Giving green shades | Daily News

Giving green shades

Dig in a shovel, plant a sapling and pose for a photograph. For ‘go green’ campaigners who pride themselves on planting saplings on special occasions, it would do well to remember that the act is not the end. It is the beginning of an environmental effort which needs to be continued to create a better living for all beings.

Planting a sapling is no accomplishment. However a group of youth has taken this factor to new heights by consistently engaging in tree planting sprees across the island. Titled Reforest Sri Lanka, the project was initiated in 2015 when Reforest Sri Lanka president Achala Meddegama was reading for his MBA in IT at Moratuwa University. He had to do a CSR project as a part of his degree. Achala decided on engaging in a reforesting campaign due to his passion for going green.

“I have seen that the Hanthana forest range catches fire easily most nights. This causes a lot of environmental damages. Eight of us got together and worked towards planting saplings as well as tending and nurturing them into trees,” said Achala tracing the roots of Reforest Sri Lanka.

Though the course work ended the team decided to continue with their good work because they realized that no one is tackling the issue properly. Even government bodies like the Forest Department have refused to touch upon this topic giving the excuse that it is a difficult task.

“We took a different and more intimate approach and appealed to the citizens for help. We put up notices on our website and on Facebook asking for volunteers to join us. In the early days we had about three or four meetings without anyone turning up! The awareness process was slow but we were gradually able to kindle their interest,” Achala explained.

Reforest Sri Lanka has planted around 27, 000 saplings in 11 months and gotten around 2, 500 people involved in their projects. Achala adds that their initial target was to plant 84, 000 trees a year. They aimed to plant 2000 saplings in Kottawa Forest Reserve in Galle in their first project. However the team could only to plant 1000 saplings in two days.

“Planting the saplings took much more time than we expected. The plants are very fragile so they have to be handled with care. Our aim is not to reforest the entire country. That is impossible against the destruction that is being caused daily. Around 400, 000 trees have been cut down at Wilpattu National Park. We plant about a 1000 trees per hectare. The number we have planted so far seem insignificant compared with this amount but when we embark on such projects around the country we have noticed that the government mechanisms too have started to take note and are motivated to perform their duties more efficiently,” Achala said adding that while awareness on sapling plantation is high, the know-how on doing it the right way is lacking.

A two-year study, published in Nature in 2015, found that the Earth has three trillion trees - seven times the number of previous estimates. The study found that the number of trees on the planet since the dawn of agriculture 12,000 years ago has fallen by almost half - and that about 10 billion trees are lost every year.

Planting 1000 saplings at Basawakkulama

“Anyone who is acting against the environment has a hard time answering to us when we go and question them about matters. Those who wish to enforce the law to stop destruction too are motivated to tackle issues. We have gotten school children involved as well to nurture future leaders to take the projects forward. It is a time consuming, mammoth task which demands a lot of effort but we are determined to achieve our goal,” he said adding that they take pride in the social awareness and positive outlook they have generated so far.

In a bid to increase green cover they have planted many saplings around schools in areas like Anuradhapura and the Western province. They will be having a project at Christ Church College, Matale, to coincide with the World Environment Day on June 5. They have donated saplings to the Ruhunu University’s Management Faculty recently.

Kottawa Forest Reserve project

Speaking about the methods that they have used to get the public engaged, Anuradhapura and Colombo Regional Coordinator Madhura Somaweera said that they have made plans to donate a text book for every two plants that children will be handing over to them.

“They can raise a plant at home by planting them in something like a milk packet and hand them over to us. This would be especially beneficial for low income families. These book covers and inner pages will include customized information about the environment and planting trees,” said Madhura.

Achala notes that the plants that they recommend to rear saplings need to be endemic to the country. Mee, Kumbuk, Gammalu, Karanda, Kaluwara, Kalumediriya, Veera, Hora, Madam etc are the types that they recommend for reforestation.

Planting 500 and donating 500 Jak saplings in Welioya with the Sri Lankan Army

“We have also planted about 3000 Jak trees. Around 2000 of them were donated at Padaviya,” he said adding that many renowned cooperate sponsors have joined hands with them on their projects.

Anshulam Kumarage, Nilushi Weerakoon, Nishantha Bandara, Madhura Rasanjaya, Malintha Nanayakka and Vinod Khanna are some of the members who are actively involved in their projects.

Achala says that there are many campaigns launched to plant trees and to preserve mother nature. However he and his team are skeptical about such projects. They know how difficult it is to plant a sapling as well as preserve it from destruction through experience.

“Though we are all employed we set aside our weekends for this work. All our members are volunteers so they do everything wholeheartedly. We never ask for the ownership of the plants or land. We offer our labour, support and the plants free of charge. We only plant on state owned lands, temples, schools and reservations,” he said.

He notes that the team keeps tabs on the plants they plant through a mobile app that has been developed by the students of Moratuwa University. They also visit the locations at least once a year. They expect at least 50 percent of the saplings that they have planted to survive after caring for them for at least three years.

“We also target the rainy seasons around the country to plant saplings especially if it is an area which is difficult to monitor. We are hoping to plant saplings in Mahamevnawa Park in Anuradhapura soon. We are planning to put water bottles with holes on the side so that the water will slowly irrigate the plants during this scorching weather. One significant thing about the Reforest Sri Lanka campaign is that whenever we plant saplings, it always rains within the next few days,” he added with a smile.

The team has planted some of the smaller trees in Viharamaha Devi Park, Colombo, as well. They have donated 131 Mee and Kumbuk trees on the Vesak period of 2016. All these projects are funded by nature lovers who have donated funds to an account at Sampath Bank. A plant costs between Rs 25 to Rs 75. On average the cost is less than Rs 50. They buy the saplings from the Forest Department nurseries as well as from the lowest cost highest quality private suppliers. They are already aiding people to maintain home nurseries. One factor they need to consider is the type of plant that is suitable for the area that they are hoping to plant them in.

“Don’t think you can live in this planet alone. We need every plant and animal to maintain the cycle of living. We plan to keep on planting trees whenever we can. We feel good about ourselves and feel that we are doing our bit as responsible citizens to protect mother earth,” Achala said adding that cultivating empathy with the environment is what human beings can capitalize on to save the planet.

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