Royal Society Members For Birds' Protection Call On President Kabbah

A three-man delegation from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), a UK- based Charity and of the Birdlife International Partnership, on Tuesday June 29, 2004, called on President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah at his Hill Station Office in Freetown.

Members of the delegation, who are guests of the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone (CSSL), are in Freetown to finalize proposals with CSSL and the Forestry Department of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security, and also to present the Global Conservation Award of 2004 to the Honorary President of CSSL, Dr. Sama Banya.

Briefing President Kabbah on reasons for their visit, the leader of the visiting delegation, Mr. Alistair Gammell, Director, International Division, RSPB, said the Royal Society of the Protection of Birds (RSPB), has been working with the CSSL for over fifteen years, with special focus on the conservation of the Gola Forests and the Gola Forest Reserve in particular.

Mr. Gammell said that the Gola Forests are one of the last remaining fragments of the Upper Guinea Rain forests, which once spread from Ghana to Sierra Leone and that they are well known as a global hotspot for biodiversity.

Mr. Alistair Gammell warned that if conventional logging was allowed to continue the timber companies would make payments for about ten years and then depart, leaving both the local communities and people of Sierra Leone with no further income and a severely damaged resources. Sierra Leone would at the same time lose a unique asset which may be used in the future for tourism or bio-prospecting.

He explained that because of the importance of these forests they have been working with seven local chiefdoms, CSSL and the Forestry Department, and have developed a proposal on how to keep the forest preserved. The framework for the project was agreed to have a Conservation Concession, with the objective of preserving these forests and their assets in perpetuity. This, Mr. Gammell continued, will provide funding for the conservation of the Gola Forest Reserves and for the development of local communities. The RSPB and other donors will provide the funding.

As preserved forests, their care and conservation will be an on-going responsibility, and their funding will continue in perpetuity. Mr. Gammell requested that the forests be designated as a protected area to be managed in accord with a management plan to be agreed upon by the Forestry Department, CSSL, the local communities and RSPB.

He said that the project will deliver about 400,000 US dollars to Sierra Leone every year in perpetuity and it will also conserve a vital asset of the country and the world indeed. The project is also expected to assist Sierra Leone in the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the National Biodiversity Plan.

In his remarks, President Kabbah expressed appreciation to members of the delegation for identifying a project of this nature for our forests in Sierra Leone. He noted that terrible things have happened in other parts of the world due to forest degradation because the people concerned did not know about the things the RSPB are asking us to do. He said that there is absolute necessity to strictly preserve our major forests for posterity and that generations will not forgive us if we sit by and allow our forests to be depleted. He mentioned the Kasewe Forest Reserve, which also needs serious attention.

President Kabbah also remarked that NGOs operating in this country should try to see how they could put back on track the things that have been destroyed, like the RSPB is doing. NGOs, he said, should look at human rights issues and bring to the attention of government areas they think are not going on correctly. NGOs should not be adversaries or put themselves in confrontation with government, but they can have inputs into the policies of government in their various areas of specialization through consultation and concertation.

The President also noted that there is need to have a project where we can grow trees for fuel wood so as to reduce the pressure on our forests for fire wood.

Talking about the management plan for the project, Mr. Gammell said that there is provision for the involvement of the local people. The initial budget, he said, would train 35 forest guards who will be employed by the project. This will enable them benefit from the forest reserve. They will also assist the local communities in the use of the forests around the reserve.

The leader of the delegation, Mr. Alistair Gammell, handed the Global Conservation Achievement Award 2004 to President Kabbah, stating that as Chief Patron of the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone, it was his pleasure to request His Excellency to present the Award to Dr. Sama Banya. The Award was presented to Dr. Banya by the Birdlife International for his work in the preservation of biodiversity. Mr. Gammell praised Dr. Banya for demonstrating great leadership and commitment to conservation and biodiversity preservation. Dr. Banya is also a Global 500 Laureate of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Presenting the Award to Dr. Sama Banya, President Kabbah commended him for his commitment to the conservation of our biodiversity and encouraged him to continue the good work.