The stillness across the lotus-studded waterway is enhanced by the sound of bird-calls, only shattered by the raucous cry of the kirala. While a few kiralas fly around in short bursts asking, ‘Did he do it’, many a colourful wader-bird can be seen in the marshy land looking for their breakfast, while overhead bright butterflies and moths hover.
It is only the muted sounds of car horns and traffic that indicate that a bustling city is nearby, not just any city but the administrative capital of Sri Jayewardenepura-Kotte in the heart of Colombo.
How many whizzing along the Beddagana-Ethul Kotte Road or even the Beddagana Road realize that bordering the Diyawanna Oya and nestling amidst Nippon Mawatha and a canal just off the Beddagana Road, behind the Football Federation lies a lush wetland--with some encroachments, however--not only a paradise for bird and butterfly lovers but also plant-admirers.
Fortunately, it has not bypassed the attention of the authorities and commendable moves are underway to set up a Bio-diversity Park and Bird Sanctuary at Beddagana.
There are about 70 acres of land located close to Parliament, abutting the Diyawanna Oya of high scenic beauty and biodiversity, the Sunday Times understands. Forty-six acres of this beauty-spot are to be developed as the Bio-diversity Park and Bird Sanctuary by the Urban Development Authority (UDA) in coordination with the Ministry of Environmental Affairs.
The land owned by the UDA has been gazetted as a wildlife conservation area by the Department of Wildlife Conservation due to its diverse and throbbing birdlife, a ministry official said.
Both resident and migrant birds frequent the area not only for feeding but also for nesting, it is understood.
Coming under the Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte Municipal Council, this section has also been identified as a flood retention area by the Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation. It is within the Wetland Protection Zone, another official said.The Bio-diversity Park and Bird Sanctuary are part of the Integrated Urban Development Project for the ‘Improvement, Management and Maintenance of UDA-owned flood retention areas around Parliament Lake’ designed to mitigate the negative impacts on the environment, it is learnt.
“There are natural water ponds with varieties of lilies, marshes with seasonally-flooding grasslands and scattered pockets of scrubs particularly wel-atha,” said the official.
A recent report by a group of naturalists, part of the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka, who have been haunting the area for many years clearly indicates the need to conserve this “rare urban site with extremely rich biodiversity”, while stressing that it is well-known as a rare migrant birding site by both local and international bird-watchers.
The resident birds use it also as a breeding site, said a naturalist, pointing out that it is of such variation and within Colombo itself that it is invaluable to young naturalists including schoolchildren and also researchers.
The already existing network of bund roads makes it an ideal location for the city-dweller to take a walk or just relax, she said.
And the birds sighted and their numbers leave no doubt about the need for the Bird Sanctuary…………Kentish Plovers, Pacific Golden Plovers, Yellow Bitterns, Grey Wag-Tails, Green Shanks, Black-wing Stilts, Bee-eaters, Swallows, Swifts, Whiskered Terns among migrants and Open Bills, Egrets, Purple Coots, Little Grebes, Crimson-fronted Barbets, White-throated Kingfishers, Greater Coucals, Brown Fish Owls, Ashy Priniyas, Jacanas, Shikras among residents.
The naturalists go a step further suggesting that the co-existence of a significant number of butterfly species and various wild flowers that line the pathways providing nectar are strong evidence that a butterfly park will be an added bonus.
The Tigers seen here are many and include the Plain, Glassy, Blue, Dark Blue, said the naturalist, adding that Grey Pansy, Chocolate Soldier, Leopard, Green Jay, Mottled Immigrant are among those spotted here.
Some of the issues that need to be sorted out, according to this naturalist group are further encroachments which could be curbed by a discreet green fence around the area except at specific entry points; the clear demarcation of a playground as children have been using some land in the area for recreation and also parking spaces adjacent to the road.
Not only should the area be a Biodiversity Park inclusive of a Bird and Butterfly Park, it can easily be declared a Heritage Park as well, considering the rich history of Kotte, explained bird specialist Prof. Sarath Kotagama.
Touring the area on Wednesday, the Sunday Times did spot many a rampart there.
The area can become a wetland park like those in Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong, he said.
For the people of Kotte it can be the green lung, added Prof. Kotagama.