Sri Lanka blessed with an abundance of flora and fauna has a long tradition of conservation. This goes back to its ancient Buddhist tradition which teaches respect and compassion to all living things. The world's first wild life sanctuary was setup by Royal edict in the 3rd c. B.C. in Mihintale and is still a sanctuary.
Understanding the importance of conservation ecological integrity, large wilderness tracts where set aside by successive rulers as reserves for rain catchments and pest control purposes. Today the sanctuaries, national parks, and reserves where law protects flora and fauna comprise 14% of the Island's total land area of 65610sq, Km.Within this land area there are more than 70 sanctuaries, National parks and a number of wetlands and mountain ranges. Therefore the bio-diversity in Sri Lanka is regarded to be greater per sq. metre of surface area than any other country in the Asian Region. When Sri Lanka's ecosystem is compared with other Asian Countries, Sri Lanka has many tropical rain forests, montane, lowland and virgin forests and wetlands. There are also many ecosystems with mangroves, sand dunes, beaches and coral reefs. Numbering over 220, Sri Lanka for its size has perhaps the largest number of waterfalls of any country in the world. Sri lanka is a global bio-diversity hot spot. About half of its species are endemic, including all fresh water crabs, 90% amphibians, 25-75% reptiles and vertebrates, around 50% fresh water fishes, 26% flowering plants, 145 mammals and as many as non migrant birds.
Species richness is extreme and there are know to be over 3,368 species of flowering plants, 314 ferns, 575 mosses, 190 liverworts, 896 algae, 1920 fungi, 400 orchids, 242 butterflies, 117 dragonflies and damselflies, 139 mosquitoes, 525 carabis beetles, 266 land snales, 78 fresh water fishes, 250 amphibians, 92 snakes, 35 fresh water crabs, 21 geckos, 21 shinks, 322 non migrant birds. The Island also provides critical habitat for internationally mobile species, including 5 species of endangered marine turtles, about 100 species of waterfowl, and many other migratory birds. In Sri Lanka, though Ecotourism is in its infancy, concerted efforts are being taken to develop ecotourism methodically by the Ministry of Tourism in Sri Lanka, supported by all stake holders of the tourism industry, ecotourism NGO's and other sectors responsible for environment natural resources, wildlife and forestry.
Sinharaja Rain Forest;
Dense, dark, wet and mysterious - Sinharaja is a primeval forest for meditation, relaxation and for scientific exploration. This relatively undisturbed expanse of primary forest is a Sri Lankan heritage - the last patch of sizeable lowland evergreen Rain Forest still remaining more or intact or undisturbed in our island. The forest is steeped in deep legend and mystery. The word Sinharaja means, lion (Sinha) king (Raja) and the popular belief it that the legendary origin of the Sinhala people in Sri Lanka is form the descendants of the union the lion king who once lived in the forest and a princess.
Today, the spirit of the legend remains captured in solitude in the silent forest and the rising mist of the early dawn. More than time however separates the modern explorer in the Sinharaja forest from its legendary inhabitants, man has rapidly penetrated the seemingly inaccessible wilderness of the Sri Lanka's rainforest which once covered perhaps over 100,000 ha. of the South Western hills and lowlands. The present reserve is but a glimpse of its former glory, occuphying a narrow silver of land 21 km. in length and 3.7 km. in width, covering 11187 ha. of undisturbed and logged forest, scrub and fern land. It was declared an International Man and Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1978, then a National Wilderness Area in 1988 under the National Heritage Site in 1989.
To the casual observer, the forest represents a tropical rain forest with a dense tall stand of trees, steep and rugged hills etched by numerous rocky streams and rivulets. The value of forests such as Sinharaja are well known for their functions as watersheds and store houses of great biological wealth. It is a rich treasure treasure trove of nature with a great diversity of habitats and a vast repository of Sri Lanka's endemic species found no where else in the world. Sinharaja therefore, represents an irreplaceable genepool, a refugia for all those rare and endangered forms of life, both fauna and flora.
Ruk Rakaganno - The Tree Society;
Ruk Rakaganno was formed in 1975 at the time when there were few environmental organizations in Sri Lanka. The main aim is to protect the natural environment and to create an awareness of the value of the trees and the place they occupy in the natural environment. Equally important was to create an awareness of the value of the natural indegenous forests and the part they play in the conservation of soil, water and plant life. Throughout the years Ruk Rakaganno had condected many grass root environmental projects in association with schools, goverment and private sector.
IFS Popham Arboretum, Dambulla;
Dambulla Arboretum was established in 1963 by Mr. Sam Popham on 7.5 acres of land in Dambulla, the dry heartland of Sri Lanka. The property was at the time covered with scrub jungle which Mr. Popham described as being “…a wild disorderly undergrowth lording it over the north, east, and south-eastern parts of the island, a wilderness ‘useless and malarial, mile upon mile like a tired sea'”.
This land and the plains of the north, east and south-east of the island were originally covered with Semi-Evergreen Forest. This tall forest was, too often, destroyed to make way for chena, shifting or slash and burn cultivation and other developmental activities. What springs up in the wake of chena cultivation is the scrub jungle.
After Sam Popham bought the land he enclosed it with the aim of clearing the scrub jungle and replacing it with trees, especially those native to the area. He soon found that the seedlings released spontaneously by his act of clearing away the scrub jungle, grew and prospered much more successfully than seedlings brought in from outside nurseries. The seedlings that had pre-existed the scrub jungle were built to cope with and conquer the harsh conditions of the dry zone. So started the unique experiment that is today the Arboretum. It became a trial in what happens when a piece of scrub jungle is fenced off and judiciously cleared and allowed to rejuvenate with minimal interference from humans. The Arboretum is also unique in that it is the only arboretum in the dry zone of the island.
The Popham Method
The method used by Popham to establish the arboretum was so special that it has come to be known as the Popham method. The method was influenced by his dislike of tampering with nature's ways. He “cleansed” parts of the property – that is to say he selectively cleared away the scrub jungle and thereby released seedlings of the earlier evergreen forest.
The Popham method is best described in the words of the man himself, who wrote “ I have egged Nature on to call the tune; I have left the trees to get on with the task. They cope very successfully on their own,and my help is needed for the most part only in their formative years. They grow where their seeds fell…During early growth they are encouraged, by stempruning and crown lifting…Lastcomes thinning-out – taken from Dambulla – A Sanctuary of Tropical Trees.
The property was divided into 12 blocks and these blocks were cleared at different times, which means that one can now see woodlands in different stages of growth. Some blocks have not been cleared at all and continue to be covered by the scrub jungle.
The rationale for the staggered clearing was that only an area which could be nurtured and protected from the exigencies of wind, drought, floods etc, by Popham and his team would be cleared at any one time.
Arboretum and Woodlands
The IFS-Popham Arboretum is made up of two distinct components, the Arboretum and the Woodlands. The Arboretum was established on a property 7.5 acres in extent in 1963. This land was covered in scrub jungle and Sam Popham began his experiment of reinstating the original dry zone forest soon after he acquired the property.
The Woodlands is 27 acres in extent and was acquired and added onto the property in 1989 after the Arboretum had been gifted to the IFS. At the time of acquisition the woodlands was a piece of land overused for cultivation. After 1989 Sam Popham divided the woodlands into different blocks and implemented the Popham method on these blocks at different stages. Thus the visitor walking through the woodlands will observe blocks at different stages of succession towards the original dry zone jungle. The Popham method of releasing seedlings by judiciously clearing scrub jungle and protecting the seedlings with stakes is still being undertaken in the woodlands. As you walk through the woodlands keep a watch out for young seedlings which have been released and staked out for protection. Another form of protection given to the young seedlings and the property as a whole is the careful establishment of firebreaks throughout the property. The fire gaps established by Sam Popham ran like a maze throughout the property and round the boundaries and are still maintained today to protect from the devastating fires which can spring up so easily in the driest months of the year.
Namal uyana South Asia's largest Rose Pink Quartz mountain range;
March 28 marks the 11th anniversary of the Jathika Namal Uyana (National Naa Park) in Dambulla, Galkiriyagama. In 1991, a solitary monk made his ashram in this ancient site then encroached by the dense forest. Eleven years after it was re-discovered by Vanavasi Rahula thera, now Namal Uyana is considered the largest Naa tree forest in the country and the home to the largest Rose Quartz Mountain Range in South Asia. Legend has it that King Devanampiyatissa planned to set up a religious park somewhere near Dambulla, but the construction was delayed due to some unexpected reasons and the king was compelled to move the proposed site for his dream park to somewhere near Anuradhapura -in the heart of the capital of his kingdom. Ultimately he set it up, it was called Mahamevna Uyana. What happened to the abandoned site near Dambulla for the next few centuries was a mystery.
But the abandoned garden came into light in 924 AD, when the then King Dappula IV declared it as a human sanctuary. Thus the first ever human sanctuary in local history was set up.Men who sought refuge from the persecution of the king and his officials had protection of the monks who controlled the monastery. No official could take them into custody without the permission of the monks who hardly consented to hand over their refugees. An inscription by the King Dappula IV declaring the religious site as a human sanctuary can still be seen at Adiyagala at the entrance to Namal Uyana. It is said that the monks in the monastery asked these refugees to plant and look after a few trees of Naa in the sanctuary premises as an act of self retribution. Subsequently this simple act led to the largest Iron wood (Naa) park in South Asia. With the time passed and the Sinhala kingdom moving further into the countryside for protection from the South Indian invaders, the monastery and the Naa park was abandoned. No detail of the monastery is available since it was abandoned. But in March 1991, a solitary monk came to this isolated once religious habitat. He too was an enigma. Very little is known about his life before he came to this ancient religious site away from the human habitation. He had his hut 40 feet above in a tree top to avoid danger from freely roaming wild animals. Now with 11 years passed since then, this once solitary monk now widely known as Vanavasi Rahula Thero recalls his difficult days with nostalgia. He is proud to call himself a the pioneer and the protector of this site of bio diversity.
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