This component of the Central Highlands Serial World Heritage property covers part of Matale and Kandy districts divided from the rest of the Central Highlands by the deeply incised Dumbara Valley covering an area of 21,000 hectares. It was established as a Climatic reserve in 1873 and in the year 2000 it was established as a Conservation forest governed by The Department of Forest Conservation. The Central Highlands, including Knuckles Conservation Forest, was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Property in 2010.
UNESCO World Heritage Properties are nominated by relevant state parties because a particular country or a group of countries consider that property to have an outstanding value that reaches far beyond national significance. If the UNESCO agrees to accept these proposed values as of “Outstanding Universal Value”, they declare the particular property as a UNESCO World Heritage Property.
To date, Sri Lanka has 6 Cultural World Heritage Properties and two Natural World Heritage Properties. Out of these, Central Highlands including Peak Wilderness, Horton Plains and Knuckles Range has a unique feature of being a Serial Property. It makes management of this property more complicated than any of the other sites. Different components of this serial property come under different overall management due to its conservation status.
Knuckles Conservation Forest is important due to many aspects. It carries a significant historical value as an important environmental significance. The story of Knuckles (Dumbara Hill) goes back into prehistoric periods. It is said that in ancient times it was referred to as ‘Giri Divaina’ and as ‘Malaya Rata’. There is archaeological evidence that speaks of ancient Yaksha settlement in the area.
The most significant feature of this unique heritage site is that it provides a representation of microcosm of the entire variety of climatic conditions found in Sri Lanka from extremely wet to near arid. The upper reaches are described as cloud forests rich in colourful orchids, ferns and mosses. In between lowland and montane vegetation, on the lower slopes of the hills, tropical sub-montane humid semi-evergreen forests are found. Far drier slopes hold dry sub-montane evergreen rain forests. Luxuriant riverine forests are found along the banks of rivers and streams. Savannas with isolated trees scattered over vast expanse of grasslands can be found on hilly slopes.
This area is considered a super biodiversity hotspot. This forest holds a wide variety of Fauna. Most importantly it is a home to many endangered and endemic species. 247 vertebrate species have been recorded in this area of which 26% are endemic to Sri Lanka, including 14 birds and 9 fish species. More than a 100 of other resident and migrant bird species and mammals namely elephants, leopards, samburs, wild boar, spotted deer, barking deer, mouse deer and giant squirrel can be seen also total of 1033 flowering plants, belonging to 141 families has been recorded. Among them 255 are tree species, while the balance consists of shrubs and herbs. Of the total number of flowering plants species, 160 are endemic to Sri Lanka while, about 32% are nationally threatened. Though the Knuckles Forest Range covers less than 0.5% of the land area in Sri Lanka, it consists almost one-third of the island’s flowering plant species. There are more than 25 Orchids species in the forest range.
Though it is not a big National Park like Yala and Udawalawe, there are 31 species of mammals recorded in the Knuckles wilderness. Four of them are endemic and nine are nationally endangered. Some of the common species include Wild Buffalo, Wild boar, Black-naped Hare, Jackal, and Toque Macaque & Purple-faced Leaf Monkey (both these primates are endemic to Sri Lanka). Other mammals recorded include Leopard, Fishing cat, Sambur, Mouse Deer and Elephants.
The Knuckles forest region has a rich composition of birdlife and has recorded over 130 species of birds. Over 10 migrant species are also found here. Of the total recorded species 20 are nationally endangered. Some of the endemics seen here include the Yellow-eared Bulbul, the elusive Sri Lankan Whistling Thrush, Sri Lankan Spot-wing Thrush, Yellow-fronted Barbet, Jungle fowl, Sri Lankan Super fowl, Sri Lankan Wood Pigeon, Sri Lankan Green Pigeon, Sri Lankan Hanging Parrot, Layard’s Parakeets, Brown-capped Babbler, Crimson-backed Woodpecker, Sri Lankan Wood shrike, Sri Lankan Dull-blue Flycatcher, Sri Lankan Mynah, Bush Warbler and the Sri Lankan White-eye. Some of the migrants include Indian Pitta, Common Sandpiper, Gray & Forest Wagtails, Brown Shrike, Indian Blue Chat, Greenish Warbler, Large-billed Leaf Warbler, Brown-breasted Flycatcher, Asian Paradise Flycatchers and the endangered Kashmir Flycatcher.
The Knuckles is the main catchment area of Sri Lanka’s longest river Mahaweli. The Hulu Ganga, Kalu Ganga, Heen Ganga main catchment waterways of the Mahaweli River. In addition, Hasalaka Oya, Theligamu Oya, Heen Oya and Karambaketiya Oya also offer water for the Mahaweli River. These waterways dazzle in the morning sunlight, fascinatingly.
Knuckles is bordered by 77 villages, such as Dandeni Kumbura, Poththetawela, Kahagala, Dammanthenna, Divulgaspathana, Etenwala, Walasmulla, Rambukwewa, Udagala Debokka, Galamuduna, Pallegala Debokka, Meegahamada, Medakele, Meemure, Kaikawala, Gomare, Wadawala Kanda, Nellikele, Narangamuwa. These villages in and around the Dumbara forest region which form a unique bio- cultural landscape and 48% of the population depends mainly on agriculture.
Meemure, the most known village in the range is located by the Meemure Oya stream surrounded by a ring of mountains rising to the sky. Meemure is said to have been a place of exile in the Sinhala kings era.