Taking a trip to a primary school to join up with a Tuk Tuk rally to do some tree planting was not part of our original plan to launch our forest corridor project (financed by the BBC Wildlife Fund and EDGE supporters) it kicked things off in style – blending local, national and international interests in Sri Lanka’s natural environment.
I’d been in Sri Lanka for the best part of two weeks, following up on the various activities of our partners (University of Colombo and Open University of Sri Lanka) in efforts to conserve the montane slender loris. A key activity identified by our team, has been reforestation – reconnecting remaining patches of forest in the highlands of central Sri Lanka.
The country doesn’t just suffer from a problem of forest loss but also one of fragmentation. So much so, many small ‘islands’ now exist which is not great news for an arboreal beast such as the loris. Fortunately the BBC Wildlife Fund and our campaign donors have stepped in to support the ‘Re-establishing Ecological Corridors for the Horton Plains Slender Loris’ project. This is a novel initiative for Sri Lanka, using replanting of native species to reconnect existing forest patches and using community groups to undertake the planting work. It is hoped the associated environmental awareness resulting from such activities will contribute to a reduction in illegal forest encroachment.
This is a complex issue and a massive task, but the project is starting small, with a pilot project to test the methods and approach. This is new territory for all partners, since this type of work in the montane areas of Sri Lanka has not been attempted before. We are being pioneers in every sense.
I was therefore keen for a relatively low key start to the project. We had areas of land identified and donated by the Forest Department, so were just a shiny shovel and a local dignitary away from a launch……or so I anticipated. My Sri Lankan colleagues had other (and much better) ideas. They have a history of doing great awareness work, and we teamed up with a school in the Nuwara Eliya area to plant trees in their grounds. Such was the enthusiasm that many of the pupils had agreed to come back to school for one day (during their holidays) to plant the trees themselves. Great stuff I thought; a perfect way to kick off the project.
But it got better, Land Owners Restore Rainforest in Sri Lanka (LORRIS -our local NGO partner) had also teamed up with Lanka Challenge (a Tuk Tuk rally that tours Sri Lanka), and thus we also had the international Tuk Tuk Teams assisting the school kids with the planting. What better way to enthuse the kids? With the obligatory speeches dealt with it was down to the dirty work. The Tuk Tuk guys teamed up with the school kids, and what followed was a whirlwind of planting, as 60 new trees went into the school grounds. Each tree was assigned to a pupil who has the responsibility for looking after it, and LORRIS staff will revisit in the coming months to assess progress.
Of course, this is only a small start, but it was a great start to the project and a great morning for those who participated. But the real work starts now…in the coming months the project will establish community nurseries which will then be used to commence the pilot planting in two sites in the highlands over the next year. Assuming success, the plan is to expand these efforts ten-fold across a number of other sites already identified and maintain the effort for at least the next five years. Hopefully longer!