Landuse and conservation in the Mount Loma Reserve, Sierra Leone

Philip Atkinson

This project changed rapidly from its instigation early in 1991. We originally planned to visit the Gola Forest in the east of the country to carry out faunal surveys and to survey riverine systems. However a rebel incursion from neighbouring Liberia forced the group to change plans late in 1996 as it was considered unsafe to work in the area. Although the incursion happened in April, a stalemate had occurred between the Sierra Leone army and the Liberians in October. In December, the group decided to implement the contingency plan and visit the Loma Reserve in the north. The mountainous Loma area offered challenges to the Gola Forest. Mount Bintumani is the highest point in West Africa and is one of a very few areas in the region to have montane grassland and high-altitude gallery forest. Loma is currently designated as a Non-hunting Game Reserve, although upgrading it to National Park status is being considered due to its outstanding natural features and its interesting flora and fauna. It was with this in mind that the group included land-use, resource and forest product surveys to look at how local communities use the reserve area. Coupled with surveys of the mammal and bird fauna this would provide basic information to aid discussions concerning the future of the area. This landuse study will be very important in evaluating the feasibility and desirability of creating a National Park.

Project update: The group travelled to Sierra Leone on 23 January 1992 and initially spent two weeks in the reserve making contacts, visiting potential study sites and familiarising themselves with the area. Loma is a very remote area and so logistics for spending 8 weeks in the reserve had to be carefully planned. Efforts were concentrated on the west side of Loma as this provided access to the major habitats found in the reserve. The eastern side has little continuous forest and due to limited it was decided to stay on the western side. The land use study was based in the village of Sinikoro and other villages were visited for short periods of time. The bird and mammal studies were based in the forest and short trips were made to villages and the high-altitude grasslands.

Overall, most of the aims of the expedition were achieved. The land use and mammal studies were very successful, and a comprehensive list of bird species was produced for the reserve with a rough scale of abundance. The expedition left Loma in early May. The day after they arrived back in Freetown there was a military coup and so discussions with the Forestry Department and others were hampered. There are still plans to turn the Loma Reserve into a National Park.