According to the FAO, 28.8% or about 1,860,000 ha of Sri Lanka is covered by trees. Of this only 9.0% (167,000) is classified as primary forest, the most biodiverse and carbon-dense form of forest. This should be a shameful statistic for a country that sells itself as a ‘biodiversity hotspot’. The rest is degraded forest, plantations and home gardens. With 185,000 ha of planted monoculture tree plantations, the country has more plantations than primary forest. These timber plantations have none of the attributes of the native forest, they are a veritable desert in terms of biodiversity, but claimed by ‘foresters’ to be a replacement for the lost forests.

But only 9% primary forest? Should this not be a cause for national alarm? We claim to be a ‘biodiversity hotspot’ and we have only 9% of our primary forests to protect this biodiversity.

The tragic reality of this much vaunted boasting about our biodiversity ‘hot spot’ claims, is that many of the endemic species are found in the small forest patches, which represent the only remaining habitat for many rare, indigenous or endangered species. These patches are the small bits of forest that remain on steep or inaccessible parts of the rural landscape. These forest patches have, in most cases escaped the axe and plow due to the fact that they were difficult to access, but with an increase in land hunger and political corruption, they too are being targeted for destruction. As these ecosystems exist as small patches (0.5 – 10 ha) of refugial forest scattered over the landscape they are often not identified for protection, the formal system of protection usually being extended to larger areas. For instance, the cataloguing system of the World Conservation Monitoring Center (WCMC) only considers scheduled forest over 50 ha. Thus most remnant forest patches go unrecognized because they are not a part of any scheduled or protected area.

The small forest patch on many Sri Lankan landscapes usually represents the only habitat for rare, indigenous or endangered species. Further, the ability of the areas presently scheduled or under protection is unable to provide habitat for all the species represented in Sri Lanka. This is due to the fact that there are many different ecosystems arising from past geologic history, that lie outside currently scheduled areas. Many of these ecosystems exist in small patches of refugial forest, which are scattered over the landscape and not identified for protection. These remnant forest patches have to be catalogued and addressed if any potential for future biodiversity conservation and ecosystem rehabilitation work is to be retained.

One technique to address this problem is the Tropical Forest Register (TFR) or similar database that can be cross-linked with the relevant agencies. This action is made even more urgent due to the emerging water problems. In the mountain areas many small refugial forest patches were associated with wetlands or ‘wet patnas’. These provided the life giving dry weather flow of the mountain streams. Today this flow is being systematically diminished by the loss of these refugial forests. The dry weather flow from our mountains was effectively cut when these forest patches and wet patnas were handed out for ‘vegetable cultivation’ by politicians of various colours . To grow potatoes or other vegetables in wet soil, you have to first drain and dry it, an action that robs the downstream areas of their dry weather flow. Next timber and firewood is extracted from the small forest patch with its refugial biodiversity, is but a matter of time, usually short, from these activities to complete clearing

It has long been known that, forests also help control flood events by holding rainwater in the soil and releasing it slowly rather than have the rainfall rush down unprotected hillsides to create floods at every strong rainfall event. The loss of the mountain forests increases the flood events downstream.

The forests are not just repositories of biodiversity; they are also critical contributors to the atmospheric water reservoir. Through the action of photosynthesis a hundred molecules of water are released for every molecule of carbon fixed. Sri Lanka’s forests contain about 61 million metric tons of carbon in living forest biomass, or about 6.1 million tons of photosynthetic biomass. Thus the forests of Sri Lanka releases over 600 million tons of water into the atmosphere annually, cleaned of impurities and contributing to rainfall over the island.

It is this hydrological activity of a forest, its capacity to contribute to and retain local rainfall that makes it so valuable to the nation. In a time of increasing climate insecurity the water functions of a forest must be recognized as a critical national need.

Thus conserving the existing forest patches and reclaiming the montane wetlands becomes a national priority in terms of biodiversity conservation and water management. It requires an integrated approach that includes forestry, wildlife, agriculture and water resources. The will to act in a coordinated manner by the organizations concerned, will determine the future of these aspects in our nation.

  • The real problem is that (1) probably none of our elected officials are ‘educated’ enough to realize the truth in what you are stating. (2) And even if some of them did, none of them are interested in the long-term sustainability of the country’s natural resources. (3) Also, the plunderers who are ripping off the timber, granite, sand and similar resources are in cahoots with the politicos in charge. So what chance do voices like yours have to be heard and acted on?

    Having said that, do keep up the valuable work you are doing and keep informing the general public that have access to your views – who knows, miracles could still occur!!!!

    • Jayalath

      To java jones ,

      You are right mate , when late Gamini Dissanayaka was in mahavali ministry , he robbed the whole forest and made money to become the richest man in Sri Lanka . These hyprocratical politicians and their families should be taught a good lesson by nature . Even today you can see the politicians are very ignorant and they have no clue what is the mean of environment . They have millions are collected from illegally by commissions and acquiring state properties . They think every things are them to consume . So, the time is up, when the nature turn back we all will be victims , it doesn’t take only who destroyed it , if it works in that way that we would mine .

    • Jayalath

      This is a shocking revelation , from 1,840. 000 HC to 167.000 Hc of forest trees .and 29% to 9% . Where is the end of it ? How can our future generation will survive ? This figures show us the scale of threat in the future . As we know that every religion discourse us day & night about the habit of saving every thing we use for the future . This is a rational and conventional theory that even every dog will understand , but these bigotry and vicious human animal would never realise . Because these people’s heads are ruined by the delution and ignorance . In this environment that you Ranil is a wonderful creature .

      Gisbert Glaser, the senior adviser to the international council for the science, who said in a guest editorial of the international geosphere biosphere program ( IGBP) news letter,sustainable development is a moving target ,it represent the continuous effect to balance and integrate the three pillars of social well being ,economic prosperity and environmental protection for the benifit of present and future generation .
      Many people considered this statement as a noble thought .

      However, there are some people who opposing this view ,once by that saintly woman , mother Theresa, who in 1988 said, why we should we care about the earth when our duty is to the poor and sick among us , God will take care of the earth.
      So, there can be many people who think among us in such an ignorance manner with distorting the real living facts .
      If we not feel to take care of the earth , it surely will take care of itself by making us no longer welcome .

      Despite their differences,they come from religious and humanist beliefs which regard the earth as there to be exploited for the good of humankind .when there were only one billion of us in 1800, these ignorant policies were acceptable because they caused little harm, now, they travel two different roads that will soon merge into a rocky path to a stone age existence on an ailing planet, one where few of us survive among the wreckage of our once Biodiverse earth.

      Turning back to the situation of Sri Lanka with regard to the statement of Ranil will be a catastrophe .we are not a nation or country who are prepaired to understand the vicinity threats of environment . I never heard much people are speaking about the climate or changing climate too, the reason is that I think is many people are trained to follow the religious rituals ( bodhi pooja ) by state and other medias , and I think it is quite good idea because Sri lankan politicians and people can obtain the highest reward of the world for the superstition and mythology .

      However, the situation is very serious and harmful, according to the scientists they are sufficiently aware of the physiology of the earth to realise the severity of its illness . They suspect the existence of a threshold ,set by the temperature or the level of carbon dioxide in the air ,once this is passed nothing the nations of the world do will alter the outcome and the earth will move irreversibly to a new hot state. We ar now approaching one of these tipping points, and our future is in a serious threat.

      Therefore, what is unusual about the coming crisis is that we are the cause of it. Because we are tribal animals , the tribe does not act In unison until a real and present danger is perceived .


    • It’s useless to blame the politicians, even though you have reason to do so. Ranil has the right to complain because he’a doing something about this. I don’t think the rest of us non-environmentalists types have a right to complain when we have done nothing.

      • Sharanga – If your response was to me:

        How would you know that I am a “non-environmentalist type” that “has done nothing” and do not “have a right to complain”? Ranil has a good idea of what my credentials are in the “environmental” sphere and also knows that I do “have a right to complain”.

        Your assumption is in error (if you were directing your comment at me).

        • Java, sorry about that. If you’re indeed active in this regard, you have all the right in the world to complain about things related to it.

      • Neville

        What kind of convoluted logic is that? You mean that if I am not a member of the MC and/or never had a hand in garbage disposal, I would have no right to complain about heaps of garbage in the city? As a concerned citizen I have the right to complain to, or blame, politicians or anyone else concerned, about the degradation of the environment or about anything else I choose to. Who are you to impose your values on the rest of us?

        • Rights are just social constructs. There’s no universal rights written on rocks. So a general rule is, if you want something, you have to actively work for it. You don’t have a right to automatically expect things from others, unless you have already established that you do after actively working for it.

          People care about garbage problem before they vote. At least I do. But not many people even think about the environment before they vote. Nobody ever talks about environment when an election is close. Voters don’t ask for any details as to how exactly a new government would take care of the environment.

          In other words, the average voter, doesn’t pay due diligence before voting as far as environment is concerned. As people, they don’t care much about the environment, except when they write about it on blogs. After paying minimum of attention to the environment, they expect the politicians to have done a better job than them?

          Inaction and lack of attention itself is irresponsible.

          I don’t want to impose my values on you. You can talk to the people who impose outrageous tax on alcohol about that. You do whatever you want to do. Just don’t expect to make a change by leisurely complaining about things on a blog. Whatever you say here about the environment will have absolutely zero impact on politicians, the general public and the environment.

          • Neville

            “Just don’t expect to make a change by leisurely complaining about things on a blog. Whatever you say here about the environment will have absolutely zero impact on politicians, the general public and the environment.”

            I wasn’t. I was responding to your comment. And my view hasn’t changed.

          • No problem. You have the constitutional right to imagine whatever you want, including the misguided idea that the world owes it to you to do whatever you want it to do.

          • Neville

            “No problem. You have the constitutional right to imagine whatever you want,..”

            Of course I do have the right… (as you are doing)

            ” …including the misguided idea that the world owes it to you to do whatever you want it to do.”

            You look like the one who is “misguided” – and it won’t help to put words (or your thoughts) in my mouth.

      • Jayalath

        To Saranga ,

        When the forest been cut off by 29% to 9% whome should be blamed for ? Some villagers should get a little bit of blames for own fire woods which isn’t an accountable level . As a government when rule a piece of land , it is their duty to assess how can we live with preserving the environment . And how to educate the people to realise the value of forest and environment , which maintain to a balance biodiversity which good for every ones survival .

        If I forward you a simple example that in the Uk has named how much land for the agriculture , housing and industries , the rest are absolutely reserved for the forest and none can be touched them for no reason

        Therefore , I’m telling , every single thing and object in a country is belonged to rule by these idiots , some of these idiots implications can be harmful for every one not only for themselves .if you go down to kandy and search for all small forestry hills that you would see they all have become the homes for some people , which is wrong . What these people say for the views ! Absolutely bonkers .therefore the responsibility will arrive from the politics .

        So, Ranil has delivered the tale very well , no hesitation about it , and I said we need people like him to propagate the message to every body . Lot of people have no idea about these thing because the lack of knoledge . In the future , there can be wars for the water not for the oil , we should maintain the forest which is the only way to preserve the water resource as well .