We are absolutely gutted at the news that the Government has taken the decision to revoke Circular 05/2001, which protects 700,000 hectares of Sri Lankan forests. These lands have been handed to district and divisional secretariats for use for economic purposes. There are a few points that we would like to raise about this news: 1. “Economic purposes” – We recognize that the country is facing significant economic challenges at the present time, however decisions taken to address this need to have economic viability in both the short and long term. Removing such a large area of Sri Lanka’s remaining forest cover could have huge costs in future, e.g. through water scarcity and increased human-wildlife conflict. Striking the balance to find ways of developing sustainably are absolutely essential. 2. Chena – Supporting chena cultivation (where forests are cleared and burnt to leave fertile soil for agriculture) has been frequently cited as a reason for relaxing circular 05/2001. While this technique can of course result in productive crop cultivation, it has been found that while 33% of Sri Lanka’s land area was used for agriculture in 2017 only 12% of the total area was used productively and efficiently. This means there is a huge opportunity to support farmers to improve already functioning farms rather than clearing new lands. It would be fantastic to see more being done, both by Government and community groups, to prioritise addressing this opportunity first. 3. Ecologically sensitive – The Cabinet decision states that the transfer of land should ensure that areas that are identified as ecologically sensitive are protected. This is good to see, however we would like to call for greater clarity on the definition of “ecologically sensitive” and how this will be assessed and enforced. 4. We still care, a lot - You may remember that we ran a big campaign back in July to show the Government our support for protecting these precious forests. We received an incredible response and combined with the work of amazing environmentalists and groups all over the country, the public outcry was sufficient to cause the government to step back to reconsider their initial decision on Circular 05/2001. We want to stress that we still care about the forests just as much now as we did then and we hope that our opinions still matter.
To everyone who supported keeping this important piece of legislation, we encourage you to continue voicing your support for protecting Sri Lanka’s forests as loudly as you can. Share posts on social media and write to your local newspaper or MP. Decisions like this can set a worrying precedent for future threats to our forests and nature and so we must keep showing that we care about preserving our precious natural resources. Thank you and let’s keep going!! #westillcare #savethecircular