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Let's protect our flora

 The tree planting month began on October 15th and there's no better time for us to think about the importance of trees and plants in the lives of everyone because throughout the years trees have become an important and inseparable part and parcel of the lives of all human beings as well as animals irrespective of whatever country or climate they live in.

"I am the heat of your hearth during the cold winter nights.

I am the friendly shade which you find when you walk in the sun,

My fruit quenches your thirst on the road,

I am the table in your house,

The bed on which you repose, the wood of your beat,

I am the handle of your spade, the door of your dwelling,

The wood of your cradle and your coffin,

You who pass; hear me well, do me no harm."

As a part of an islandwide campaign to conserve forests and trees it is really encouraging that the State has selected this month to spread the noble message of the advantages of preserving trees and the need to grow more and more trees throughout the country specially by creating an awareness among the younger generation about the great value of growing and preserving trees.

It cannot be denied that Sri Lanka is fast acquiring desert conditions due to the wanton destruction of our trees. When we travel on the highways of Sri Lanka the huge heaps of logs piled near timber depots, to be taken for sawing later, reminds us how fast we are destroying the work of nature by cutting down trees for the service of man. During some religious and cultural festivities many lovable trees such as arecanut and bamboo are completely destroyed to put up pandals and to serve decorative purposes. However, no one takes care to plant other trees to replace them. This is the very case with all other kinds of trees that are ruthlessly cut down to satisfy our economic and other needs.

Drawing schoolchildren and teachers into the programme to grow more and more trees in this predominantly agricultural country is a very thoughtful suggestion as schools are the most suitable institutions that could bring a change in the nation's attitude towards this all important aspect of conserving trees. In addition through the network of the nation's schools the ideas and attitudes of parents and elders about the important role of flora in our lives could be increased to a very great extent.

As living close to nature and drawing inspiration from trees and plants have formed an intrinsic part of our heritage we must bring back our children to live in harmony with nature. The nation's children should be made to be aware of the adversities of the wanton destruction of trees and the great benefits that can be derived by the conservation of trees and plants.

The all important role trees play in controlling the climate, soil and other water resources and the disastrous effects of cutting them down is well known. Trees, whether they are timber trees in our majestic forests or shade and ornamental trees in our cities, highways and home-gardens are a national asset.

Once any tree is destroyed there is no other force which could replace immediately the enormous damage that is caused. Even a tree which has taken a number of years to grow up to its full stature could be completely destroyed within a short period of time but the loss is irreparable.

Imagine a forest without trees-what would happen to the flora and fauna that live under the cover of its trees. We must remember that more than half of the population of the endemic plants in Sri Lanka will disappear for ever from the face of the earth once their host trees are destroyed. In addition to the current tree planting campaign we must also take every action to preserve the existing trees, be they large or small, of economic importance or not. Trees are like human beings.

Their environment affects their size, longevity, rate of growth and even their usefulness. In the human society we have psychologists to deal with those who go out of tune with their Environment. The problems we humanbeings face are creations by us but the numerous problems that trees and plants are faced with are not their own creations. They have been created for them by man and animals. Thus as much as in the human personality there are aberrations in the plant world too.

It is unique that at least occasionally we pay attention to plants and their value to man and the tree planting month should provide us, specially the schoolchildren of the country, with a golden opportunity to enlighten themselves about the fantastic world of trees and how we as intelligent humanbeings could enrich our environment with the help of trees.

Sri Lanka has undergone a drastic climatic change during the last few years. We have cleared forests and destroyed them in regions where their presence would have been an asset to the well-being of the country. Due to the indiscriminate felling of trees periodic drought conditions are becoming more and more severe thus affecting the economic and living conditions of all of us.

During the historic past the wise rulers of Sri Lanka left mountain ranges and river banks enforested and thereby ensured an uninterrupted rainfall. The ancient people of Sri Lanka knew the value of trees and planted them by roadways and in forest reserves.

This added to the natural beauty and the coolness of the environment. In those days it was considered a great sin to cut down any live tree and those who did so were severely punished, even with death depending on the value of the tree. Those who harmed the royal forests of the kings were either banned or their hands were mutilated. Today squatters, chena cultivators and illicit timber fallers are plundering the country's flora. There is no doubt that man's interest must predominate but the indiscriminate extension of agriculture will have a detrimental effect on our society at large.

Forests play a great role in a nation's economy and climate and they contribute immensely towards its scenic grandeur. When trees are cut down springs dry up. the soil gets eroded and the air becomes less humid. Thus the entire balance of nature is upset. When we destroy forests, droughts, unfavourable climatic changes, soil erosion, lack of water resources and even disastrous floods are the results.

The protection of our trees is no folly and the public, specially the younger generation, must be made to realise the value and usefulness of trees which form a sound foundation for the economic, cultural and social development of the entire country. During the tree planting month when a fresh awareness is being created among the public to grow more and more trees we should also take action to continue this noble action throughout our lives and specially the younger generation should be encouraged to engage themselves in gardening as both a means of relaxation and as a gainful hobby.

Gardening as a hobby has only a few equals and the pleasure and satisfaction that could be derived from it is very great. Even poets and writers have expressed the feelings of humility, reverence, awe and worship that they have experienced in the serene atmosphere of a well-tended garden.

The value derived in the communion of trees and in engaging in gardening cannot be measured in terms of money. Let us hope that with the tree planting month and activities connected with it the public will become interested in growing more and more trees and would become better enlightened about the usefulness of trees to all mankind.

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