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Darwin grant will build cadre of conservationists in West Africa`s threatened rain forest

Cambridge, UK ? A ?200,000 grant from the UK Governement`s Darwin Initiative is funding the groundwork for effective ongoing conservation of one of the world`s fastest disappearing biodiversity hotspots, and helping safeguard the livelihoods of local communities in five West African countries. [The Darwin Initiative is a small grants programme that aims to promote biodiversity conservation and sustainable use of resources in less developed countries. The initiative is funded and administered by the UK Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture. ]The Upper Guinea Forest is classified by BirdLife International as an Endemic Bird Area, with 25 species that are threatened or have a restricted range. It also has the world`s highest diversity of mammals. The forest originally covered most of Sierra Leone, south-east Guinea, Liberia, southern Ivory Coast (Cote d`Ivoire) and south-west Ghana, but over 80 percent has been lost, and the rate of deforestation is probably still increasing. Over the next three years, 150 local scientists (30 from each of the five countries) will be trained in tropical biodiversity identification, surveying and monitoring techniques.The Upper Guinea Forest (UGF) which extends from Guinea to Togo in West Africa has the world`s highest diversity of mammals, is one of the 25 global hotspots for biodiversity, and coincides with a BirdLife International Endemic Bird Area. Among the 240-250 forest-dependent species in the region, over 25 are threatened, of restricted range or rare. The remaining forest is highly fragmented and spread across national borders. Only 3% of forest in the high-biodiversity areas is protected. The need to reduce the current high rate of forest biodiversity loss in the sub-region is clearly recognised in the National Environment Action Plans and NBSAPS of the project countries and by recent actions of the Governments. For example, the Government of Liberia last year pledged to increase the Protected Area network in the country by 10% and in Sierra Leone, the government has declared a moratorium on logging in the largest tract of forest in the country.

Many species have evolved in or become confined to small areas of the world`s land surface known as ?centres of endemism?. The unique biodiversity concentrated in these small areas is particularly vulnerable to the destructive effects of man. BirdLife International has mapped every bird species with a restricted range of less than 50,000 km2. The areas where these ranges overlap define centres of bird endemism that are termed Endemic Bird Areas (EBAs) by BirdLife. Many other animals and plants have evolved into unique species in these same areas. EBAs are also, therefore, excellent indicators of general biodiversity. This project is innovative in that it seeks to empower the countries involved to be fully responsible for monitoring their own biodiversity, said the project leader, Dr Lincoln Fishpool of BirdLife International. This will be achieved through the transfer of skills and knowledge from UK professionals to selected nationals, who will then be responsible for future training within their countries.

The project will leave a lasting legacy by creating a network of skilled individuals that will benefit biodiversity conservation in these countries far beyond the project period. Additionally, it will provide a basis for enhanced collaboration in the sub-region for the long-term conservation of biodiversity in the Upper Guinea Forest, said Dr Fishpool. The availability of reliable information will permit national, regional and international decision-makers to take appropriate actions and allow conservationists to design realistic site action projects that will help conserve biodiversity at critically threatened sites.

Many people in the Upper Guinea Forest depend upon natural ecosystems, and the goods and services these ecosystems provide. This project will generate information on the status and trends of biodiversity which will enable government and the local communities, organised in Site Support Groups, to put in place policies, laws and regulations to guarantee the long-term availability of these resources. West Africa`s Upper Guinea Forest has been identified among the five global priorities for conservation action, with Liberia recognised as the region`s highest priority, said James E. Coleman, President of the Society for the Conservation of Nature of Liberia. But it is fast catching up with its deforested neighbours. Inasmuch as Liberia is a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity, conservation efforts are constrained by the lack of objective data on biodiversity for proper management, including trained personnel. Therefore, in order to enable Liberia to meet up with its obligation under the CBD, the relevance of this project cannot be overemphasised.

Dr Erasmus Owusu, Acting Executive Director of the Ghana Wildlife Society, added: Considering the fact that local capacity for conservation is very low, especially scientific research, this project will provide the platform for local people to acquire experience of conservation actions on the ground, and contribute to the provision of national cadre of conservationists to support biodiversity conservation at the local and national level.Globally threatened birds in the Upper Guinea Forest include:
CRITICALLY ENDANGERED (facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild): Liberian Greenbul (Phyllastrephus leucolepis)
ENDANGERED (facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild ): Gola Malimbe (Malimbus ballmanni), Rufous Fishing-owl (Scotopelia ussheri)
VULNERABLE (facing a high risk of extinction in the wild): White-breasted Guineafowl (Agelastes meleagrides), Western Wattled Cuckoo-shrike (Campephaga lobata), Green-tailed Bristlebill (Bleda eximia), Yellow-throated Olive Greenbul (Criniger olivaceus), White-necked Picathartes (Picathartes gymnocephalus), White-eyed Prinia (Prinia leontica), Nimba Flycatcher (Melaenornis annamarulae)

The project will be led by national conservation NGOs in five West African countries: Cote D`Ivoire: SOS-FORETS - Ghana: Ghana Wildlife Society (BirdLife in Ghana) - Guinea: Guin?e Ecologie - Liberia: Society for the Conservation of Nature in Liberia - Sierra Leone: Conservation Society of Sierra Leone (BirdLife in Sierra Leone) Community engagement and involvement in the conservation of sites is desirable ? and often essential. This is increasingly being achieved through the actions of local Site Support Groups (SSGs), who raise awareness in site-adjacent communities and help protect and monitor sites. An SSG is a form of independent community-based organisation, its members motivated by a shared desire to conserve `their` site. SSGs build on local experience and existing organisational team spirit. Membership comes from the local community, who will often have been managing the natural resources of the site or surrounding areas for generations, even if their primary purpose has not been biodiversity conservation. Harnessing this knowledge and long-term commitment gives the best prospects for genuinely sustainable local conservation action. In Africa over 60 SSGs have been formed to take action at and for Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in ten countries. The results of such local involvement can lead to significant conservation benefit, even in difficult circumstances.

For further information please contact: Paulinus Ngeh, BirdLife West Africa Sub-Regional Co-ordianator Tel: +233 21 7012085 (or 665197) Email: paulinus@africaonline.com.gh

4th July 2014