The study area is one of the most diverse and productive ecosystems that provides economic, environmental and social benefits to the nation. The diverse habitats incorporated within the area include Dry-mixed Evergreen Forests, dry grasslands, abandoned chena lands that have created scrublands, home gardens and aquatic environments such as man-made made reservoirs (tank) and perennial waterways. Most of these ecosystems and their associated wildlife are faced with considerable threats from diverse increased human activities that are in need of urgent controlled measures. Prevention of further habitat degradation in wildlife Protected areas and controlling the demand for forestlands thus impose a legal, political, social and economic challenge to the authorities concerned, primarily due to inadequate collaboration and measures for effective community participation lacking at present. A primary objective of the research studies are thus, to focus on comparative eco-cultural studies to initiate an appropriate methodology for the sustainable use of natural resources by the traditional Dry Zone agricultural communities living in and around Protected Areas of the greater region.
The study area incorporates the environs of Sigiriya wildlife sanctuary and archaeological World Heritage Site and is situated in proximity to Minneriya-Giritale Nature Reserve and National Park . The selected area thus, has the potential to develop eco-cultural research studies and opportunities for community-based integrated natural resource management envisaged for the greater sustainability of its resources and benefit of both its human and non-human populations. The area concerned supports over 80% of the Dry Zone vertebrate fauna of which, most are considered to be nationally threatened owing to the loss or modification of habitats, in addition to containing almost over 60% of the Dry Zone flora. The invertebrate fauna found here is also one of the most important groups that has faced a direct threat from the extensive use of agricultural pesticides and fungicides.
The primary source of income of the local village communities is agriculture -- paddy cultivation. Introduction of wildlife conservation laws since 1990 have imposed restrictions on traditional farming practices i.e. seasonal chena cultivation, owing to the location of the chena lands within the Protected Area system. Other means of employment for males are mostly in the form of manual labour in the archaeological project and tourist establishments in and around Sigiriya. Over 300 local youth are also employed as helpers/site guides and in other tourism-related enterprises around the Sigiriya Rock complex -- the second most visited site in Sri Lanka. The role of the women in the area is mainly that of traditional housewife and includes child-care, domestic chores and assisting in chena cultivation, among numerous other responsibilities. As has been the traditional practice, women engage in gathering non-timber forest products such as edible plants, fuel wood, etc., while men gather bees honey and other forest products. Traditional enterprises involving the extraction of natural oils, such as mi (Madhuca longifolia) and certain handicraft productions that were obsolescent due to a lack of incentives and proper guidance, are being promoted. Neglect in the extraction of wild edible species and cultivation of mixed crops in home gardens is perceived having replaced by mono-cultural cash crops that have contributed to the alteration of the natural landscape of the area.