The natural and semi-natural areas of the tea estates belonging to the Dilmah Group function as important repositories of Sri Lanka’s biodiversity. Further, many of Sri Lanka’s endemic and threatened species have been recorded in these habitats. Some of the species have been recorded for the first time in these regions, which make these natural habitats very important for the overall conservation of Sri Lanka’s biodiversity. These estates can therefore contribute immensely to the long-term conservation of Sri Lanka’s biodiversity, improve their contribution as watersheds for important rivers, and have the opportunity to institute a model conservation programme that can be followed by other like-minded estates. As the first step, Dilmah Conservation worked with the Department of Zoology, University of Colombo and the IUCN Sri Lanka Country Office to carry out Biodiversity assessments of Dilmah’s tea gardens.
To further conservation efforts, Dilmah Conservation partnered with IUCN Sri Lanka to develop a management plan for the natural areas that lie within the tea estates, and improve the overall ecological integrity and watershed services of the properties. As part of this endeavor a few biodiversity assessments have been carried out on a number of selected tea estates and their management plans have been submitted to Dilmah Conservation for action.
Dilmah Conservation has thus entered into a long-term partnership with IUCN Sri Lanka to ensure the sustainable management of these estates with a view to protect and conserve the biodiversity and natural wealth.
- Ensure the preservation and conservation of Flora and Fauna within Dilmah tea gardens.
- Undertake further studies on the ecological integrity with a special focus on the habitats of endangered species and watershed functions of natural and semi natural areas – with the identification of critical areas for watershed management.
- Identify measures for maintaining and improving the ecological integrity of selected sensitive areas. This includes water and soil conservation measures, planting of trees as part of ecological restoration works, and measures for improving the habitat quality
- Development of habitat and watershed management programmes with the involvement of stakeholders, including the local communities and estate staff.
- Increase awareness of estate staff, plantation workers, local communities, local government and children of the area on the significance of this biodiversity.
- The IUCN will seek to develop management plans for the natural areas that lie within the Kahawatta Plantation estate premises (Rilhena, Opata and Hunuwela), to improve the overall ecological integrity and watershed services of the property. As a result, a five day field survey was carried out in early April 2012 by a biodiversity team from IUCN Sri Lanka (IUCNSL). A preliminary report based on the findings of the field visit was then prepared. This report recommends that further conservation action is taken to preserve the threatened biodiversity and watershed functions of the estate.
- Through these assessments, many endemic and endangered species living in these tea gardens were uncovered. According to the preliminary floristic survey, a total of 498 species belonging to 112 plant families were recorded within the Rilhena estate. Of them, 44 species are endemic to Sri Lanka and 6 are listed as threatened species. Further, the land area is mostly covered with anthropogenic habitats, a large number of weedy and exotic species were also observed. The faunal study showed 215 faunal species including 36 endemics and six proposed endemics. They include 16 species that are listed as nationally threatened – 4 Endangered and 12 Vulnerable species and a further 27 species that are listed as nationally Near Threatened (NT).
- Hunuwela is a significant repository of Sri Lanka’s biodiversity with 21 endemic and 15 nationally or globally threatened species and 214 faunal species including 37 endemics and 13 species that are listed as nationally threatened. Two species of globally-threatened dragonflies was identified at Hunuwela - Rivulet tiger (Gomphidia pearsoni) and Wijaya's scissortail (Microgomphus wijaya).
- Various activities have been carried out by IUCN Sri Lanka and Dilmah Conservation to protect these dragonflies and the surrounding biodiversity. These include habitat restoration, enhancement and management of watersheds, improvement of water flow in streams, as well as strengthening and enrichment of riparian and riverine vegetation. Furthermore, awareness raising programs were also conducted targeting key stakeholders including Hunuwela estate staff, local community, local government officials and school children. Various awareness materials were also created to be disseminated among stakeholders.
- The second phase of these conservation efforts have now begun. During the next couple of years, physical interventions will be carried out within the estate to enhance watersheds found within, including construction of check dams, retention ponds, and wetlands. Ecological restoration work will also take place through continued habitat restoration and the establishment of a plant nursery and planting work, as well as through improved connectivity between natural areas. Furthermore, long-term plans will be developed to establish riparian buffer zones. DC and IUCN Sri Lanka will also continue to carry out periodic collection of ecological data as well as regular awareness creation programs. Work is also underway to promote responsible tourism and recreational activities along with the establishment of an educational nature trail in order to minimize damage done by local and foreign tourists.
- Department of Zoology, University of Colombo
- International Union for Conservation of Nature, Sri Lanka