Forest Department was started as the Office of the Conservator of Forests in 1887 denoting the commencement of forest conservation and scientific forestry in Sri Lanka. The first Forest Ordinance of Sri Lanka was passed in 1885. On 25th June 1887, British official, R. Thompson, a technical man from the British Indian Forest Service took charge of Forestry Activities as the first Conservator of Forests of Ceylon. Mr. Thompson was a senior Forester with wide tropical experience and at the start his role was that of an adviser to the Government Agents.
Creation of this post was a succeeding of the efforts of F.D.A. Vincent of the Indian Forest Service who was commissioned to provide recommendations on forestry in Ceylon. Joseph Hooker, head of the Kew Gardens, Dr. Thwaites, Superintendent of the Botanical Garden at Peradeniya and Governor Gregory (1872-77) also contributed to that.
According to available records in the Blue Book of 1881, the forest cover of Ceylon was 84 % of the land area of the country at that time. Sole administration of the forests was under the Conservator of Forests only from 1899 with the creation of the Forest Department. The island was divided in to the six forestry working circles.
Both forest and wildlife management was carried out by the Forest Department until the establishment of Department of Wildlife Conservation in 1949. Today about 55% of the forest lands of the country falls under the purview of the Forest Department while the balance forest area is primarily managed by the Department of Wildlife Conservation with an exception of very small extents of isolated forest patches under the purview of other state agencies and private ownership. Forest Department also manages ninety thousand hectares of forest plantations