IFS Popham arboretum is forest managed by the Organization of Ruk Rakaganno (protectors of trees). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the definition of these two words is the ‘A place devoted to the cultivation and exhibition of the rare tree; a botanical tree-garden’. Popham arboretum is a classic example of forest regeneration in the island.
The forest is located in the heart of the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka; it is just less than an hour drive from Dambulla. IFS Popham arboretum is a forest of valuable hardwood species of the country. It has collection specimens such as ebony (Diospyros ebenum), satinwood (Chloroxylon swietenia), tamarind (Tamarindus indica), Ceylon oak (Diospyros chloroxylon), Jack tree (Artocarpus heterophyllus), Ironwood (Mesua nagassarium). This valuable forest provides a tranquil and peaceful surrounding amidst valuable tropical trees.
One can easily reach this forest along the wide road from the world heritage sites of Dambulla and Sigiriya. Cultural triangle of Sri Lanka is popular for the number of historical sites and natural wealth in the region is largely forgotten. It is very rarely one visit the important places such as IFS Popham arboretum or ironwood forest. The visitor centre of as IFS Popham arboretum was designed by the popular architect of Jeffrey Bawa, The internationally acclaimed Sri Lanka architect.
The entrance to this valuable site costs a fraction of the money that one spends for the entrance nearby cultural sites. Even though the cultural triangle attracts hundreds of thousands of people every month, very few people were visiting this valuable secondary forest. According to the information the trend is changed during the past few years, suggesting that people are becoming more enthusiastic about nature. With the illegal timber harvesting, some of the valuable hardwood species such as ebony has become extremely rare in the environment. But fortunately, places like IFS Popham arboretum come in handy to see the living specimen of these rare trees.
The forest harbours around seventy different species of trees. The forest has created a very attractive environment for a large number of animal species. It harbours many species of wild and rare creatures. It is inhabited by animals such as White spotted mouse-deer (Moshiola meeminna), dry zone slender loris (Loris tardigradus tardigradus), and Sri Lankan giant squirrel (Rtufa macroura). Red Jungle Fowl (Gallus gallus), Blue Tailed Bee Eater (Merops philippinus), and Grey Hornbill (Ocyceros birostrifs) are the most common birds here.
The area where it is situated in the dry zone was covered with thick jungle about 50 years back. But due to the demand for wood and expanding the human settlement, the forest cover was reduced to the thorn shrubs. IFS Popham arboretum was initiated by Sam Popham, a Second World War sailor and a tea planter. He was graduated from Cambridge, he was a nature lover and highly interested in the beautiful forests of Sri Lanka. He started to develop this secondary forest, as an experiment known as ‘Popham method’ in 1963.
The method he followed was simple but proved to be successful. The shrubs were removed in the initial stage and the forest was allowed to grow its own. But the saplings of trees were procured from the outside. The native species of trees grew well even in the dry weather prevailed in the area and needed minor supervision. Human intervention was needed only in a situation such as a wildfire or destruction caused by the animal such as cattle. It has developed to a fully grown secondary evergreen dry zone forest within a short period of time.
After about fifty years and all the hard work, Popham returned to his native country (England), due to ill health. His ecological treasure was handed over to IFS (Institute of Fundamental studies); it was further expanded under their supervision before handed over to the society of Ruk Rakaganno in 2005. According to the naturalist, it is very hard to find a collection of valuable trees like here and it is a very significant ecological achievement of Mr Popham.