Banni Grassland and Chhari Dhand

Year of compilation: 2004

Site description
The Banni area, as the name signifies, is a “Bani hui” (made up) land formed by the detritus brought down and deposited predominantly by the Indus River, which was reported to flow through the Great Rann in the past. Banni is a low-lying alluvial plain. The local Sindhis call the grassland of Banni peera jo paat or the land of saints. Banni falls under the Revenue Department and extends over two talukas, Nakhatrana and Bhuj. A small part of the Banni grassland also falls in Lakhpat and Bhachau talukas. The state highway running from Bhuj to Khavda divides the Banni into eastern Banni (also called locally as Ugamni Banni or Nadhi Banni) and the main Banni. About 38% of the total area of the Banni used to be covered by superior grassland with 40 different varieties of grasses (Anon. 1992). A huge freshwater lake (c. 8,000 ha in good rains) locally known as Chhari-Dhand (dhand = a shallow lake) is a prominent feature of the Banni grassland. There are a number of waterbodies in the Banni grassland (namely Servo Dhand, Vakeria Dhand, Kheerjog Dhand, Abdha Jheel, Mokar Jheel, Luna Jheel), which are seasonal, filling up during years of heavy precipitation and with spillovers from the nearby irrigation reservoirs, namely Bhukhi, Mathal, Nara, and Gajansar. The water gradually turns saline due to excessive evapotranspiration and the high contents of dissolved salts in the soil. A huge concentration of waterfowl is hosted by these dhands during the autumn migration and in winter. Vegetation includes around 40 different species of grasses and sedges. Prosopis chilensis, which was introduced about 80 years ago in this grassland, is the only dominant tree species. It now covers huge tracts of the grassland, and forms impenetrable thickets in some places.

Key biodiversity

AVIFAUNA: The number of bird species reported from this site is about 270 (Tiwari and Rahmani 1997). During the years of good rainfall, Banni becomes the wintering ground for about 40,000 Common Cranes Grus grus (Tiwari and Rahmani 1997, 2002). The 1% threshold of Common Crane population wintering in India is 700 (Wetlands International 2002). Tiwari and Rahmani (1997, 2002) also estimate that about 70,000 Common Cranes winter in the whole of Kutch district, especially after a normal monsoon. The total population of the Common Crane in West Siberia and Kazakhastan is about 70,000 (Wetlands International 2002). This is the population that comes to India, Afghanistan and Iran. Therefore, Kutch district, particularly Banni grasslands and Chhari Dhand receive most of this population. Another globally threatened species is the Pied Tit or Whitewinged Black Tit Parus nuchalis (BirdLife International 2001). It is found in the scrub forests at the edge of the Banni (Tiwari and Rahmani 1996). Grey Hypocolius Hypocolius ampelinus is found in winter, almost every year, but its number fluctuates. Earlier, the Great Indian Bustard Ardeotis nigriceps was regularly found in the Banni grasslands (Himmatsinhji 1983 pers. comm.) but now it is extremely rare. The only recent record is a male seen between Chhari Dhand and Khera Dungar, at the edge of Banni in 1991 (Mehboob Alam pers. comm. 1991). The Indian Skimmer Rynchops albicollis is also listed as threatened by BirdLife International (2001) due to the small, rapidly declining population as a result of widespread degradation and disturbance of lowland rivers and lakes. It has been described as resident, nomadic and also a local migrant, depending upon water conditions (Ali and Ripley 1987). The Indian Skimmer was not seen by Salim Ali during his bird surveys in Kutch in 1943-44 (Ali 1945). Interestingly, during BNHS bird migration studies in Kutch in 1990-91, this species was observed at various wetlands, including one bird seen in Chhari-Dhand on May 19, 1990 (Tiwari and Rahmani 1997). The Marbled Teal Marmaronetta angustirostris is listed as Vulnerable by BirdLife International (2001) due to its rapid decline in its core wintering areas as a result of widespread and extensive habitat destruction. It is basically a European bird and in India, it is uncommon to rare. According to Wetlands International (2002), the non-breeding population numbers about 5,000 in South Asia. Akhtar et al. (1992) saw about 200 in February 1990. This would be about 4% of the South Asian population. The Banni Grasslands and Chhari-Dhand form one of the most important bird areas in the desert ecosystems of India. With the presence of 11 globally threatened species, and nine Near Threatened species, it easily fits A4 criteria. With its huge numbers of ducks, waders and cranes, many far exceeding their 1% population threshold numbers, it also qualifies A4i and A4iii criteria. Besides this, the site also fits in A3 criteria (Biome-restricted assemblages). The site falls in Biome-13 (Saharo-Sindian Desert) but many species of Biome-11 are also found here. BirdLife International (undated) has listed 59 birds in the Biome-11 found in India. At this site, 24 have been seen, and many more are likely to occur. Most of them are quite common and widespread.

OTHER KEY FAUNA: The density of wild mammals is very low; mainly Wolf Canis lupus, Hyena Hyaena hyaena and Chinkara Gazella bennettii are seen. Bluebul Boselaphus tragocamelus is seen at the fringes and is increasing in number. Spiny-tailed Lizard Uromastyx hardwickii is one of the commonest reptiles of the Banni.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
MAIN THREATS: Siltation; Overgrazing; Invasion of exotic plant Prosopis chilensis; Damming of rivulets; Overspilling of seawater on to the land.

The Rann to the north of Banni has been slowly encroaching on to the Banni area. In ten years, three villages named Udhma, Laiwara and Mota-Bhitara have been abandoned for this reason. During the high tide, seawater from the Rann often spills into the Banni Basin and cannot drain back, as the grassland slopes southward. It stagnates and evaporates, leaving behind a salt layer. By this process the Rann has been encroaching into the grassland. Moreover, damming of north flowing rivers, which used to empty in the Banni region, before merging into the Great Rann of Kutch, has also impacted the ecology of Banni. Numerous dams have come up in recent decades, which have altered the water drainage of Banni completely. They prevent leaching of saline soil, resulting in further increase in salinity, which adversely affects the growth of grasses (Tiwari and Rahmani 1997). Considering the importance of Chhari-Dhand, the Government of Gujarat is planning to declare it as a bird sanctuary. As Banni and Chhari-Dhand are used by local villagers, once the sanctuary is declared, the management plan should be prepared in such a way that it does not unnecessarily impinge the traditional rights of the locals.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2020) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Banni Grassland and Chhari Dhand. Downloaded from on 15/08/2020.