The Gola Rainforest National Park (GRNP), covering around 71,000 hectares, is the largest area of Upper Guinea lowland humid forest remaining in Sierra Leone. Since 2003, GCF (with co-funding from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund) has supported conservation of the area by the Forestry Department of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS) of the Government of the Republic of Sierra Leone, as well as the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone, and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), UK.
This consortium worked together to form the Gola Forest Programme in 2008, whose mission is to work toward the conservation of the forest in perpetuity. After many years of work, the Gola Forest Programme and its partners successfully achieved the designation of the Gola Rainforest as a new national park in February 2011.
The Gola Forest Programme also coordinates programs to bring benefits and income-generating opportunities to neighboring communities to reduce the need for unsustainable use of the forest resources. The GRNP utilizes an incentive-based approach to conservation, working directly with the leadership of seven chiefdoms that share an immediate boundary with the protected area. These chiefdoms have a total population of more than 130,000, and the compensation framework that benefits these communities is designed to be an integral part of the conservation strategy for the park. Committees are established in each chiefdom, and submit project proposals to be eligible for annual funding. Project proposals have funded a range of community needs while also reducing pressure on the forest. Funding is also used to pay annual royalties to more than a thousand traditional landowners, and to provide scholarships to hundreds of local schoolchildren.
The Gola Forest supports an outstanding diversity of wildlife, with a high number of species of global conservation concern and many endemics: 325 species of birds (16 on the IUCN RedList), at least 370 species of butterflies, and 970 plant species (21 on the IUCN RedList). The area is also important in the provision of fresh water to local communities, and is estimated to have a total carbon stock of more than 13 million tons.
In 2010, GCF and the RSPB worked to establish an endowment to support efforts to manage and conserve the GRNP. The Government of Sierra Leone, with the help of the RSPB, is presently exploring how revenue from the sale of carbon credits can complement the investment returns from the endowment to support conservation and benefits for local communities well into the future.