BY PANCHAMEE HEWAVISSENTI
Forests are the green lungs of the world which play the role of terrestrial carbon sinks by absorbing, storing and converting large amounts of carbon which would otherwise escape into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide - a main greenhouse gas that causes global warming. At a time of increased rate of deforestation and forest degradation, making the public aware of the importance of preserving forests in the protection of mankind against climate change and other cynical impacts of them are of high importance.
To protect the green cover by restocking of the depleted forest areas to rectify and improve the eco system in the form of reforestation, is a timely intervention and engaging the community in such efforts is critical to the practical endeavours of preservation and protection of forests. In order to restore the disordered ecosystem in a patch of the Sinharaja
rainforest, a scientific reforestation programme took place, recently, in Diyakotha Kanda in Kaluthara District with the participation of school children and the villagers of the area.
Diyakotha Kanda is located across five acres on the border of Sinharaja, Sri Lanka's hilly virgin rainforest that is a biodiversity hotspot. About 2,500 saplings were planted in a stretch of two acres in the area to restore lost green cover. Students of schools in the area, Dikhena Kanishta Vidyalaya, Baduralaiya Adarsha Vidyalaya, Ingurudaluwa Kanishta Vidyalaya, Hedigalla Colony Maha Vidyalaya and Gurulubedda Kanishta Vidyalaya took part in the reforestation programme along with the villagers of Dikhena.
Elaborating the importance of reforesting of this part of Sinharaja rainforest, Prof. Lakdas Fernando, past president of the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) commented that Diyakotha Kanda is part of the country's lush rainforest and the area is rich in biodiversity as well as many a natural resources. He said that invasive plants such as Kekilla (dicranopterislineris), found abundantly, are highly flammable. This is another reason for the deforestation of Diyakotha Kanda.
This part of the Sinharaja Rainforest has been deforested by inhabitants of the area by setting fire to sections of it, and the vegetation has been destroyed due to natural causes such as harsh sun and soil erosion. As plants such as kekilla catch fire easily, it leads to the destruction of vegetation.
"We have made several efforts to reforest this particular part of Sinharaja Forest during the past years, but could not achieve the expected objectives due to constant setting of fires in this patch of forest by villagers for their individual gains." said Prof. Fernando.
A scientific team headed by Prof. Nimal Gunatilake and Prof. Savithri Gunatilake leading the endeavour to reforest Diyakotha Kanda, has made sure that such areas will include pristine biodiversity. The first phase of reforestation was started a year ago and the trees that were planted have really grown well today. In the first phase of reforestation, flowering plants that have rapid growth and are resilient to harsh rays of sun have been planted. Forest trees were planted under their canopy in the second phase of reforestation.
Prior to planting any trees, the invasive Kekilla has been destroyed to avoid any future hazards. Every tree that has been planted is given a code number so that the growth or the destruction of the tree can be tracked.
The hill has a sharp inclination making it strenuous to ascend. However, students swiftly clambered the steep hill to re-plant lost vegetation.
"The objective of involving schoolchildren and the villagers of this area to reforest the destroyed forest cover is to make them feel the importance of conserving the rainforest. Since these villagers and the schoolchildren live in the surrounding areas, they are the most suitable guardians of the rainforest", noted Prof. Lakdas Fernando.
Schoolchildren who are engaged in the conservation of rainforest project are provided with training required for successful forest management. The Forest Department and Wildlife and Nature Protection Society have, collaboratively, guided the villagers and students and provided them with necessary resources to achieve the objective of reforesting the country's valuable rainforest.
A reward scheme has been introduced to identify conservationists and to motivate them as well as others to engage themselves extensively in reforesting.
Commenting on the reforesting programme, a teacher of Dikhena Kanishta Vidyalaya stated that it is vital to involve school children in conservation programmes to inculcate the habit of protecting the environment since their childhood.
"Villagers who are destroying the rainforest do not understand the importance of a rainforest due to ignorance. If these children are to pursue their livelihoods in connection with the nature such as farming when they are grown up, they will not be as ignorant of the importance of conservation of nature as their fathers. We can hope that these children will be pioneers in protecting the rainforest and nature," she remarked.
A villager who made his contribution in the reforesting of the Diyakotha Kanda area of the Sinharaja rainforest confessed that he was not aware the magnitude of the issue of deforestation and has ignorantly set fire to vegetation for the purpose of cultivating chenas.
"I was made aware by some educated persons on the detrimental effects of deforesting and destroying the green. If we destroy our forests, we will have to face the repercussions. I also learnt of the importance of reforesting to regain lost forest cover. I can pass this message onto my fellow villagers who are less educated and can contribute to the reforesting of the rainforest successfully and preserve it for our future generations," he said.
Rainforests are of vital importance in striking a balance in the ecosystem. They provide a habitat to many an endemic as well as valuable flora and fauna while preventing soil erosion. It helps regulate the climate and provides humans with important forest products. It is said that over 25 per cent of modern medicines are derived from rainforests
At a time when Sri Lanka is confronted with the threat of large scale deforestation, interventions in relation to reforestation with the participation of the general public, especially school children, should be encouraged and supported to achieve sustainability.