observation is that nest protection or guardians has proved effective in many other species.