Sunday, March 29, 2009

Successful Step with New Udawalawa Community - by Mark Chappell

On Friday, I joined a number of the ECO-V team on the first field visit of my stay in Sri Lanka.

After a four hour mini-bus journey through some beautiful countryside, we arrived at a tank (a man-made reservoir created for irrigation) near to Embilipitiya, close to where ECO-V has been working with many communities.

This tank suffers from a familiar problem - the encroachment of invasive plant species. Specifically, non-native, fast-growing plants, such as water hyacinth (Eichornia crassipes) have colonised the bank - meaning that the effective surface area has been greatly reduced - which has an adverse effect on the tank’s spot-billed pelicans. Complete eradication of these introduced aliens would be almost impossible and, despite causing certain problems, the new plants provide some excellent habitat for other native animals.
Water hyacinth and invasive reeds have created a new “bank”. In the distance, the trees indicate the historic bank.

The changes are not so good for the local fishermen who rely on the tank for their livelihoods - the reduced surface area creating greater competition between fishermen. ECO-V had identified that this group are crucial allies for the protection of this wetland, so a careful period of approaches and informal discussions over many months had led to this hour-long meeting between ECO-V, the local fishing association, and a representative of the local waterways authority.
Under the cover of a shelter situated between the tank and the road, we sat on chairs (that had been brought on the back of a motorbike) in a circle.

It was fascinating to watch the meeting unfold. Bearing in mind that during the meeting I had no idea what was being said (it was conducted entirely in Sinhala), I watched as the fishermen and their families were encouraged to passionately share their experiences of the gradual deterioration of their fishing fortunes.

They were then told how, with ECO-V’s help, they can expand their utilisation of the tank. Through ECO-V’s contacts, they can learn to sustainably harvest some of the bank-side plants and develop ecotourism tours - making the most of the fantastic wildlife viewing opportunities. This diversification of income would make them less reliant on access to the fish.

I could tell that the meeting had been a success (even before the subsequent English summary) by the smiling faces of all involved. Expressions of thanks were given: despite knowing that things were wrong with the tank, the fishermen had previously felt powerless to act.

By developing a good relationship with the fishing community, any initiatives to control the invasive plants in the future hopefully will be supported. And through eco-tourism, the fortunes of these stakeholders will be dependent on the maintenance of high biodiversity around the tank, so this habitat should have a greater prospect of being maintained.

After the meeting, we were given a first-hand glimpse of this variety of wildlife as we were taken around the tank in fishing boats. We got close to a great variety of water birds, and you can see photos of many of these by clicking on the link to the Flickr photo stream on the right-hand side.
Pleased that the day had seen a successful step in the conservation of this wetland, we made the long trip back to Colombo - happy and exhausted.


Monday, March 23, 2009

Sri Lanka and ECO-V: A Volunteer's Perspective

My name is Mark Chappell, and I am visiting Sri Lanka from the UK for a couple of months, assisting ECO-V with a number of activities.

I will be writing a number of contributions to this blog during my time in Sri Lanka, offering a different perspective on ECO-V’s work and my impressions of the island. 

On Thursday morning I arrived shattered, but the friendliness, colour and bustle had me wide awake and desperate to take everything in. The assault on the senses has continued and I think it is fair to say that Sri Lanka has complete hold over me already. 

The ride from the airport almost didn’t last long enough - I was desperate to absorb my surroundings. However, I was glad that I didn’t have my driving licence with me - I’ll happily leave that fun to those who know the “rules” of the Sri Lankan roads.

The setting here at the ECO-V headquarters is superb. Not far from the activity of Colombo, yet surrounded by greenery and wildlife. Shortly after my arrival here I was able to spend a few hours on the balcony, watching the wildlife that spills over from the nearby nature reserve, and soaking up the sounds of insects, birds and frogs. 

Things started to happen from about 6pm - the sun was dropping quickly in the west, and birds started to head home to roost. This was great, but the best was yet to come. As it got darker, one, then a few, then hundreds of flying creatures appeared from the direction of Colombo city. Indian flying foxes (fruit bats) headed towards their feeding ground, and flew straight over my head. Thankfully, there were no falling guano incidents! It was a breathtaking sight.

The hospitality has been fantastic, the surroundings inspiring, the food delicious and I know that I will have a terrific and constructive stay in this amazing country.


Saturday, March 7, 2009

First field visit to the forest of Kalu Wandura

After having several visits to Forest department finally we got the permission for entering the forest to observe the Kalu Wandura. We are grateful to Professor Sarath Kotagama for his assistance in getting us the permission. Mr Yalegama the new RFO for Waga forest department office was very helpful in getting us an officer to guide us in the forest. So I made a visit to the forest with my team in searching Kalu Wandura. We only did able to see 3 individuals and heard several calls. However it was a very successful field visit as we got an idea about the forest habitat and saw many birds including a Three-toad kingfisher. Now the team members are visiting the forest daily to habituate the langurs before we start their feeding behavior.

Last week was very busy one for me as I was writing proposals, making progress reports and also getting ready for the annual exhibition (March 26-28) at Pelican Conservation Project. We also confirmed the dates for Kate Stork Memorial Training programme (From 1st – 4th of May) for “Friends of Pelicans”.

Former Deputy Education Manager of Durrell (Jersey Zoo) Mark Chappell will be visiting us as a volunteer to ECO-V on 19th March. He will be helping ECO-V in the exhibition, training programmes and also will be conducting a workshop for Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka.

ECO-V 8th anniversary

We proudly celebrated our 8th anniversary on the 7th of February 2009. However due to our busy schedules we had to wait until 1st of March to have our annual get-together. Last Sunday our members came to our office to participate in the annual “Thiresi Hamuwa”. Participants included Kalu Wandura Conservation project team, the Pelican Conservation project members and some of our pioneer members who formed External Action Committee of ECO-V seven years back. Harsha presented the progress of the Pelican project while Devaka briefed the Kalu Wandura project activities to the general membership who were present .I too presented the activities and achievement for past eight years and discussed the future activities of ECO-V including volunteers role in ECO-V. All were served with traditional sweets and tea after the meeting.Finally Ramyanath conducted a short guided tour to identify the wild flowers of Sri Lanka. This was highly appreciated by the members as it was a new experience for them. Everybody enjoyed the view of the Bird sanctuary while having tea on the top floor of our home.