Habitat loss and forest degradation due to encroachments by villagers and illegal logging of commercially valuable trees has been identified as major conservation issues at Yagirala forest. In addition, poaching of wild animals for local consumption has affected the faunal diversity of the forest to an extent. Populations of some nationally and globally threatened species such as Indian Pangolin and Hogg deer have substantially declined over the years due to hunting by locals. As such, this comprehensive Forest Restoration and Biodiversity Conservation Plan developed by the Center for Sustainability have been designed to address conservation issues highlighted above. Accordingly, the proposed Conservation Plan includes following components.
I. Restoration of degraded forest patches with native species
- In order to restore the degraded habitats due to natural and man-made causes, forest restoration with native species is essential. Such degraded habitats are particularly available near forest boundaries and edges. Approximately 15 acres of degraded forest lands within the University-managed forest have been identified for restoration with native species.
- More than 100 acres of degraded habitats have been identified for restoration with native species in the Yagirala forest.
II. Restoration of exotic pine -dominated patches with native species
- Approximately 30 acres of forest restored with exotic pines are available within the University-managed forest. These over-matured pines are being naturally replaced by native species. Natural death of pine trees creates gaps in the forest and these gaps can be restored with native species to accelerate the conversion of pine-dominated forest into native vegetation.
III. Eradication of invasive plant species
- The invasive Godapara (Dillenia suffruticosa) grows vigorously in shade on eroded infertile soils, wasteland, forest edges, stream banks, swampy areas, roadsides and neglected plantations. Gradual eradication of the species and restoring such areas with native species needs to be undertaken systematically.
- Invasive Clidemia hirta is spreaded throughout the pine-dominated and degraded forest patches. Hence, habitat restoration needs to be coupled with eradication of invasive species.
IV. Raise public awareness on biodiversity conservation in Yagirala Forest using Indian Pangolin as a Flagship Species
- Of the mammalian species encountered in Yagirala Forest Reserve, Indian Pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) is an inimitable mammal with small, long head and scales on its upper body. According to the National Red List (2012) of Sri Lanka, the species is listed under “Near Threatened” category. Ironically, no formal studies have been done on this species in the wild in Sri Lanka, and hence very little are known about their social organization, home range size, and population distribution. Yagirala Forest area over the years has been a conducive habitat for Pangolin as the species used to be encountered rather frequently in the area. However, at present, Pangolins have become very much elusive largely due to excessive hunting by local poachers. This project proposes a novel strategy to conserve the elusive Indian Pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) in Yagirala Forest Reserve area with the involvement of the local community by using the Indian Pangolin as a Flagship Species.
V. Community awareness and engagement in conservation efforts
- As local communities are largely responsible for the decline of biodiversity and forest health, changing their attitudes through appropriate means is a key requirement to ensure the survival of forest. Hence, several strategies are proposed to raise the community awareness.
Forest Restoration Project launched in collaboration with Stretchline (Pvt) Ltd
A memorandum of understanding was signed between the Stretchline (Pvt) Ltd and Center for Sustainability (CFS) of the Department of Forestry and Environmental Science, University of Sri Jayewardenepura to restore seventeen (17) acres forest in Yagirala forest reserve on 3rd February 2017 at the board room of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura.
Briefing on the project, Dr Priyan Perea, Director-Center for Sustainability mentioned that, the Sri Lankan counterpart of “Stretchline”; the largest elastic manufacturer in the world provides funding for this project under four phases and it is expected to restore 17 acres by the end of 2017. This joint venture exemplifies the environmental commitment of Stretchline (Pvt) Ltd. while marking yet another successful industry-university partnership initiated by the Center for Sustainability.
Prof. Sampath Amaratunge Vice Chancellor of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura signed the MoU on behalf of the University while Mr. Hasantha De Silva Director-Finance HoldCo and Mr. Ruwan Senavirathne, General Manager-Finance were the signatories representing Stretchline (Pvt) Ltd. Dr Prasanthi Gunawardene, Head of the Department of Forestry and Environmental Science and Prof. Nilanthi Bandara, member of the Board of Advisors to the CFS also attended this landmark event.