Situated in the northern part of the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka, the Knuckles Conservation Forest is a unique landscape with a diverse range of wildlife and picturesque views. The conservation value of the forest is challenged by the spread of invasive alien species (IAS) that suppress the native plant species and gradually change the biological diversity.
Poor land management due to previous chena agriculture practiced by the villagers has made the land vulnerable to the spread of invasive alien species. In October 2016, the Forest Department selected 10 hectares of land for reforestation with native species. IUCN and HSBC offered support to cover two hectares while the remaining eight hectares would be restored by the Forest Department.
Since 2016, this two-hectare plot of degraded land in the Knuckles Conservation Forest is being restored with HSBC funding assistance by IUCN. The “Watershed Conservation and Restoration in the Knuckles Conservation Forest and Environmental Protection Area - Mini Watershed of Puwakpitiya project” (2015-2018) is coordinated by Biodiversity Sri Lanka.
The project uses native species such as the Ceylon oak or kon (Schleichera oleosa), Indian laburnum or ehela (Cassia fistula), Tamarind or siyambala, (Tamarindus indica) and Indian Beech or karanda (Pongamia pinnata) for reforestation. Regular maintenance of the plot is identified as a critical need and that included the removal of invasive species to manage their, until the native species recover to self-sustenance status.
A team comprised of 13 HSBC Bank staff, one from Biodiversity Sri Lanka, two IUCN Sri Lanka staff and supported by the Forest Department, participated in the IAS removal held on 8 September 2018. The team focused on removing two IAS species — West Indian Lantana (Lantana camara) and Austroeupatorium inulifolium — within the restored two hectares. At the end of the day the team managed to clear 0.4 hectare of invasive species.
The engagement of HSBC staff in this activity also helped them to learn the Knuckles Conservation Forest ecosystem and related environmental services such as the capture of rain by an established canopy; storage of groundwater; and the contribution of restored lands to reducing disasters such as droughts, floods and landslides.
The rainwater harvested with the support of the established native vegetation is the source water for drinking, irrigation, power generation and other uses by millions of people in the country. Rivers originating from central highland areas like Knuckles Conservation Forest take water from highlands to the coastal areas. This timely action to help establish native plants in the area is therefore a contribution that has benefits beyond the project area. The Forest Department will manage the area beyond the project period, thus ensuring the sustainability of the HSBC input.