Strengthening forest monitoring capacity in Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone is one of only four countries containing Western Guinean lowland forests, an extraordinarily biodiverse yet critically endangered ecoregion. These forests and protected remnants of Upper Guinean forest outside the Gola Rainforest National Park are at risk of being lost due to activities such as mining. Part of the reason conserving endangered biodiversity is so important is the reliance of local communities on the resources forests provide, including wood for construction and fuel, and food.
One way of securing the future of important forests is to attract investment based on the carbon the forest stores. Such ‘carbon projects’ (or carbon offset projects) measure the carbon stored by protecting the forest, or the carbon captured by growing more trees. Payments for this can be used to support the conservation of forests and the livelihoods of their surrounding communities.
The carbon project in Sierra Leone’s Gola Rainforest National Park is led by international conservation organisations and is considered a flagship model for community-partnered conservation. The potential to replicate this success elsewhere is hindered by limited national capacity in forest monitoring, previous work to quantify carbon relied upon international consultants.
A UK-Sierra Leone project team partnered with the Norwegian University of Life Sciences to strengthen forest monitoring capacity in Sierra Leone. The team quantified forest resources and their use by local communities in the Western Area Peninsula National Park and the Kangari Hills Non-Hunting Reserve in Sierra Leone. Tree diversity and carbon stored in plots in protected areas of each forest was compared with that in a surrounding unprotected plot to provide data for future carbon projects.
The team found that each hectare of forest contained between 23 and 62 tree species. This data was used in a wider analysis, published in Nature Ecology and Evolution, of the factors that control variation in tree diversity around the world. The Western Area Peninsula stores 236 tonnes of carbon per hectare in vegetation and Kangari Hills 197 tonnes per hectare. Focus groups carried out with local communities in 20 villages found they valued the forests for the role they play in regulating the environment and for their intrinsic cultural value, as well as for supporting a range of livelihoods.
Importantly, the data was collected and analysed by researchers in Sierra Leone who were trained during the project. This includes eight students from University of Sierra Leone who are now able to conduct similar work elsewhere and share their skills with more researchers. The cascading reach of onward training has already spread to four other countries. Students trained in the project have also been involved in establishing a nursery near Western Area Peninsula National Park growing tree species used by local communities and are seeking to scale this up so forest products can be sustainably harvested.
Having secured $500,000 further funding to build on this work, Sierra Leone Principle Investigator (PI) Dr Moses Sainge has since assessed resource use and carbon stocks in mangroves in the country’s Sherbro River and is leading a large project looking at eight Upper Guinean forests across four countries.
“The project is important not just for me but for my country. It helps us understand how much carbon we have in our forests, and it helps raise awareness among local communities on how to use the forest sustainably.” Usif Kargbo, Biological Sciences student at the University of Sierra Leone.
Images supplied by Dr Moses Sainge
Building Capacity to Monitor Forest Resources in Sierra Leone
Project Leads: Dr Martin Sullivan, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK, and Dr Moses Sainge, University of Sierra Leone, Sierra Leone.
Key Partners: Professor Julia Fa and Dr Valeria Andreoni, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK and Professor Aida Cuni-Sanchez, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Norway.
This project was a GCRF project funded through Research England. Research England is one of four UK national funding bodies that received GCRF funding from BEIS as part of the UK’s dual funding structure for research. Learn more – www.newton-gcrf.org/gcrf/