Forests of Hope site - Gola Rainforest National Park, Sierra Leone

A river in Gola Forest, RSPB photos
A river in Gola Forest, RSPB photos


Site name: Gola Rainforest National Park

Country: Sierra Leone

Location: Kailahun, Kenema and Pujehun Districts, SE Sierra Leone

Site area: Over 70,000 ha National Park, and its surroundings

Partners: Conservation Society of Sierra Leone (national partner); working in Partnership with RSPB (BirdLife in UK) and the Forestry Division of the Government of Sierra Leone,

This site is part of a block of forests that extends into Liberia, with significant and coordinated activity by the BirdLife Partnership in both countries. For more information on  Gola Forest region in Sierra Leone visit


Values of the site

The project area covers a 110 km stretch of land within seven Gola Forest chiefdoms. The importance of these forests as a timber reserve has been recognised for over 100 years, with Forest Reserves first declared in 1926–1930 and extended in the 1950s to over 70,000 hectares. The Gola Forest is a remnant of the Upper Guinea Forest of West Africa, one of the 25 biodiversity hotspots identified by Conservation International, and a major Endemic Bird Area.

Gola is home to over 330 bird species, and is one of the few areas that holds an almost complete selection of the endemic birds of the Upper Guinea Forests, including several bird species of conservation concern. It is one of the last strongholds for the Endangered Gola Malimbe Malimbus ballmanni, whose numbers have dwindled to an estimated 6,000–15,000 individuals, and is also important for the Vulnerable (and extraordinary) White-necked Picathartes Picathartes gymnocephalus and White-breasted Guineafowl Agelastes meleagrides.

The mammal fauna is also impressive: at least 50 species with a highly threatened megafauna. Endangered or Vulnerable species include Forest Elephant Loxodonta (africana) cyclotis, Pygmy Hippopotamus Choeropsis liberiensis, Western Chimpanzee Pan troglodytes verus, Jentink’s Duiker Cephalophus jentinki, Zebra Duiker Cephalophus zebra, Liberian Mongoose Liberiictis kuhni, Diana Monkey Cercopithecus diana, Sooty Mangabey Cercocebus atys and West African Red Colobus Procolobus badius.

There is much to learn about the forests’ invertebrate biodiversity, though around 600 species of butterfly occur, and the forest is known to contain around 1,000 plant species.

Local people have traditionally accessed the reserves to farm, hunt and extract timber to supplement the livelihood activities carried out around their villages.  Non-timber forest products not available in community lands such as fruits, nuts, traditional medicines and building materials are important to the local, subsistence-dominated economy. Other forest ecosystem services such as water provision, the regulation of local climate and carbon storage/sequestration are important both globally and locally,

A forest guard looks at a sign left by a poacher, RSPB photo


Key threats, past and present, to the site are:

  •          Shifting agriculture, driven by increasing population pressure and scarcity of alternative fertile lands
  •          Logging, both small- and large-scale; large-scale logging has been a major threat but should be excluded by the National Park designation
  •          Bushmeat hunting
  •          Forest fragmentation: the forest is no longer a single block
  •          Diamond and gold mining; no confirmed deposits, but clear potential based on known deposits nearby


Historical conservation approach

The Programme began in 1990, when the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone and the Forestry Division of the Government of Sierra Leone decided that Gola Forest needed greater conservation attention. This was boosted when a wildlife survey in 1989 showed that the forest was still a stronghold for a large array of fauna and flora; RSPB then became an international partner and supporter of CSSL and the Forestry Division.

Initial programmes were focused on education, forest boundary marking and management planning but were interrupted by civil war. After the return of peace to Sierra Leone in 2002, agreements were made between the partners and local Chiefdoms to begin conservation work on the ground. Initial activities were funded through grants from donors but such funding has been increasingly difficult to find and resulted in the programme searching for alternative means.


New conservation approach

The Gola Rainforest National Park Programme is currently developing a REDD project in consultation with local communities and other stakeholders. This project is being developed by the collaborating partners with the full involvement of local communities and aims to be validated under the Verified Carbon Standards and the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance standards.

The project will use the funds obtained from the sale of credits to improve management of the National Park, support sustainable resource management through livelihood improvement activities with local communities, develop monitoring and research programmes and develop longer-term conservation funding sources.

Additionally, with the recent process towards National Park creation in the forest in adjacent Liberia, the opportunity exists to create a unique transboundary Peace Park covering over 2,000 km², providing important additional collaborative opportunities between the two neighbouring countries for promoting conservation and sustainable management across the politically divided ecosystems; this programme is described The significant progress made in the development of the REDD project in Sierra Leone may also serve as a model for forest conservation in Liberia.

The programme in Sierra Leone has been funded by many international donors, most notably the European Union, Fonds Français pour l’Environnement Mondial, Global Conservation Fund and UK Government Darwin Initiative. 

For more information about this site, please contact   

Read more about Forests of Hope Programme