Life begins with a patch of rainforest | Sunday Observer

Life begins with a patch of rainforest

It is the resilience within nature that created this forest. After heavy logging of over four decades, the forest today rises up as the “most extensive surviving block of low land rainforest next to Sinharaja,” according to the Forest Department website. The past few years brought in, perhaps the worst as well as the best to this patch of forest. Could Kanneliya be restored to its former glory? Time would tell as the ‘Life Project’ of Biodiversity Sri Lanka (BSL), a multi company public-private partnership uses the very same resilience of nature to restore part of the forest.

Life intends to restore a patch of ‘highly degraded’ rainforest within the Kanneliya reserve, “using principles of restoration ecology, to enhance its ecological functions, habitat quality, species diversity and its capacity to provide biodiversity and ecosystem services that is in close approximation to what prevailed before it was converted to its present state,” say the project implementers. A 10 hectare block of degraded land abandoned after repeated cultivation, and now colonized by the fern Kekilla (Dicranopteris linearis) is selected for this purpose.

A collaboration between BSL, the Forest Department and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the project takes a systematic approach to development and enhancement of nature, commented Anura Satharasinghe, Conservator General of Forests at a signing ceremony between participating companies and BSL, held recently. Increasing forest cover is a challenge, and this is a new and unique initiative that the Forest Department had collaborated in. While the Department’s previous initiatives depended on mono culture, the project plans restoration using diversity and native species with the aim of integrating the selected block with the surrounding rainforest. It is a process of learning by doing, said Satharasinge.

Besides using a variety of species during the reforestation process, the project would have a strong monitoring system to track biological and ecological progress. The learnings will be used in setting parameters and assigning value to the biological and ecological services provided through reforestation, such as, the species diversity and abundance, improvement of water and soil quality, and so on. This valuing or credit accrual system would be in accordance with international requirements and standards.

Although 10 hectares doesn’t seem a large extent, the need is to look beyond the acreage to the uniqueness of the project, said Dilhan Fernando, CEO, MJF Holdings Ltd. The delivery of a Public Private Partnership (PPP) needs strong goodwill of all stakeholders, he stressed. Life is one of the first PPPs undertaken by the government and non-government agencies along with business and community organizations to sustain environmental equilibrium. The project would act as a benchmark to attract the business community towards environmental conservation, with the credit accrual system in place. The value system would showcase the potential impact and benefit from nature through returning land to a positive stage.

The project designed for five years, has two phases. The first phase of two years consists of a baseline survey, species inventories in the restoration and reference sites, establishment of nurseries and the monitoring program. Phase 2 would focus on increasing the diversity of flora. While ‘tough’ native species are selected for initial planting, sensitive species will be introduced once conditions of the site become suitable for their growth.

With the support of Access Engineering PLC; Expo Lanka Holdings PLC; MAS Holdings (Pvt) Ltd; and MAS Linea Aqua (Pvt.) Ltd. the first phase had been completed in 2017. The 10 hectare project site had been found to have a very low species diversity, compared to the adjoining rainforest.

Spread over 6,100 hectares, Kanneliya is the largest of the Kanneliya-Dediyagala-Nakiyadeniya (KDN) forest complex. Designated as a biosphere reserve by UNESCO under its Man & Biosphere Program in 2004, it is one of the largest remaining rainforest areas in the country, second only to Sinharaja.

Rich in biodiversity, it is recognized as one of the floristically richest areas in the South Asian region. Kanneliya hosts 301 species of flora, of which 52% are endemic. Its percentage of endemic woody species (60%) is the highest found in any single wet-zone forest. Moreover, 15 species have been identified as globally threatened and 26 nationally threatened.

The KDN forest complex is rich in fauna as well. A total of around 220 faunal species including 120 bird species are recorded from there, 41 of which are endemic to Sri Lanka.

The Ceylon Grey Hornbill, Green-billed Coucal, Ceylon Blue Magpie, Chestnut-backed Owlet are some of the rare species found in the complex. The Bird Wing and the Ceylon Rose, both rare, and endemic butterfly species, could be found there. The beautiful Ceylon Rose is a threatened species.

A variety of rare and endemic amphibians, fish and land mollusks could be found in this complex along with small mammals. The biggest in size consists of sambar the largest herbivore, leopard the largest carnivore and the Indian python the largest serpent in Sri Lanka.

Life Project is funded by Diesel and Motor Engineering PLC, Dilmah Ceylon Tea Company PLC, Hatton National Bank PLC, Jetwing Hotels Ltd, Nations Trust Bank PLC, People’s Leasing and Finance PLC, Siam City Cement (Lanka) Ltd, and Virtusa (Pvt.) Ltd. Christopher Howe, Director of Projects, Development and Monitoring, IUCN Asia Region also spoke at the occasion which concluded with a demonstration of environment friendly and healthy cuisine by Chef Peter Kuruvita.