The Greater Gola Landscape
We’re helping to protect threatened rainforests in Sierra Leone and Liberia, which support a huge diversity of wildlife, as well as the livelihoods of local communities. These forests are also important carbon stores.
What’s special about Gola?
The Greater Gola Landscape covers 350,000 hectares and straddles the border between Sierra Leone and Liberia. It represents the largest remaining single block of Upper Guinean Forest – an internationally recognised biodiversity hotspot.
Gola is home to over 300 species of bird, including several that migrate to the UK in spring, such as the pied flycatcher and wood warbler. The area is also a refuge for 60 globally threatened species, including West African chimpanzees, forest elephants and endangered pygmy hippos.
Our work involves projects in both Sierra Leone and Liberia that seek to engage all stakeholders in the sustainable management of the forest and farm landscape. As well as protecting the forest for the amazing wildlife that lives there, we're supporting communities to develop alternative livelihoods through the sustainable farming of cocoa, rice and honey, for example, as well as establishing small loan schemes to aid individual business development.
Our work in Sierra Leone
The Gola Rainforest National Park in Sierra Leone is one of the largest remnants of Upper Guinea Forest in Africa. With 60 globally threatened species calling it home, including the iconic white-necked picathartes, the national park isn’t just unique locally, it is also of immense importance both regionally and internationally.
For nearly 30 years, the RSPB has been working with Sierra Leone’s government, the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone (CSSL, the BirdLife partner in Sierra Leone) and local people to protect the forest and ensure it is used in a sustainable way. Together with CSSL and forest-edge communities, we set up the Gola Rainforest Conservation LG (GRC-LG) not-for-profit company in 2015, with the aim of keeping Gola’s trees standing – for its wildlife, the rural communities that depend on it, and the planet. The GRC-LG is also responsible for managing Gola’s carbon credits.
We have an ambitious vision for the Gola Rainforest National Park to act as a catalyst for peace, prosperity and national pride in Sierra Leone. This can only be achieved by working with local people, ensuring that they are active environmental stewards of the forest that underpins and enhances their livelihoods.
Using carbon credits to protect the rainforest
We are facing a climate emergency. We urgently need to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide we release into the atmosphere and we each need to take steps to reduce our carbon footprint. But for the carbon emissions we are unable to avoid, there’s still a way to make a difference – by purchasing verified carbon credits through the Gola REDD Project (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation).
Buying Gola Rainforest carbon credits not only ensures that carbon remains locked in the forest, it also finances protection of the forest and its wildlife from illegal activities and supports local people through sustainable livelihoods projects.
Every year, the Gola REDD project actively contributes to global climate change mitigation by preventing the encroachment of logging, mining and farming activities on the forest and therefore avoiding the emission of half a million tonnes of CO2. This equates to the average annual carbon footprint of over 40,000 people in the UK.
Support Gola REDD - organisations
Saving nature with cocoa
The farming of cocoa is one of the leading drivers of deforestation in West Africa, but when grown under the shade of forest trees, cocoa plantations can provide forest-like habitat that supports many forest-dependent species. When the cocoa farms are located between areas of primary forest, they can also act as corridors to connect the fragmented forest landscape. Together with our partners, we have been working with forest-edge communities around Gola Rainforest National Park to restore and improve shade-grown cocoa farms and to produce high-quality, forest-friendly cocoa. In 2019, we launched our Gola Rainforest chocolate bar, produced in the UK by craft chocolatier Chocolarder, which is available to purchase from our online shop. All profits are reinvested into the Gola cocoa project. To find out more about Gola cocoa, please read our FAQs.
Working with farmers to protect Gola
Gola Rainforest in Sierra Leone is one of the most important areas of rainforest in the world. It is home to a spectacular array of wildlife. Protecting this rainforest is critical for the animals, for the planet and for the people.
These are the Ngoleagorbu people. They live around Gola Rainforest. They are growing cocoa beneath the forest canopy. Grown in harmony with the forests and its wildlife, it makes delicious chocolate. This is the traditional way to grow cocoa. It’s organic too. For the people here cocoa is a way of life.
By forming a Farmers Association everybody gets a fair price. Farmers are making a living at the same time as protecting their forests. Eat chocolate, save a rainforest.
Our work in Liberia
Around 40% of the remaining Upper Guinea Rainforest is found in Liberia and the country is recognised as a top priority for conservation efforts. The Gola Forest itself is found in western Liberia, on the border with Sierra Leone, and is connected to the Gola Rainforest National Park in Sierra Leone.
In 2016, 88,000 hectares of Liberia’s Gola Forest was designated as the Gola Forest National Park. This achievement was largely a result of grant funding for the BirdLife partnership in Liberia from the Rainforest Trust and the Aage V. Jensen Charity Foundation, as well as previous funding from the European Union. This national park, together with Sierra Leone’s 71,000-hectare Gola Rainforest National Park, forms the largest protected block of Upper Guinea Forest in Africa. Community forests found between and around these new protected areas are vital corridors linking them together.
The RSPB works with the Society for the Conservation of Nature of Liberia (SCNL) on a range of projects to protect and support Liberia’s forests, wildlife and local communities. For example, together with SCNL we are part of an EU-funded project led by the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation to help combat wildlife and forest crime. Our efforts in this project are focused primarily on the work of “ecoguards” – community members who work alongside government rangers in protected areas or who undertake patrols and biodiversity monitoring in community forests.
As well as protecting the Gola Forest National Park itself, we are also committed to ensuring the forest outside the park’s boundaries is well managed to ensure connectivity across the landscape. Thanks to a European Commission grant, we have been working with our partners to help the Normon and Tonglay clans to manage and conserve their sections of the Gola Forest Landscape as community forests. The project has been named GolaMA, which means “unity” in the local language. The two community forests encompass about 35,000 hectares and form a critical forest corridor between Gola Rainforest National Park in Sierra Leone and Liberia’s Gola Forest National Park and Foya proposed protected area.
As part of the GolaMA Project, members of the Tonglay and Normon clans have received training in a range of sustainable livelihood activities, including beekeeping, and rice, cocoa and groundnut farming. The idea is to improve production, so that people have enough food without relying on more forest-damaging activities.
A small loan programme has also been established to help women develop their businesses, while an adult literacy programme provides opportunities to improve people’s everyday lives and employment opportunities.
We are also working closely with local artisanal miners, and the results of a trial using improved equipment are pointing the way towards more responsible mining practices. By consulting with hunters, meat traders and local authorities we are also working to reduce commercial bushmeat hunting in the forest.
How you can help
You can support our work to protect tropical forests and the wildlife and people that call them home by becoming a Rainforest Guardian today.
Find out more
Partners & funding
- Conservation Society of Sierra Leone
- Government of Sierra Leone, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security and National Protected Area Authority
- Gola Rainforest Conservation LG
- Jula Consultancy Ltd
- BirdLife International – Forests of Hope
- Trillion Trees
- Stand for Trees/CodeREDD
- Twin and Twin Trading
- Njala University
- Cambridge University, Department of Land Economy
- Wageningen University, Development Economics Group
- Society for the Conservation of Nature of Liberia
- Government of Liberia – Forestry Development Authority
- Vainga Agriculture Development and Management Consultancy (VADEMCO)
- Wild Chimpanzee Foundation
- Universal Outreach Foundation
- Self Help Initiative for Sustainable Development (SHISD)
- Ministry of Mines and Energy
- European Union
- USAID – STEWARD and WABiCC Programs
- UK Defra Darwin Initiative
- Fond Français pour l’Environnement Mondial
- Global Conservation Fund at Conservation International
- Comic Relief
- US Fish and Wildlife Service
- Cambridge Conservation Initiative
- United Nations Development Programme
- Basel Zoo
- IDH – The Sustainable Trade Initiative
- International Fund for Agricultural Development
- Divine Chocolate
- The Darwin Initiative