This Valentine’s Day, as part of the Climate Coalition, the RSPB shall once again be calling for action to tackle climate change to protect the people and places we love.

To support their #showthelove campaign I’ll be wearing a green heart on my sleeve as I head off this week to see the work that we are doing to protect a place lived in and loved by many: Gola Rainforest.

I have previously written about our work in Gola (for example see here), but in this blog I share a bit more background to the project. At the end I explain how you can help.

The RSPB has had a 28 year involvement in supporting action by BirdLife partners, local communities and governments to protect the Gola forests in Sierra Leone and, since 2009, also in Liberia.  These form part of the Upper Guinea forest ecosystem which is classified as one of the most important biodiversity hotspots in the world.  The Gola forests (shown in the map below) cover over 400,000 hectares and are home to sixty species of global conservation concern including White-necked Picathartes, Gola Malimbe and Pygmy Hippo.

During my visit, I am looking forward to meeting our partners the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone and Society for the Conservation of Nature of Liberia while also seeing the work that we are doing within the forest and surrounding areas to build sustainable livelihoods for the local communities.

Why does the RSPB work in Gola?

While c85% of our conservation effort is focused within the UK, throughout our history, the RSPB has believed that we should take action globally where the need is great and where we can make a material difference to the conservation efforts of our BirdLife International partners.  That is why, for example, we have stepped in to support action to restore 100,000 hectares rainforest in Indonesia (Harapan), protect more than a million hectares of steppe in Kazakhstan (Altyn Dala) and help recover globally threatened species such as Asian vultures (SAVE), spoon-billed sandpipers and albatrosses (through the Albatross Task Force).  And it is why we continue to work in Gola. 

These are all multi-decadal projects and while different from our commitment to places like Minsmere and Abernethy where we assume responsibility in perpetuity, we are determined to support these projects and our partners until sustainable funding is secure and conservation prospects are assured.

The conservation and climate change case for action

Protecting rainforests makes sense from both a conservation and a climate change perspective.  Rainforests provide homes for c74% of the world’s threatened birds and also play a critical role in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  Yet, rainforests continue to be lost at an alarming rate: currently estimated as 32,000 hectares of tropical rainforest lost daily, and another 32,000 hectares being degraded every day on top of that.  This not only threatens the future of some of the rarest species on the planet but also deforestation is a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions.  Deforestation accounts for around 18% of all global greenhouse gas emissions due to human activities – this is more than global emissions from transport.

Whilst land use has long been a key part of tackling climate change its importance was thrown into stark relief by the Paris Agreement at the end of 2015. Its new goal to limit average temperature change to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels makes the conservation and enhancement of natural sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases both essential and urgent.

This has been acknowledged at Gola in Sierra Leone, where enormous efforts have been made to understand the carbon value of the forest.  While the RSPB’s original motivation was to support efforts to protect the wildlife of Gola, the carbon benefits of keeping the trees standing have become clearer and is part of the solution to generating/securing sustainable sources of income by selling the value of the carbon to help protect and manage the forest.  We therefore, in 2014 established Gola as the first Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) project in West Africa.  As well as conserving the forest, supporting the 114 communities that surround the forest, the project aims to conserve nearly 5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide by keeping it both locked in the forest and soils and by adding more as the forest regenerates. The project is independently verified against the two leading global standards (Verified Carbon Standard) and biodiversity and social impact (Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance Standard). 

This is a form of carbon offsetting.  While the top priority must be to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in absolute terms, our view is that carbon offsetting can be a valuable source of funding to support conservation efforts.  So, we support offsetting projects when clear and exemplary biodiversity, carbon and social standards are adopted.   

How you can help

This is why, I have decided to purchase carbon credits as a way of paying for my own carbon footprint thereby contributing to the long term funding needs of Gola.  I would encourage you to consider doing the same.  With the Gola partners we have joined forces with Stand for Trees, a US charity helping projects like ours to sell our carbon credits on their website.  If you would like to help, simply go to here select ‘Protect a Forest’, choose your currency and find the Gola Project to buy your credits and receive a nice certificate for your efforts.

Equally exciting is the partnership that we, and our Gola partners, have entered into with market leading climate and development experts, ClimateCare.  Through ClimateCare, businesses are now able to offset their unavoidable carbon emissions with the Gola Rainforest project. This helps the climate, protects crucial wildlife habitat and supports a raft of social and community benefits. You can read about new partnership here.

You can help by prompting your own organisation to get involved and contact the ClimateCare team on 01865 591000 or email  

Technology permitting, I shall try to share my impressions of Gola while I am away. Until then, please do #showthelove in the run up to this year’s Valentine’s Day.