Protecting Atewa Forest

Conservation of Ghana’s upland treasure

Subject: Forest conservation
Location: Ghana
Leader: Jeremy Lindsell & Emmanuel Akom

A jewel amongst Ghana's rich forest heritage


Atewa Range Forest Reserve, in the eastern region of Ghana, is internationally recognized as one of the highest priority ecosystems in West Africa for its high species diversity, high levels of endemism and great hydrological importance.The forest was gazetted as a National Forest Reserve in 1926, then subsequently a Special Biological Protection Area in 1994, a Hill Sanctuary in 1995 and as one of Ghana’s 30 Globally Significant Biodiversity Areas (GSBAs) in 1999. It is also recognised as an Important Bird Area.

Visit our dedicated website for Atewa Forest

Giants of Atewa Forest

The forest rises from 300 to 800 metres. The highest parts are often shrouded in mist and clouds resulting in a distinct flora, and trees richly festooned with epiphytic mosses and lichens. Where the tree canopy is intact the ground is covered in shade bearing herbs.

A forest of great wealth

Atewa forest is a centre of significant plant diversity with at least 765 vascular plant species including 106 endemic to Upper Guinea (humid forests west of Togo/Benin) and six with highly localised distributions. Butterfly diversity is also high – the highest of any site in West Africa – with over 570 species recorded including two that are known only from this forest (Mylothis atewa and Anthene helpsi). Amphibians are represented by 32 species, a third of which are threatened. The Critically Endangered Togo Slippery Frog, Conraua derooi, probably has its stronghold in the Atewa forest. Seven threatened or near-threatened birds have been recorded – Brown-cheeked Hornbill (Bycanistes cylindricus), Western-wattled Cuckooshrike (Lobotos lobatus), Yellow-bearded Greenbul (Criniger olivaceus), Green-tailed Bristlebill (Bleda eximia), Nimba Flycatcher (Melaenornis annamarulae), Rufous-winged Illadopsis (Illadopsis rufescens) and Copper-tailed Starling (Lamprotornis cupreocauda).

Forest sprites

Atewa has amongst the highest diversity of butterflies of any site in West Africa. This large and spectacular blue diadem is one of the commoner species, found in humid forests across Africa.

A forest under threat

Despite its critical nature, the forest is subject to the degrading effects of a range of human activities including substantial threats from artisanal mining and commercial bauxite exploitation, illegal logging, hunting and farm encroachment. Illegal logging peaked in the 1990s but has left a depleted forest with many commercial tree species now rare. Unlicensed small-scale gold mining is increasing and causing serious problems for forest edge communities arising from pollution of their water resources downstream of mining activity. Large-scale commercial mining also threatens the reserve since the hills are thought to hold significant bauxite deposits. In recent years international companies have explored the possibility of open cast mining inside the reserve. Hunting of both protected and traditionally-sacred animals is widespread with hunters operating employing poison, traps and fires as well as firearms.

A forest giant brought down

Atewa forest is a production forest and was heavily logged in the past but there has been no permitted felling for many years now. Unfortunately illegal harvesting still occurs throughout, posing a grave threat to the integrity of the forest.

Hope for the forest

In 2012, a three-year programme – Atewa Critical Conservation Action Programme (ACCAP) Phase I – funded by A.G. Leventis Foundation was initiated in a bid to lessen these threats. The programme carried out significant awareness-raising and advocacy activities which resulted in greater international as well as local visibility of the threats to Atewa. As a result, a conservation strategy that fosters long-term actions for the protection of Atewa Forest and its watershed catchments has been facilitated. Significantly, the work undertaken by A Rocha under ACCAP has leveraged support, participation and funding from other agencies for the conservation of Atewa Forest and we are now in Phase II of ACCAP and working with IUCN Netherlands in a major Dutch-funded programme entitled Living Waters from the Mountain: protecting the Atewa Water Resources. There is now a process is underway towards gazetting Atewa Forest as a National Park but there remain urgent immediate threats to the forest that need to be addressed.

Nature-based livelihoods

Grasscutter, mushroom and giant land snail farming are amongst the alternative nature-based livelihood sources that A Rocha is assisting the local communities to develop.

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