WNPS Monthly Lecture - Saving Sinharaja… and beyond

May 10 2022. views 60

The Sinharaja Forest Reserve Landscape (SFRL) covers 213,170 ha, and straddles the districts of Ratnapura, Galle, Kalutara, and Matara. The globally recognized Sinharaja Biosphere Reserve (SBR) and the Sinharaja World Heritage (SWH), and over 190 other natural forests (small patches to large woodlands), all lie within the SFRL. It hosts unique biodiversity covering 36% of this land area.

The Sinharaja Forest Range Landscape Management Plan (SFR-LMP) is a 10-year Action Plan (2022- 2032) prepared by the World Bank-funded Ecosystem Conservation and Management Project (ESCAMP). It aims to demonstrate integrated landscape-level management planning for joint decision-making to enable more effective conservation of Sri Lanka’s unique biological diversity in the lowland wet zone, promote sustainable socio-economic development, and enhance the well-being of the local communities.

The Project will address various issues such as forest loss, fragmentation, threats to biological diversity, imbalances in soil stability, hydrology, and climate change, which all lead to rampant soil erosion and land degradation. Most of these are caused by the unplanned establishment of human settlements, urban expansion, and poorly managed activities such as illicit logging, mining, and encroachment into environmentally sensitive areas for settlements and crop cultivation. These lead to degradation of soil and water, human-wildlife conflict, the spread of Invasive Alien Species (IAS), decline in agricultural productivity, and the exacerbation of floods and drought.

The challenges to address these issues are explored, chief among which is the multiplicity of stakeholders that work in isolation, with poor inter-agency coordination. This has led to duplication of activities and conflict of interest; wasted funds and effort, and loss of positive synergy. The SFR-LMP identifies cross-cutting support from research, education and communication, and environmental valuation, and presents opportunities for enhanced nature-based tourism that builds on the Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Brand.

When the final history of the Sinharaja Forest is written, the names of Prof. Nimal Gunatilleke and his life partner, Prof. Savithri, will be written largely in it, as champions of the forest’s conservation. Prof. Gunatilleke has been conducting long-term biological and ecological research in Sinharaja, and several other forests in Sri Lanka, for several decades. In recognition of their research endeavours, Prof. Gunatilleke has been co-awarded the UNESCO’s Sultan Quaboos Prize for Environmental Preservation (1997). He holds the titular award of “Vidya Nidhi” (Science and Technology, 2005) and, is a Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences of Sri Lanka.

Dr. Jinie Dela is famed amongst the conservation community of Sri Lanka, having devoted all of her academic life to its cause. She is currently a visiting academic at the Open University, is a member of the National Man and the Biosphere Committee of the National Science Foundation, and serves on the National Experts’ Committee on Biological Diversity of the Ministry of Mahaweli Development & Environment. She is currently a freelance professional in Biodiversity, Climate Change, Protected Areas & Environmental Communication. She is also the President of the yet nascent Primatological Society of Sri Lanka. Dr. Jinie is the lead consultant /ecologist of the consultancy team (TEAMS Consults) that prepared the Plan for ESCAMP.

There can be no better than these two eminent academics, who have dedicated their lives to the learning of and conservation of Sri Lanka’s Natural Heritage, to explain this much-needed plan, for saving Sri Lanka’s last substantial primary rainforest, and its denizens, from being destroyed forever.
The monthly lecture of the WNPS is supported by the Nations Trust Bank. We are happy to recommence our physical lecture at the BMICH whilst continuing both Zoom and FB live for the benefit of the members who tuned from across the Island and the World.

Images courtesy - Wildlife Conservation Society, Galle and Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne


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