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Communities join to conserve Picathartes

…Sierra Leone adopts action plan

A survey of the Western Area Peninsula Forest (WAPF) in Sierra Leone has discovered two new breeding colonies of the Vulnerable White-necked Picathartes Picathartes gymnocephalus, in addition to the 16 sites already known. The survey was part of a one-year project carried out by volunteers from the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone (CSSL, BirdLife in Sierra Leone), the University of Sierra Leone, and the government’s Forestry Division, with help from local communities. The project, funded by the Disney World Conservation Fund (DWCF), also established a network of trained wardens in villages surrounding the WAPF reserve.White-necked Picathartes is a flagship for bird and habitat conservation in Africa. Its extant population is restricted to the fragmented Upper Guinea forest in Guinea, Côte d'Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ghana.

In Sierra Leone, numbers are estimated at 1,400, with populations in forest reserves close to the minimum for long-term viability, and numbers are apparently stable or declining very slowly. The survey established that the number of nests in the WAPF colonies had fallen by 20 percent in the ten years from 1997 to 2007.

Much of the project work was carried out by members of one of Africa’s longest established Site Support Groups, PAGE, the Peninsula Action Group for the Environment. “This group commands considerable respect and recognition among the local communities,” said CSSL volunteer Arnold Okoni-Williams. “Through PAGE’s influence and facilitation, the project team was able to plan and execute project activities with minimal difficulty at all village levels.”A number of awareness-raising seminars and training sessions were held in the villages around the WAPF, which Okoni-Williams says has resulted in a common understanding and a strong commitment to conserve the species and its forest home.

The major achievements of the project include:

A complete database with details of geographic locations and ecological status of the 18 known sites, and population data. This is being used for monitoring and management purposes.
A wardening system around all known Picathartes colonies through a network of trained SSG members in 11 communities around the forest reserve.
Over 1,000 local people are now aware of the status and conservation needs of the White-necked Picathartes through village seminars, posters and brochures, and radio programmes.
Capacity of the project team, PAGE and local communities have been enhanced for sustainable site-level conservation initiatives.“We are grateful to DWCF for their timely intervention to contribute to saving one the most isolated populations of White-necked Picathartes, for the sake of posterity and overall global biodiversity conservation,” Okoni-Williams added. “We continue to rely on their support on this and other potential conservation programmes in the future.”

The ‘International Action Plan for White-necked Picathartes’, developed by the BirdLife International Africa Partnership, sets out to address the conservation needs of the species through habitat protection and local partnership development, with the ultimate aim of stabilizing and/or increasing the population among range states.

4th July 2014