The Hunuwella Estate in Rathnapura Sri Lanka is located within an important biodiversity hotpot. It’s currently thought to be home to 28 species of dragonfly of which 17 are endemic. Dragonflies are an important indicator of the quality of any environment. They are extremely sensitive to environmental threats, and their presence generally indicates that the area is pristine, and generally free of pollution and chemical contamination.
The natural and semi-natural areas of the tea estates offer refuges to not just dragonflies but many of Sri Lanka’s endemic and threatened flora and fauna. Therefore, these estates can contribute immensely to the long-term conservation of Sri Lanka’s biodiversity. Acknowledging this, Dilmah Conservation embarked on a long-term initiative to document and protect the biodiversity within its estates in Kahawatta Plantations.
As a first step in creating a replicable conservation programme Dilmah Conservation partnered with the University of Colombo and IUCN-Sri Lanka in 2012 to carry out a biodiversity assessment of Dilmah’s tea gardens. During this extensive survey two species of globally threatened dragonfly species (IUCN Red List 2012) were discovered at the Huwella Estate watershed in Rathnapura - the Rivulet Tiger (Gomphidia pearsoni), and Wijaya’s Scissortail (Microgomphus wijaya). More recent field studies identified two more species ofglobally critically endangered Odonate species- the Sri Lankan Lyrate Grappletail (Heliogomphus lyratus) and the Sri Lankan Nientner’s Grappletail (Heliogomphus neitneri)
Following this significant discovery, Dilmah Conservation entered into a long-term partnership with IUCN Sri Lanka to design and enforce a conservation plan at the Hunuwella estate. This project uses these two species of dragonflies on the brink of extinction as its flagship.
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- Conducting biodiversity assessments and creating a biodiversity inventory for the entire Hunuwela estate
- Monitoring estate habitat quality
- Guiding estate staff in maintaining and improving the ecological integrity of the estate
- Establishing riparian buffer zones
- Conducting hydrological assessments of the stream network
- Developing and enforcing habitat and watershed management programmes with the involvement of stakeholders, local communities and estate staff
- Preparing publications for outreach and awareness raising
- Conducting biodiversity awareness programmes for estate staff, plantation workers, local communities, and the local government
- Assessing the potential of the natural areas of Hunuwela estate for eco-tourism
- Field visits to the Hunuwella Estate by IUCN scientists in March 2015 discovered two more species of dragonfly which are listed on the IUCN Red List 2012 as globally critically endangered – the Sri Lanka Lyrate Grappletail (Heliogomphus lyratus) and the Sri Lankan Nietner’s Grappletail (Heliogomphus neitneri).
- Extensive awareness programmes have also been carried out for estate workers, which serve both their own safety, and the importance of protecting biodiversity.
- Six streams that flow across the Divisions 2 and 4 of the Hunuwela Estate (mainly through the Rubber plantations) have been identified as habitat restoration sites
- Faunal biodiversity monitoring results of the site recorded 130 faunal species including 50 endemics, were recorded during the monitoring period. Faunal diversity that existed within the site belonged to eight different taxonomic groups: dragonflies, butterflies, crabs, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals
- Maps were developed to illustrate the faunal diversity at sampling sites and occurrence of different types of animal species at sampling locations. Certain sites represented significantly higher numbers of endemic and threatened species.
- ‘Check dams’ have been erected at strategically situated sites on the streams, in order to slow the flow of water, make a series of cascading pools on each stream, and create a more suitable habitat for dragonflies to lay eggs. The check dams also serve to prevent soil erosion, which is a significant concern for the water quality of the estate.
- The extent of shade along the streams is being increased in stages, first by fast-growing species such as Glyricedia and Eramudu (Erythrina variegata) on 5-metre wide belts on the banks of the streams, and later by the introduction of endemic and forest species. These are being propagated in a special nursery on the estate.
- The pilot project entails the planting of 4,000 plants of more than 20 different endemic and forest species. Along some areas of the streams, the project aims to recreate swamp forests on lands which had earlier been converted to paddy cultivation. This is creating a habitat for dragonflies and also freshwater fish and crabs.
- A considerable amount of research has gone into the selection of trees and plants to grow alongside the streams, with forest species from the area itself being identified, so as not to disturb the balance of nature.
- The water quality of the streams is being monitored by the IUCN team and a team from the University of Sabaragamuwa for such aspects as pH, dissolved oxygen, electrical conductivity, temperature and total dissolved solids.
- Chemical-free buffer zones have been created in the proximity of the streams, to further enhance water quality and reduce chemical risks to both fauna and flora.