In 1983, together with colleagues at the NeoSynthesis Research Center (NSRC), Dr. Ranil Senanayke, the originator of Analog Forestry, began testing its concepts on the ground at Belipola. At that time Belipola was an abandoned tea estate, with tall grasses, old tea bushes, few trees and mostly degraded soils. The Belipola estate presented a typical scenario for neglected and abused lands in the hill country of Sri Lanka. The challenge of a human-engineered forest with multiple ecosystem and human benefits was set to trail as a model that others could follow.
The intention was to create something that looked and acted like the long standing forest gardens in the punaragamas, using knowledge and concepts of systems ecology, keystone species, edge effects, emergent species, and creative design. With the help of a hard-working and dedicated team, the Belipola Arboretum was created and the concept of Analog Forestry was born. The NeoSyntehsis Research Center (NSRC) was subsequently created to run the site, and was the research station for Analog Forestry and Traditional Medicines of Sri Lanka. It was also established, as Dr. Ranil describes, to “identify and respond to the factors threatening the Life Support Systems of the Planet”.
In it’s first 20 years, Belipola was a hive of activity, as a training and research venue, to a living forest garden production site. As Analog Forestry concepts and practice began to spread to many other countries around the world, human activity at Belipola slowed down and almost ceased. NSRC also left Belipola and began to work in other parts of Sri Lanka, refining the techniques of Analog Forestry. So, people left, but the forest kept growing and thriving, and today over 60 species of birds, an array of mammals such barking deer, monkeys, wild boar, porcupine, mongoose and amphibians have also made their home here. In an area where the surrounding mountains have been virtually stripped of their native forests, and in once pristine watersheds we now see barren land and unsustainable land use (monoculture single age eucalyptus and pinus plantations, chemical intensive agriculture and slash and burn). The constructed wetlands at Belipola have raised the water tables and also filter and purify the streams that flow through the land. Seeing Belipola with all its colours and diversity today is like seeing a work of art that is so magical and full of the beauty. It is testament to the amazing healing capacity that humans are truly capable of creating.
In 2005, members of the NeoSynthesis Research Center moved on from work at Belipola and the land and all of its assets fell into neglect. Belipola was subsequently used by Rainforest Rescue International (RRI) and the International Analog Forestry Network (IAFN) as a training center for Analog Forestry. However, Belipola was not managed closely and many of its unique physical features are presently in need of care and attention (constructed wetlands, nurseries, organic agriculture garden, arboretum, trails and buildings). In addition, a site specific training curriculum has not been developed and therefore full utilization of Belipola’s teaching potential has not been realized.
In late 2012, Dr Ranil approached Trudy Juriansz and Sion Zivetz with a proposition to manage and input energy and direction for the Belipola estate. In May 2013, a proposal and budget was submitted to the IAFN for the development of a regional training center at Belipola. Sion was invited to act as the regional focal point for Analog Forestry and Trudy and Sion set out to create a vision and strategy to manage Belipola so that it could meet its fullest potential as a place for learning and further experimentation. In September 2013, the IAFN approved the budget request and work commenced once more at Belipola.
In 2013 Belipola has been active in the following areas:
Educational signage and materials development
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