Make all adjoining forest areas a part of Sinharaja – Then build the road to Lankagama

Sajeewa Chamikara

Movement for Land and Agriculture Reform

According to a study by the Forest Conservation Department in 2010, low country rain
forests cover only 1.9% of the total land area of Sri Lanka. This is 123,302 hectares. Of the
total land area of Sri Lanka; montane rain forests covers and sub montane rainforests cover
only 1.1%. That is a land area of 73,271 hectares. Therefore only 3% of the total land area of
Sri Lanka is covered in rainforests. That is a land area of 196,573 hectares. Out of these, only
65% have been declared protected areas, the rest are under the control of the Land
Reclamation Commission (LRC.).


Due to the dwindling forest cover, even the Sri Lankan wet zone has been affected by
changes to annual rainfall patterns and water shortages. This makes protecting the
remaining rain forests of paramount importance. This is why we demand the government to
make all the rainforests, around the Sinharaja National Heritage Wilderness Area, into
protected areas. Road expansions should only take place after such a declaration. Road
expansions before making the adjoining forests into protected area would only lead to the
destruction of the unprotected forest areas. Otherwise is quite likely that tea cultivations
and construction of hotels would follow the road expansion. This is the prism in which we
view the road development project to Lankagama. Given the massive misinformation and
disinformation that is taking place; it is vital that the general public understands why
environmentalists oppose the road development project.


If policy makers do not understand the reasons why we object, it is highly likely that the
entire ecological system will collapse ushering in serious issues to the general public. We
have already seen the impact ad hoc decisions made by policy makers. For example
between 1900 and 2000 the lizard population of Sri Lanka was decimated. A global survey in
year 2000 found that in the period between 1900 and 2000 the word had lost 34 species of

reptiles. Out of that number 21 species had disappeared from Sri Lanka. While later
research has found two of the 21 species believed to have been extinct; it is now clear that
the other 19 species are gone for good. The main reason for this is the destruction of
rainforests due to various activities including tea plantation.

Lankagama Road development project


Under the Lankagama Road development project, a 15 foot wide road that spans 18
kilometers, which falls through Madugete, Warukandeniya and Lankagama Grama Niladari
divisions in the Neluwa DS area will be developed. Some parts of this road go through forest
areas. This road goes through forest lands that belong to the LRC, private lands, state lands
that belongs to the Forest Conservation Department and land that falls under the Sinharaja
National Heritage Wilderness Areas. Moreover the road goes through several subsidiaries
of the Gin Ganga. It is also identified that 1,320 meters of this road goes through land that
fall within the Sinharaja Forest Reserve.

Why the road development is illegal


Sinharaja was declared a National Heritage Wilderness Area by National Heritage
Wilderness Areas Act (No. 3 of 1988.) According to section 3 the act “no person other than
the Competent Authority shall enter, or remain, within, any National Heritage Wilderness
Area except (a) for the purpose of discharging any official duty on the instruction, or with
the written permission, of the Competent Authority; or (b) under the authority and in
accordance with the conditions of a written permit from the Competent Authority.”
Meanwhile section 04 of the act prohibits the cutting of any plant or trees, making any fresh
clearing or construction of any road. Section 12 states that any person who acts in
“contravention of any provisions of this Act, or any regulation made there under shall be
guilty of an offence and shall on conviction by a Magistrate be liable to a fine not less than
ten thousand rupees.” Such a person can also face a prison term between one to two years
and or subject to both such fine and imprisonment. Such provisions have been enacted
because it is impossible to estimate the damage to a sensitive eco system like the Sinharaja

National Heritage Wilderness Area. These provisions are now been blatantly violated in the
construction of the Lankagama Road development project.


Sinharaja National Heritage Wilderness Area and all adjoining forest areas have been
declared a soil conservation area by Extraordinary Gazette No 1550/9 issued under section
three of the Soil Conservation Act, no 25 of 1951. This was declared due to the fact that
there is a serious risk of landslides in this area. When carrying out development activities in
such an area, one needs to take approval as per the National Environmental Act. The aim of
this is to ensure the sustainability of the project.


Gazette Extraordinary No 777/22 of 24th June, 1993 issued according to section 23Z of the
National Environmental Act, no 47 of 1980 (amended) states that one needs to take
approval, based on an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA,) to convert of forests
covering an area exceeding 1 hectare into non-forest uses. In order to implement the
Lankagama Road development project; the implementers will have to remove a large
stretch of forest land and thus needs to take approval, based on an EIA. The Gazette
Extraordinary adds that one thus needs to take approval, based on an EIA to also carry out
any development activity within 100 meters from any National Heritage Wilderness Area.
The Gazette Extraordinary also says that an EIA is also needed to carry out any development
activity within an area declared as a soil conservation area.


The Lankagama Road development project is been carried out violating all the above
mentioned legal provisions. This makes it an illegal development project and it also
challenged the rule of law. This also has an adverse effect on the people’s faith in the Forest
Conservation Department and the Central Environmental Authority (CEA.)

Adding new forest lands to the Sinharaja reserve


There are a large number of LRC lands adjoining the Sinharaja National Heritage Wilderness
Area and a number of these lands have been cleared to plant tea. On August 04, 2004, the
then cabinet decided to claim and connect a 500 meters buffer zone for the Sinharaja forest.
This decision was taken as the Land Reform Commission (LRC) under which most of the land
falls, had been releasing lands to hoteliers, plantation companies and other investors, thus

jeopardizing the future of the world heritage site. This had led to the loss of habitat of
endemic species and catchment forests. The LRC land was to be taken on the basis of
compensation been paid on a later date. It was expected to claim 2,490 hectares of forest
land.


These forests were Murakele estate (50.4 ha) Fab Estate (181.3 ha) Ilumbakanda estate (567
ha) Morning Side estate (55.4 ha) canter estate (130 ha) Gaze estate (137.5 ha) Gonhela
estate (137.9 ha) Ebaros estate (35.4 ha) Bakware estate (109.9 ha) Kondurugala estate (99
ha) and Dambahena estate (8.6 ha) of Ratnapura District; Enasal estate (436 ha) Kurugala
estate (188 ha) Beverly estate (28 ha) and Hemagiri estate (40 ha) in Matara District and
Homadola estate (304 ha) in Galle District. These are lands that were released to various
plantation companies by the LRC. Although the Cabinet had approved the reclamation of
these lands, the Forest Conservation Department had not been able to do so, even though
16 years had gone by. Each passing year without action leads to the expansion of tea and
Cardamom plantations.


The environmental minister of the previous government, former President Maithripala
Sirisena signed a gazette that calls for the annexation of 13 proposed forest reserves to the
Sinharaja National Heritage Wilderness Area. With this the total land area of the Sinharaja
National Heritage Wilderness Area would expand to 30, 000 hectares. This gives approval to
absorb proposed Ayagama, Delgoda, Dellawa, Delmella-Yatagampitiya, Diyadawa,
Kobahadukanda, Morapitiya-Runakanda-Neluketiya Mukalana, Warathalgoda, Silverkanda,
Handapanella, Gongala and Paragala reserves to the Sinharaja National Heritage Wilderness
Area. Although Sirisena had signed the gazette almost a year ago, it still hasn’t been
published.

Preventing the absorption of new forests to Sinharaja


Although former President Maithripala Sirisena had signed the gazette over a year ago, not
only has it been published, regional politicians and their business partners are making plans
to use the LRC lands adjoining the Sinharaja to expand roads and to use them for large
commercial endeavours like establishing tea plantations and hotels. The people that live
around Sinharaja, who had been promised of improved facilities, are being misled by these

people. These elements are planning to take over large swaths of LRC lands and for that
purpose, prevent the absorption of new forests to Sinharaja.

Sinharaja was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific
and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1989. This was the first natural heritage site
declared by UNESCO in Sri Lanka. Sinharaja is a tropical rainforest which is important for
environmental, ecological, hydrological and geological reasons. This forest is one of the
main reasons why Sri Lanka is considered one of the 34 biodiversity hotspots identified in
the world. The importance of this forest has been recognized for a long time and steps were
taken to ensure that this area is not subjected to human activities.


During the British colonial administration a part of the Sinharaja forest system was declared
a protected area in 1875 under the waste lands ordinance. Gazette notification no 4046 of
May 08, 1875, issued under the waste lands ordinance, declared 2,428 hectares of the
forest system as a reserve. This was expanded to 6, 153 hectares on May 21, 1926.
Realizing the vital link between the Sinharaja forest system and the people who live close to
it, Sinharaja was declared an International Man and Biosphere Reserve in 1978. It was
declared as a National Heritage Wilderness Area on October 21, 1988 by gazette notification
528/14 when the National Heritage Wilderness Areas Act (No. 3 of 1988) was passed. This is
the country’s first and only National Heritage Wilderness Area. With the above mentioned
gazette, 11, 187 hectares of the Sinharaja forest system was declared a protected area.

The biodiversity of Sinharaja


Sinharaja forest reserve covers about 0.17 of the total landmass of Sri Lanka (65,610 square
kilometres.) 38% of terrestrial species (animal species that live on the dry lands), reported in
Sri Lanka are found in Sinharaja. 37% of the endemic animal species and 53% of endemic
plant species in Sri Lanka are found here as well.


Researchers have also found that there are 40 species that can be found in Sinharaja alone.
Out of this 15 are flowering plants and 25 are animal species, out of which there are 11
lizard species, nine amphibious species, three freshwater crab species and one spider and
mammal species each.

Sinharaja is also vital in ensuring that Sri Lanka receives the Southwestern monsoonal rains
and that the rain received is converted into ground water. It also ensures that the water
needs of those living nearby are met and that small scale tea plantations receives the rain
they need.


The Sinharaja forest is one of the most important watersheds in the island, with several
streams draining into the ‘Kalu Ganga’ and ‘Gin Ganga’ rivers. The people who live in these
river basins received adequate water for drinking and other daily needs.


Sinharaja is also a unique ecosystem. It comprises a canopy typical to the Tropical Wet
Evergreen Rainforests and three unique climax vegetation types: Hora community, Na-Dun
community, Milla-Diyapara-Hedawaka-Welipanna community. A unique plant community
composed of the two endemic species Rath dun (Shorea gardneri) and Yakahalu (Shorea
trapezifolla) exist in the Sinharaja Estate and Enasal Estate owned by the State Plantation
Corporation. Sinharaja Estate and Enasal Estate are not a part of the protected forest area.
the fact that plant communities composed of the two endemic species are in a forest area,
adjoining Sinharaja, but without any protection is indicative of the general attitude of the
Forest Conservation Department. These areas are being cleared steadily for tea plantations.
By the time these forest lands are taken over the unique species that live in them might be
gone forever.


495 out of the 926 endemic flowering plants of Sri Lanka as well as 13 of the 25 endemic
plants are recorded from the Sinharaja Forest. Fifteen endemic species of flora that are
found in the forest can only be found there. 340 woody plants are also recorded in
Sinharaja, out of which 192 are endemic to Sri Lanka.


Researchers have also found 42 species of ferns in the Singharaja forest. 10 of these species
are endemic to Sri Lanka. Among the ferns are, Pathrakoku (Cyathea crinita), Gini hota
(Cyathea walkeri), Wal Meda (Angiopteris evecta), Baru Koku (Blechnum orientale), Bird’s
nest fern (Asplenium nidus) and Maha Hedaya (Huperzia phlegmaria). Moreover the
smallest fern species recorded from Sri Lanka, the epiphytic Microgonium motleyi, can also
be found in Sinharaja. Meanwhile, over 80 of the 189 orchid species found in Sri Lanka are
found in the Singharaja forest. Some of the rare Endemic species of orchids are Vanaraja
(Anoectochilus setaceus), Iruraja (Zeuxine regia), Mahapadma (Podochilus malabaricus),

Kudapadma (Podochilus saxatilis), Jatamakuta (Flickingeria macraei) and Wesakmal
(Dendrobium maccarthiae). Moreover nine species of rattan too are found in Sinharaja
when the total number of rattan species recorded in Sri Lanka is 10. Thambotuwel (Calamus
zeylanicus), Thudarena (Calamus ovoideus), Narawel (Calamus delicatulus), Kukuluwel
(Calamus pachystemonus) and Mawewel (Calamus thwaitesii) are among the rare and
endemic Calamus species found in the Sinharaja Forest.


In the streams that run through Sinharaja one can find eight rare and endemic aquatic
plants. Among these are five ketala species; Lagenandra praetermissa, Lagenandra
lancifolia, Lagenandra koenigii, Lagenandra thwaitesii, Lagenandra bogneri and three water
trumpet (Athiudayan) species; i.e. Cryptocoryne beckettii, Cryptocoryne thwaitesii and
Cryptocoryne bogneri. Aponogeton rigidifolius, a rare and endemic Kekatiya species has also
been recorded from these streams. The aforementioned species present only a fraction of
the total plant diversity present within the forest.


There is also a significant diversity in animal species found in Sinharaja as well. 448 species
of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals and butterflies are found in this forest reserve.
Out of these, 144 species (32%) are endemic to Sri Lanka. Sinharaj and the Sri Pada areas are
the only places where one can see all 33 birds species endemic to Sri Lanka. Nine amphibian
species found in Sinharaja are endemic to the forest. 11 species of reptiles seen in Sinharaja
can only be found there. One mammal (kunuhik meeya- Crocidura hikmiya), three fresh
water crabs (Ceylonthelphusa savitriae, Perbrinckia quaratus and Perbrinckia rosae) and one
spider species (Onomustus nigricauds) too can only be found in the Sinharaja forest. The fact
that there are 25 animal species found only in the Sinharaja forest shows how rich it is in
biodiversity.


Nine of the amphibian species found in Sinharaja are Critically Endangered according to the
2012 IUCN red list. They are Sinharaja shrub frog (Pseudophilautus simba), Cheeky shrub
frog (Pseudophilautus procax), Papillated shrub frog (Pseudophilautus papillosus), Handapan
Ella shrub frog (Pseudophilautus lunatus), Enasla Estate tree frog (Taruga fastigo), Golden-
eyed shrub frog (Pseudophilautus ocularis), Poppy’s shrubs frog (Pseudophilautus poppiae),
Elegantshrub frog (Pseudophilautus decoris) and Karunaratne’s narrow-mouth frog
(Microhyla karunaratnei).

11 reptile species endemic to Sinharaja are also Critically Endangered. They are; the
endemic fossorial snake, Deraniyagala’s shield tail (Rhinophis tricoloratus), Eranga Viraj’s
shieldtail snake (Rhinophis erangaviraji), an arboreal snake, Sinharaja tree snake
(Dendrelaphis Sinharajensis), Erdelen’s horned lizard (Ceratophora erdeleni), Karu’s horned
lizard (Ceratophora karu), Morning Side Sivruwanlana katussa (Calotes dersilvai), Sinharaja
Bent-toed Gecko (Cyrtodactylus subsolanus), Sihin maha Kele Hoona (Cyrtodactylus
cresenes), Godagedara’s day gecko (Cnemaspis godagedarai), ALankara Dewaseri Hoona
(Cnemaspis pulchra), Merrillge Singithi Hikanala (Lankascincus merrill) and Sameerage
Singithi Hikanala (Lanakascincus sameerai). Meanwhile the rough-nosed horned lizard
(Ceratophora aspera) which was earlier believed to be endemic to the Sabaragamuwa hills,
has now been identified as endemic to Sinharaja forest. The species in other mountains in
Sabaragamuwa have been identified as different to those in Sinharaja. Two nonvenomous
shield tail snakes of the Rhinophis genus have also been discovered recently and the
research report is to be released soon.


It is the responsibility of all Sri Lankans to step up and protect this unique and important
ecosystem that makes Sri Lanka a biodiversity hotspot. According to article 28 (f) of the
constitution it’s the duty of every person in Sri Lanka to “to protect nature and conserve its
riches.” We would like to remind all Sri Lankans that they must come forward to fulfill this
duty by protecting Sinharaja for future generations, to ensure that all forests that are
adjoining are absorbed into Sinharaja and to protect it from any attempts to destroy

Our Blog

Spread the love

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *