Watershed conservation and restoration in the Knuckles Conservation Forest

Awareness programme for Puwakpitiya community members

Project title: Watershed conservation and restoration in the Knuckles Conservation Forest and Environmental Protection Area: mini-watershed of Puwakpitiya Oya

Location: Puwakpitiya, Knuckles Mountain Range, Matale District, Sri Lanka

Duration: 2015 to 2018

Project Background : The Knuckles Conservation Forest in Sri Lanka was declared a Conservation Forest in 2000. It is also one of three sections of the Central Highlands World Heritage Site. Due to its diverse natural vegetation which includes lowland semi-evergreen forests and montane forests, the Knuckles area records a very high and unique level of biodiversity. This includes 1,033 species of plants, with 15% of them being endemic, and 247 species of vertebrates, with over a quarter of them being endemic and threatened as per the IUCN Red List classification. It contains charismatic species such as the Knuckles pygmy lizard, Knuckles rock frog, leopards and elephants. 

Aside from holding a rich biodiversity, the Knuckles forest delivers a number of important ecosystem services — it constitutes 30% of the watershed forest of the Mahaweli river catchment, the largest river in Sri Lanka and is a major source of water for agriculture and power generation. Several tributaries of the Mahaweli river originate from the Knuckles forest, with the area serving as part of the upper and middle catchments of the river. The forest also plays a crucial role in regulating water quality and flow rate.

Despite its importance, vital areas of the Knuckles Region have become degraded due to human activities such as encroachment, illegal logging, land clearing, tea planting and cardamom cultivation. The area is also prone to natural disasters including climate-induced events.    

The project aims to conserve biodiversity, maintain watershed services and increase resilience to climate change for the benefit of local communities, agriculture and the local economy of both the Puwakpitiya mini-watershed and of the wider watershed area. Conservation and management of the watershed is expected to see an increase in biodiversity and ecosystem services such as watershed services, micro-climate regulation and carbon sequestration among many others, enhancing the potential for socio-economic and environmental benefits.

The project activities include collection of baseline data; awareness programmes targeting communities, officials and children; rehabilitation of Puwakpitiya watershed vegetation by introducing economically and ecologically important crops to home gardens; enhancement of facilities at the Illukumbura Forest Department Visitor Centre; introduction of sustainable sanitation and water management; and introduction of value addition and market linkages for village products. 


Objectives of the project:

  • Restore the Puwakpitiya Mini watershed in Knuckles Mountain Range
  • Increase the resilience to climate change and dependency of communities on the forest
  • Improve the facilities of Illukkumbura Forest Department Visitor Centre   

Expected Outputs:  

  • Restored Puwakpitiya Mini watershed  
  • Dependency of communities on the forest products reduced with tourism promoted as a conservation tool and sustainable livelihood option
  • Facilities of Illukkumbura Forest Department Visitor Centre improved    

Donors:  HSBC PLC through Sri Lanka Biodiversity of the Chamber of Commerce

Partners: Forest Department, Department of Export Agriculture and the Divisional Secretariat of Laggala-Pallegama.

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