In 2018, deep in the Kanneliya Forest Reserve in southern Sri Lanka, an abandoned patch of rainforest lay in dire need of restoration. It suffered from abandonment and degradation. That year, Biodiversity Sri Lanka (BSL) partnered with the Forest Department of Sri Lanka, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and several BSL members to embark on a five-year forest restoration project, which was titled “LIFE.”
The project aims to restore the patch of forest and establish a Biodiversity Credit Accrual System in Sri Lanka, one of 34 biodiversity hotspots in the world, and home to many unique plants and animal species that are mostly restricted to the wet zone of the country. Furthermore, primary forests only account for 3% of the total landscape in wet zone areas. More than 75% of the endemic species in Sri Lanka are restricted to wet zone forest areas like the Sinharaja World Heritage Site, Peak Wilderness Protected Area Complex, and the Kanneliya-Dediyagala-Nakiyadeniya Forest Complex, contributing to the nation's high biological diversity.
Despite this high level of diversity, however, some areas of the forest sites are degraded by human activity, and the existing conditions threaten endemic and endangered species. Therefore, dedicated conservation of the remaining wet zone forests is crucial to preserve Sri Lanka’s dense biological value.
LIFE aims to regenerate specific areas in the Kanneliya Forest that were cleared for cultivation and then deserted, resulting in the invasion of a pioneer fern species called Dicranopteris linearis (kekilla). The project covers 12 hectares (30 acres), which will benefit from the scientific principles of ecological restoration. These principles include planting native species on-site instead of using exotic species, managing an on-site nursery, applying organic fertilizers to fuel soil conservation, enforcing microclimate regulation, and reducing atmospheric carbon through the removal of 3795 t (CO2) by 2030. The project officially launched in February 2018 and, as of 2023, has formally launched into Phase II.
The project consists of two phases. Phase One initiated a baseline biodiversity survey and the development of a forest management plan. Compared to the adjacent forest land, the LIFE project site supported low species diversity, contained lower numbers of endemic species, and had no record of endangered or endemic species. This phase was completed by IUCN and supported by several member companies.
Phase Two of LIFE focuses on the implementation of a Conservation Management Plan and the establishment of a Biodiversity Credit Accrual System for Sri Lanka. This second phase is the first time a coalition of state, private, and community partnerships have undertaken a project relating to reforestation, biodiversity conservation, and the evolution of a Biodiversity Credit Accrual System in Sri Lanka.
LIFE was designed to track progress made on ecological and biological indicators, such as water and soil quality, species diversity, forest structure, and climate indicators (such as levels of erosion and rainfall). The progress data derived from this analysis and collaboration with local and international experts will be used to develop the credit accrual system.
The primary goal of the LIFE project is to support the development of policies and tools so that the accrued bio-credits can be utilized effectively and in alignment with national priorities. The project has also created significant employment opportunities for the surrounding communities — an endeavor that has strengthened the local economy.
Larger than LIFE: Project contribution on a global scale
LIFE also supports both national and international environmental goals and targets, including:
Biodiversity Sri Lanka and the Forest Department signed a Memorandum of Understanding, which affirms the Forest Department’s complete commitment to the facilitation of the LIFE project. It also guarantees that the project site will not be used for any post-restoration purposes for at least 20 years.
A significant portion of the project site is undergoing intensive ecological restoration, with structural changes occurring in vegetation types and new floral and faunal species surfacing.
Twenty-six butterfly species were recently observed in the restoration site, and 14 frugivorous bird species had been recorded by the end of the project's fourth year. Three new reptile species, which included two arboreal snake species, the Green Vine Snake and the Boulenger's bronze back, and a ground-dwelling species of skink, the Sri Lanka Golden Skink, were observed. In sum, at least 90 new faunal species have appeared in restored and natural forests. These included four land snail species, nine dragonfly species, 14 butterfly species, six amphibian species, 12 reptile species, 35 avian species, and ten mammal species.
As of 2023, Biodiversity Sri Lanka has officially launched Phase II of the restoration project. Virtusa will continue its partnership with BSL to support Phase II, especially since the projects aligns with the historic agreement set at the UN Biodiversity COP 15 in December 2022 to restore and preserve 30% of the Earth’s land, coastal areas, and in-land waters by 2030.
Image of intensive restoration area (April-June 2021)
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