January 2019


A Tale of Two Wetland Cities
January 2019




An aerial view of the Diyasaru Park extending across 24 hectares

Two cities, Colombo and London, connected via a direct SriLankan Airlines route, contain amazing examples of wetlands that can be found right in the heart of these iconic capitals. These important habitats are home to amazing wildlife but are also vitally important to maintaining the well being of residents who live and work in these cities. When most people think of wetlands they only think of natural landscapes in the countryside but more attention is being focused on the role these wetlands play as natural infrastructure within urban areas. Urban wetlands are one of the greatest gifts to mankind from nature. Despite often being situated in densely urbanized areas they can be the only remaining green patches left providing a wide range of services to the people living near them. Urban wetlands act as natural sponges retaining storm water and therefore controlling flooding. Studies have shown that without the wetlands in Colombo, average annual flood damage could result in losses equivalent of one per cent of Colombo's GDP (equivalent to about 0.5 per cent of the country GDP). Flood protection is just one of the essential free services that wetlands provide. They are also considered as the kidneys and lungs of nature because they purify polluted water generated by human activities, they clean the air by inhaling carbon dioxide and exhaling oxygen whilst also acting to cool the city providing temperatures ten degrees cooler than concreted areas. Hence, urban wetlands are the life of urban landscapes helping to keep the city alive.


Wetlands also serve as homes for some astonishing urban wildlife enhancing the aesthetic beauty of the city. In Colombo, one of the most endangered mammals in the world, the Fishing Cat, can be found, whilst in London, in some of the remaining wetlands, species such as the Eurasian Bittern can be seen. Unfortunately, people have not always recognised the value of these precious ecosystems and have often treated wetlands as wastelands or areas to develop. Development, unauthorised filling and pollution are the main pressures humans have put on these special places. Therefore it's vital to raise awareness of the significant role wetlands play in providing a sustainable future for our cities so the destruction doesn't continue.


Colombo is a city surrounded by an interconnected system of natural wetlands, and one of the few cities in the world which still has a comparatively large number of urban wetlands in its centre. These wetlands contain over 250 plant and almost 280 species of animals. However, even in Colombo the threats to wetlands continue with some parts of the city losing 60 per cent of their wetlands since the 1980s. Recently Colombo gained international recognition by receiving the Ramsar Wetland City Accreditation and becoming the first and only capital city to hold this title. This award has recognised how Colombo's wetlands improve the livability of the capital city of Sri Lanka by providing social and economic benefits to the city dwellers.


Unlike Colombo, London has lost many of its wetlands to development with large areas of the river and wetland system converted to culverts, running under the city. This occurred during the Victorian period when these areas were heavily polluted. Efforts are now taking place across London to bring these forgotten rivers and wetlands back to the surface to provide green spaces for public recreation and enjoyment. One of the most ambitious projects in recent times was the conversion of an abandoned concrete reservoir into the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust's London Wetland Centre at Barnes. This has seen the recreation of 42 hectares of wetland on the banks of the River Thames providing a haven for wildlife and an opportunity for people to enjoy the wetland area and learn about its importance at an impressive visitor centre with exhibitions, bird hides, trails and education facilities.

This article is a build up to the future collaborations between SriLankan Airlines’ Environment Compliance Unit and Wetland Management Division, Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation.


The Metro Colombo Region still has over 20km2 of wetlands so there is still time to protect these important areas and not go to the expense of trying to restore them. The Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation is the Government organisation, which is responsible for managing the urban wetlands in Colombo, particularly to reduce flooding. The corporation has initiated many projects to ensure the sustainable management of the wetlands and one of those is to develop a wetland park to enhance wetland education for students, the general public and tourists.


Extending across 24 hectares, the Diyasaru Park, is located near the Parliament in Sri Jayewardenepura, the administrative capital of Sri Lanka. This is one of the first urban wetland centres in the country and showcases a range of wetland habitats such as marshes, flooded woodland, lakes and ponds. The beautiful landscape and facilities provide various nature based learning experiences for visitors which includes, bird watching, guided walks, water and soil quality testing, butterfly watching, dragonfly watching, pond dipping, wetland animal and plant observation, ground water testing, boating in canals and a demonstration of organic farming. It provides an opportunity to learn about nature while enjoying and experiencing it. Special education programmes have been created for different types of groups ranging from kids to elderly people. The park conducts guided nature walks, special education programs, weekly and monthly kids programs and wetland workshops for the public. A small, well equipped ecology laboratory has been set up to encourage kids and students to conduct nature based learning and research.


Like the London Wetland Centre, even though Diyasaru is in an urban setting, it provides an opportunity for visitors to get close to nature forgetting traffic jams, city noise and the stress of city lifestyle. It also provides a wonderful experience for tourists who visit Colombo with over 80 different bird species, nearly 40 species of butterflies, more than 25 species of dragonflies having been recorded along with Fishing Cat, Otters and Estuarine Crocodiles. The park is located close to the city centre so visitors can easily experience the wonder of wetland wildlife. Diyasaru Park is the only place in Colombo providing boat rides through the lush vegetation while enjoying the urban wildlife. It also provides a venue to conduct meetings, photo shoots and other occasions for the ones who love to celebrate important events surrounded by nature.


If you are visiting London why not take a break and experience the award winning London Wetland Centre or if you are on your way to Colombo, take some time to visit the Diyasaru Park where the tranquility of nature can sooth your soul whilst you learn about how these wetlands are maintaining the well-being of our cities.


All images are copyrighted by WWT, Matthew Simpson, SLLRDC and Urban Fishing Cat Conservation project.

  • image01
    image01

    Capturing the minute details and observing wildlife within its elements at the Diyasaru Wetland Park

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    The endangered Fishing Cat

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    Children taking part in programmes that encourage nature based learning at the London Wetland Centre

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    The extensive Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust's (WWT) London Wetland Centre

    Prev Next