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Enchanting Horton Plains

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Author Topic: Enchanting Horton Plains  (Read 178 times)
indunil
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« on: October 17, 2010, 07:32:56 am »

Declared as a nature reserve on December 5, 1969 and later in March 1988 upgraded to a National Park under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance, Horton Plains and its forests were subjected to much discussion being affected by bio-pirates.

Spreading across over 3,169 hectares of land Horton Plains had been originally known as Mahaeliya and has been known as 'Elk Plain' in the colonial period. Mahaeliya was renamed as Horton Plains attributing credit to the British Governor of Sri Lanka Sir Robert Wilmot Horton (1831 - 1837).

Due to its unique biological and aesthetic value Governor Horton took steps to protect this plain following his visits. Though white shadows of the British rulers have long left our shores the names still remain.

"Contribution to the environment from the Horton Plains is immense being the catchment area of almost all Sri Lanka's major rivers," said Park Warden of the Horton Plains, G.U. Saranga. As he explained having the main hydro power plants with its reservoirs in close proximity of the plain proves its water retaining ability. Before the British destroyed the montane and cloud forests to cultivate tea, the Kings of Sri Lanka took special steps to protect these unique forest covers declaring it as King's protected land. Ancestors knew these cloud forests were the heart beat of the environment.

Located between northern latitudes 6 degrees, 47 minutes and 6 degrees and 50 minutes and in the Eastern hemisphere between 80 degrees 46 minutes and 80 degrees 51 minutes, Horton Plains is at 2,100 metres above sea level, nestled in the highest tableland of Sri Lanka in the southern end of the central mountain mass. The annual average rainfall of Horton Plains exceeds 5,000 mm as it rains almost everyday.

Horton Plains is affected both by the Southwest and Northeast monsoons. The area is 'dry' from January to March with an average temperature of 15 centigrade. Ground frost is common from December to January. Minimum recorded temperature is between 2 - 3 centigrade. Wet Patana (grasslands) are combined with the montane cloud forests in making this undulating plateau. The western slope of the Horton Plains National Park comprises most extensive breath taking montane cloud forests.

Isolated park
"This is an isolated national park," Saranga said. Which means it is not connected to a stretch of forests whereas other national parks are patches of regional forest cover. The 18,060 hectares of natural forest surrounding Horton Plains is a buffer zone to protect it from threatening human activities of border villages. The surrounding forests belongs to the Forest Department. Ohiya, Pattipola and Dayagama located closer to Horton Plains are situated over 11 kilometres from the park.

Horton Plains consists of four eco systems such as, Montane evergreen forests, grasslands, marshylands and its aquatic eco-system. The top soil of the plain has more humus as deterioration of organic material is less in the environment due to the low temperature. Thus the half deteriorated organic matter with lot of fibre mixed with soil acts as a sponge absorbing water rather than making it muddy and slippery. This specific marshyland feeds water mainly to Agara Oya, Bogawanthalawa Oya and Belihul Oya.

Agara Oya is one of the main tributaries of the Mahaweli River. Bogawanthalawa Oya begins from the Kelani River and Belihul Oya from Walawe River. Kirigalpottha and Totupolakanda Mountains, the second and the third highest mountains located within the same eco region, are the star grounds for some of the main rivers.

Before Horton Plains was a National Park, the Agricultural Department of the then Government commenced cultivating potatoes in these plains from 1950 to 1969. Parallel to this the Irrigation Department built a irrigation system which is known today as the Chimney Pond.

Fauna and flora
"In Horton Plains 50% of its species are endemic," Saranga said highlighting the importance of protecting its bio diversity. Including 'Binara' ('Exacum trinervium') with its distinct purple flower and 'Nellu' ('Strobilanthes sp.') with blue mauve coloured flowers and intoxicating seeds, 744 plant species are nestled in Horton Plains; 5% of plant species found here are endemic.

The endemic 'Keena' (Calophyllum walkari'), 'Syzygium rotundifolium', 'Syzygium sclerophyllum', 'Wal Kurundu' (Cinnamomum ovalifolium') and 'Polkatugaha' ('Actinodaphne speciosa') dominate the forest canopy which is approximately 20 metres in height. Rhododendrons (Maharathmal), commonly found in the plain, brings a sparkling beauty with its crimson red flowers.

The Drawf bamboo, smallest bamboo found in Sri Lanka, grows in marshy lands in the Horton Plains. Two invasive plants are common in Horton Plains introduced by the British. One is a tall thorny shrub with bright yellow flowers called European gorse and the other one a bright green fern named Warella. An Afri
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