Biodiversity Sri Lanka, HSBC and IUCN join hands to enhance environment of Knuckles Conservation For

Wednesday, 5 July 2017 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

01Biodiversity Sri Lanka together with HSBC and IUCN Sri Lanka have been working together on measures to conserve and improve the mini watershed area of the Puwakpitiya Oya in the Knuckles Conservation Forest and Environmental Protection Area. This engagement has been ongoing since August 2015 and is a three year intervention. 

As a responsible corporate entity and a Patron Member of Biodiversity Sri Lanka, HSBC’s sustainability drives underpin identifying and addressing environmental, social and ethical developments which present risks or opportunities for environment and business. Technical assistance to the project is provided by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Sri Lanka (IUCN).

The Knuckles Conservation Forest along with the Peak Wilderness Protected Area and the Horton Plains National Park have been declared as an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2010. Prior to this, it was declared as a conservation forest by the Forest Department in 2000 and an Environmental Protection Area under the National Environmental Act in 2007. The Knuckles area constitutes 30% of the watershed forest of the Mahaweli catchment – a major source of water for the agricultural sector of the country.

Although the forest landscapes in the Knuckles region are managed by the Forest Department and are legally protected, some landscapes are heavily degraded due to anthropogenic activities. Unsustainable land use practices and deterioration of watersheds severely threaten biodiversity and associated ecosystems. The main aim of the project is to restore the ecological value of the Puwakpitiya Oya sub catchment area in order to enhance watershed functions and biodiversity in order to develop a replicable model to expand the programme to other sub catchments of this vital forest range.

Puwakpitiya is a highly visited location by local tourists. Hence improving the visitor facilities of the Puwakpitiya (Illukumbura) office of the Forest Department is a part of this project. The HSBC funds have helped the construction of an information centre alongside the development of necessary knowledge products, which will benefit both the Forest Department and the visitors. This centre is expected to be declared open in August 2017.

Although adequate sanitary facilities are a basic need of any household, most of the toilets in the Puwakpitiya area are below standard hygienic levels. Regrettably, a majority of the people within the community do not recognise safe toilet facilities as a basic human need. The project has improved and promoted the construction of adequate toilet facilities and raised awareness on the importance of sanitation. This is considered to be an eye opener to the villagers and it has been catalytic in getting the villagers to realise associated values. The project is expected to bring about a change at local level, which will have a lasting impact beyond the lifetime of the project.

Since the project area is located within the immediate catchment of the Moragahakanda reservoir, community members are being made aware of crucial conservation aspects through community discussions and meetings. Raising awareness among the community members could finally contribute positively to the conservation of the forest and its buffer zone together with the upper catchment of the Moragahakanda reservoir. 

Recently a group of volunteers from HSBC made a field visit to observe and take part in work on ground. This volunteer program included a visit to the Illukkubura Visitor Centre from 16-18 June where staff actively participated in landscaping and cleaning the centre. They also conducted a visitor awareness programme at Sera Ella. The team actively took part in field interventions and constructed contour barriers on the hilly edges to prevent soil erosion. 

Upon completion, the project will have multiple environmental benefits. Firstly, the Knuckles region is well-known for its natural and aesthetic beauty centred on its breathtaking landscapes and associated fauna and flora. Sustainable utilisation of this valuable asset can be achieved through proper conservation and management practices. Secondly, this region has been declared as one of Sri Lanka’s Natural World Heritage sites namely the Central Highland World Heritage Site because of its unique biodiversity, aesthetic value and ecosystem services. Hence, conservation and management practices will eventually lead to conserving this pristine and valuable ecosystem. Enhancing watershed services, micro-climate regulation and carbon sequestration would provide both socio-economic and environmental benefits. A monitoring system will be developed to ensure the sustainability and continuation of the positive outcomes of this project. 

Globally, HSBC focuses its community investment on education and the environment, because they provide the fundamental building blocks for the development of communities. For HSBC, sustainability is about making decisions that maintain the right balance between the environment, society and the economy to ensure business success. The Knuckles Conservation Forest is one of the various missions the bank has committed to with a view to the long term sustainability of the environment.

Biodiversity Sri Lanka is an organisation established to foster dialogue between Sri Lanka’s private sector and conservation agencies. The platform provides valuable services to its membership and Sri Lankan businesses at large in sustainable development and in the conservation of the natural resources of our country. The main objective of the platform is to be a one stop shop for information, advice and assistance required by companies to preserve our country’s natural heritage.