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How a ma­jor con­ser­va­tion pro­gramme in Africa will im­pact on our birds

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents -

PRO­TECT­ING THE LIBERIAN rain­for­est hasn’t ex­actly been a walk in the park, but for Nicolas Tubbs, trop­i­cal for­est con­ser­va­tion man­ager for the RSPB, per­se­ver­ance and pa­tience have fi­nally paid off. Work­ing in part­ner­ship with the So­ci­ety for the Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture Liberia, Nicolas and his RSPB team have over­seen the trans­for­ma­tion of the Gola Na­tional For­est re­serve into a new, fully-fledged Na­tional Park. “We’ve been work­ing on it for the best part of 26 years now,” says Nicolas, who has just re­turned to the UK from his lat­est trip to Africa. The process has at times, he says, been ‘chal­leng­ing’. “It gets con­fus­ing some­times”, he says, speak­ing of the trans­bound­ary na­ture of the Up­per Guinea For­est. “The for­est sits on both sides of the border, so there are pieces of the puzzle in Liberia, and other pieces in Sierra Leone. There are about 350,000 hectares of for­est, all of it ab­so­lutely amaz­ing for bio­di­ver­sity.” It’s that bio­di­ver­sity that makes the area so valu­able; more than 300 species of bird call the new Na­tional Park home, along with in ex­cess of 600 but­ter­fly species and nearly 50 species of large mam­mal. But the cre­ation of the Na­tional Park will have a much wider im­pact: “De­for­esta­tion is one of the big­gest threats fac­ing mi­gra­tory birds,” he adds. The work Nicolas’s team are do­ing in Gola goes a long way to­wards pro­tect­ing in­ter­na­tional species, in­clud­ing a Uk-ringed Cuckoo found in the out­skirts of the rain­for­est. More than this, though, pro­tect­ing the area will hope­fully re­duce the car­bon emis­sions caused by for­est degra­da­tion and have a pos­i­tive im­pact on cli­mate change. “What peo­ple don’t re­alise”, Nicolas con­tin­ues, “is that what we do is at the nexus of con­ser­va­tion and de­vel­op­ment. We’re work­ing hand in hand with the gov­ern­ment and lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties to pro­vide di­rect so­cial ben­e­fits through agri­cul­ture, sav­ings and loan schemes and also en­vi­ron­men­tal ed­u­ca­tion,” he added. The Pres­i­dents of Liberia and Sierra Leone have been very sup­port­ive, ac­cord­ing to Nicolas, and the project was keen to make sure that best in­ter­na­tional prac­tices are fol­lowed. “We fol­low what we call the FPIC prin­ci­ple, that is that those af­fected by the cre­ation of the Na­tional Park had free and prior in­formed con­sent be­fore work was com­menced. We wanted to know that lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, who are quite dis­en­fran­chised and largely il­lit­er­ate, re­ally un­der­stood what they were sign­ing up to.” He added that there was still huge task ahead, re­fer­ring to the need for a good man­age­ment struc­ture, staffing, and, im­por­tantly, con­tin­ued fund­ing. “We’ve got some fund­ing from the Rain­for­est Trust, and we’re hop­ing to ac­cess fur­ther EU fund­ing. Suc­cess comes from man­ag­ing the area ef­fi­ciently and de­liv­er­ing con­ser­va­tion. We are go­ing to make sure that this is more than just a pa­per park.”

The work in Gola goes a long way to­wards pro­tect­ing in­ter­na­tional species, in­clud­ing a Uk-ringed Cuckoo found in the rain­for­est

PICATHARTES The cu­ri­ous White-necked Rock­fowl or Picathartes is one of the spe­cial birds of south­ern West Africa

LO­CALS Buy-in from lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties for such a ma­jor con­ser­va­tion project is vi­tal

DAMSELFLY The re­gion has a great di­ver­sity of life in­clud­ing hun­dreds of drag­on­fly species

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