Protecting Atewa Forest

Conservation of Ghana’s upland treasure

Subject: Forest conservation
Location: Ghana
Leader: Daryl Bosu

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.

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 1100 plant species including 56 that area threatened with extinction and many that are endemic to the Upper Guinea ecoregion (humid forests west of Togo/Benin) with highly localised distributions. Butterfly diversity is also high – the highest of any site in West Africa – with over 700 species thought to occur including two that are known only from this forest (Mylothis atewa and Anthene helpsi). Amphibians are represented by 40 species, a third of which are threatened. The Critically Endangered Togo Slippery Frog, Conraua derooi, has a stronghold in the Atewa forest. Thirteen threatened and near-threatened birds have been recorded including Grey Parrot Psittacus erithacus, Brown-cheeked Hornbill Bycanistes cylindricus, Blue-moustached Bee-eater Merops mentalis, 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.

You can read more about the biodiversity of Atewa Forest in our special research report:

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 has been reduced by law enforcement amongst forest edge communities but this has pushed some activity inside the forest reserve. Hunting of both protected and traditionally-sacred animals is widespread with hunters employing poison, traps and fires as well as using firearms and dogs. The greatest threat though comes from large-scale commercial mining. The hills hold deposits of bauxite and in recent years international companies have explored the possibility of open cast mining inside the reserve. The government of Ghana is currently investing in the bauxite industry and Atewa has been named as a key source of ore.

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.

Living Water from the Mountain

This video shows the significance of Atewa Forest Reserve and why it needs to be protected against all forms of environmental threats

Hope for the forest

In 2012, a three-year programme – Atewa Critical Conservation Action Programme (ACCAP) – 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 in particular in working with IUCN Netherlands in a major Dutch-funded programme entitled Living Waters from the Mountain: protecting the Atewa Water Resources. Support from the Dutch Government has enabled A Rocha run a substantial public campaign for the protection of Atewa, urging the government to set the forest aside from bauxite mining plans and instead make it a National Park.

You can read more about getting involved in the campaign here.

Update from 6 January 2020

In May 2019 the Goverment of Ghana, through its agency the Ghana Integrated Aluminium Development Authority (GIADEC) started clearing roads in the forest to undertake exploratory drilling for bauxite (see our report here). In December 2019 the Government of Ghana showed a map showing the extent of the exploratory drilling that they have been undertaking in Atewa forest. This is far more extensive than we feared and accounts for a large percentage of the forested area above 750 m altitude (the critical area for biodiversity). You can see a version of this map here and here.

A Rocha has submitted a motion to the IUCN World Conservation Congress calling on the Government of Ghana to set Atewa aside from mining and protect it instead. You can read the motion here and if you are qualified (an IUCN member) please add your comments in support of the motion.

A revision to the IUCN Redlist in December 2019 changed the threat category for a number of species found in Atewa. Two primates were uplisted to Critically Endangered, another two were uplisted to Vulnerable. White-bellied Pangolin is uplisted to Endangered and Afia Birago Puddle Frog is newly listed, as Critically Endangered. There are now 5 Critically Endangered species listed by IUCN that have been recorded in Atewa, and two more that are expected to qualify at this level.

Update from 4 May 2020

On the 29th April 2020 A Rocha Ghana signed a letter written to China’s Minister of Commerce along with 259 other civil society organisations, urging China not to prop up environmentally and socially damaging projects around the world which are threatened by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Bauxite mining in Atewa Forest is listed amongst 60 of the worst Belt and Road Initiative projects highlighted in the letter.

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.

Project in partnership with