On 10 February 2012, the State Party submitted a report on the state of conservation of the property, providing information on the property’s management, the status of threats previously identified, and actions taken to address these threats. In response to the Committee’s request in its decisions 34 COM 8B.9 and 35 COM 7B.18, the State Party also provided copies of the management framework for the serial property, as well as the management plans for each of its three components: Horton Plains National Park (HPNP), Peak Wilderness Protected Area (PWPA), and Knuckles Conservation Forest (KCF).
a) Management framework, including a management and monitoring framework for tourism
The State Party notes that an overall management framework for the serial property and three different management plans for its components were prepared in collaboration with key stakeholders. The component management plans contain a set of prescriptions for each of the management objectives, including for ecotourism. The high number of annual visitors to the property, and particularly HPNP and PWPA, is noted as the cause of the main environmental problems in these component parts of the property, including improper garbage disposal, pollution and disturbance from vehicles. The State Party notes that new visitor management plans are being prepared for each component, on the basis of the prescriptions included in their current management plans. The State Party also notes that each year a committee consisting of government and non-government members prepares an action plan to prevent and mitigate the environmental impact of the pilgrimage season in PWPA.
The overall management framework for the serial property includes provisions for coordination between the two government institutions that manage the property (the Forest Department and the Department of Wildlife Conservation), as well as for stakeholder involvement. In relation to community engagement as an essential requirement of the approach to management identified by the Committee at its 34th session (Brasilia, 2010), the State Party provides details of the cooperation between the Forest Department and 32 Community Based Organizations (CBOs) operating in buffer zone villages of KCF, and the implementation of community forestry and awareness raising programmes in PWPA.
IUCN has received reports that inadequate staff capacity and funding are limiting the effective implementation of the new management plans.
b) Boundaries and buffer zones
The State Party notes that the status of buffer zones is different for the three components of the property. It reports that every national park, including HPNP, has a legally defined buffer zone with a width of 1.6 kilometers where all development activities are regulated according to provisions of the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance. In case of PWPA, the buffer zone is protected through the Soil Conservation Act, and partially overlaps with tea estates and reserve forests. The buffer zone of KCF is protected, in its entirety, through the Soil Conservation Act and partly through the National Environmental Act. The State Party provides maps of the buffer zones of all three components of the property, included in the respective management plans.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN recall that in its evaluation of the property, IUCN had identified the need for better delineation in the field of the entire boundary of the three components of the property. The State Party does not provide any details on progress achieved in that respect. However, IUCN has received reports that the boundaries are well defined for HPNP and KCF, but that inadequate boundary demarcation of PWPA is hampering protection and conservation. Reports received by IUCN indicate that, although buffer zones are established for all components of the property, law enforcement is not fully effective in stopping illegal activities within the buffer zones, including poaching, small scale illegal logging, and land clearing. They consider that clear boundary demarcation to identify the private lands that fall within the boundaries would be an important step towards stopping illegal expansion of these lands and new land clearing.
c) Other conservation issues – invasive species, forest dieback, illegal gemming, cardamom cultivation, and infrastructure development
The State Party provides information on the current status of threats identified at the time of the property’s inscription, as well as new threats identified since. It notes that these threats are addressed in the new management plans and that they will be monitored over the next five years.
The State Party reports that a number of invasive plant and animal species have been identified in the property, which could have a significant impact on its Outstanding Universal Value. The State Party lists nine invasive plant species, of which Ulex europaeus (in HPNP) and Lantana camara (in KCF) are noted as the most problematic. Removal of Ulex europaeus has been completed in 22 of 30 hectares of HPNP identified for clearing. Removal of invasive species in KCF is ongoing and planned for 80 hectares in 2012, and stated to continue until all identified areas have been cleared.
The State Party notes that the phenomenon of forest dieback, which was first observed in HPNP in 1946, is believed to be caused by a fungus, and 22 plant species are reported to be affected. A number of factors have been identified as contributing to plant vulnerability to fungal attacks, including water deficit and strong winds. A solution to the problem has not yet been identified and further research is needed.
The State Party reports that the Forest Department and the Department of Wildlife Conservation have adopted strict measures against the illegal gemming that has been reported to take place in parts of PWPA, and that this illegal activity is now being effectively controlled.
The State Party also reports that 400 hectares of KCF have been affected by illegal cardamom cultivation underneath the forest canopy. Legal cardamom cultivation had taken place in the area since the 1960s, but since the area’s declaration as a Conservation Forest in 2000, resident cultivators were moved out and no new cultivation has occurred. The current illegal cardamom cultivation is limited to the maintenance of abandoned crops. Legal action has been taken against 57 people, of which 11 have been ejected from the property on court orders in 2011. Court cases against the remaining 46 are ongoing. The State Party notes that law enforcement officers are permanently stationed in the area to prevent illegal maintenance of abandoned crops, and the area is left to natural regeneration.
The State Party states that recent media articles about hotel construction and the establishment of mini-hydropower stations within KCF are not correct. It notes that there is one mini-hydropower station just 1.5 kilometers outside KCF boundaries, but that this station does not affect the property as the water source is found outside its boundaries, and the water does not flow back into the property after power generation. It adds that a payment for environmental services arrangement with a large irrigation project downstream helps cover management costs.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that there is a need to strengthen invasive species control measures to effectively address this problem. These reports also note that climate change may be a factor contributing to forest dieback.