Gola Rainforest National Park

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The Gola Rainforest is one of the largest remnants of the Upper Guinean Tropical Rainforest. It is the largest remnant in Sierra Leone where over 330 bird species have been recorded, 14 of which face global risk of extinction, including the endangered Rufous Fishing-owl (Scotopella ussheri) and Gola malimbe (Malimbus ballmanni). Of global conservation concern and no doubt the most emblematic there is the white-necked Picathartes (Picathartes gymnocephalus). These species are only a few of those that drove the international recognition of this area as a global biodiversity hotspot, requiring upmost effort and attention from the conservation community. For the last century, unsustainable activities such as agricultural expansion, mining and timber have been serious threats to Gola’s biodiversity but also to the local communities relying on the forest for their livelihoods. Sierra Leone is ranked as the 10th poorest country worldwide (2012) and the estimated 140,000 people living in Gola’s immediate surroundings could well be considered as the “poorest of the poor”.

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The Birth of the National Park

The area that is today’s national park was originally designated in the 1920’s as the Gola Forest Reserves for the purpose of commercial timber extraction. Commercial logging arose as early as the 1930s though the highest pressure from timber peaked in the 1980s.

A rapid biodiversity survey was carried out in 1989 which indicated the importance and the unique value of this site, as well as the enormous threats that it faced, but also the great opportunities to protect the forest. This then resulted in a partnership agreement in 1990 between the Forestry Division, The Conservation Society of Sierra Leone (Local Birdlife Partner) and the RSPB (Birdlife in the UK) to conserve this area by developing a management plan, maintaining the forest boundaries and to run an environmental education programme.

Since 1990 the partners and the local communities have collaborated in a robust partnership to protect the Gola Forest and with the return of peace to Sierra Leone in 2002 the ambition and scale of the Gola Forest Programme (GFP) grew greatly. The Gola Forest is now a national park officially launched in December 2011 by H.E President Koroma,Sierra Leone’s second only national park, often referred to as the ‘green diamond of the nation’. The Gola Forest Programme hence changed its name since to the Gola Rainforest National Park. The GFP/GRNP programme was subject to a large programme funded by many international Donors, most notably the EU, FFEM, GCF and the Darwin Initiative.

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The GRNP has now entered a new phase as it is currently finalising a REDD project for the Gola Rainforest National Park in consultation with local communities and other stakeholder groups.

The project will seek to sell credits validated by the Verified Carbon Standards (VCS) and validated by the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance (CCBA) – two recognized international standards of best practice to provide a stream of sustainable revenue sufficient to significantly reduce emissions from unplanned deforestation activities. We anticipate these validations in mid-2013.The project will use the revenues from the sale of credits to: i) improve the conservation strategy and effective management of the GRNP, ii) enable sustainable resource management in the National Park and nearby surrounding area (referred to as the project zone) through livelihood improvement activities with communities living adjacent to the National Park (known as Forest Edge Communities, iii) develop a monitoring program that provides robust information to underpin management decisions and a research program that allows Gola to become a recognized international centre of excellence iv) build conservation funds that will provide a means of ensuring conservation actions last beyond the 30-year lifetime of the GRNP REDD project.

The GRNP REDD project is being developed by the GRNP partners which coprise of the Forestry Division of the Government of Sierra Leone, the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone (CSSL) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) with the full involvement of local communities.

The GRNP Partners are aware of a UK company that may be developing a REDD project in the Gola area. This company is unrelated to the GRNP project and none of the GRNP partners have had any involvement in their project.