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The Western Area Peninsula and the adjacent Banana Islands have lush rainforest, pristine beaches, breath-taking, steep mountains, a unique and long-standing culture and great history. The Western Area Peninsula, which is part of the Upper Guinean Forest Ecosystem, is located on the west coast of the country and is home to roughly 1 to 1. 5 million people (20% of the country’s total population).
The Western Area Peninsula National Park (WAP-NP), occupying the centre of the peninsula, covers about 17,000 hectares of closed forest. The beauty and natural significance of WAP-NP is still well preserved. Hosting a range of hills with a highest peak at 971 meters, the forest vegetation can be described as still 60% pristine and has a manifold wildlife bordering directly to the coastline, making WAP-NP truly unique in West Africa. The Reserve is one of the eight biodiversity hot-spots of the country and hosts 80-90% of Sierra Leone’s terrestrial biodiversity. Being a non-hunting reserve, rare animals are found such as Jenkins duikers and chimpanzees. Furthermore, to its crucial role as a biodiversity hot spot, the peninsula creates an inspiring image as the ocean meets the mountainous forest. Beaches in shining white colour are an attraction for national and international visitors. In addition to the natural significance the Western Area Peninsula has also been host to a dynamic and interesting human history when Freetown, Sierra Leone’s present day capital city, was founded there as a settlement for blackmen freed from slavery in England and America. The Western Area Peninsula holds many tangible and intangible cultural resources around this history.
The Western Area Peninsula has Outstanding Universal Value in culture, nature, and beauty dimensions. In the cultural dimension, the Western Area Peninsula plays host to the history of the ending of slavery.Freetown, the present-day capital city of Sierra Leone was established as a settlement for freed slaves from England in 1787. In 1808 the British stepped-up efforts to halt the trade which was still continuing in between Africa and other nations. The British set up a naval unit off the Sierra Leone coast and a Vice Admiralty court in Freetown to try crew of ceased slave ships; and free their human cargoes. The freed persons were settled in the Western Area. Between 1808 and 1864, about 84, 000 “liberated African” as the freed human cargoes came to be known, were freed this way and settled in the Western Area (Wyse 1989). The bulk of the “Liberated Africans were settled in the Western Area Peninsular hills that today constitute the WAP-NP. These villages still exist today retaining many of their traditional architecture, social and cultural life. The villages carry names adopted from the West such as Kent, York, Leicester, Regent, Charlotte, and Bathurst.
The second dimension of the Outstanding Universal Value of WAN-NP is the beauty the site naturally manifests as a montage of hills, forest, beaches and sea. The centre of the Western Area Peninsula is on mountains which descend directly into the sea. Summits such as Mount Sugar Loaf, Black Johnson and Pickett Hill can be ascended to offer the uniquely aesthetic environments consisting of high canopy forest shrouded in clouds and providing drinkable water, descending into the sea. When viewed from the sea the green hills, white sandy beaches and blue waters of the Atlantic personify the National Flag colours: green, white and blue.
In the third dimension of Outstanding Universal Value the WAP-NP is part of the rainforests of West Africa which have been lauded as one of the world’s most important hotspots for biodiversity. It is a biodiversity hotspot for vegetation and threatened animals as Western Chimpanzees, Red Colobus Monkeys, Black-and-White Colobus Monkeys, Sooty Mangabeys and Diana Monkeys, Leopards, Jentink’s Duikers, Black Duikers and Maxwell Duikers. There are at least 316 bird species present in the WAP-NP including the endangered species such as the Green-tailed Bristlebill and White-breasted Rockfowl (Picathartes Gymnocephalus). The white-breasted Rockfowl was recently rediscovered on the Freetown Peninsula and is considered as one of the most threatened birds in continental Africa. An endemic toad (Cardioglosus aureolli) is also present on the Peninsula. More than 2000 species of plants occur in Sierra Leone, of which about 74 species and one genus are endemic.
Criterion (iii): It is significant as a key turning point in history when freed slaves settled at the Peninsula. In 1787, with the help of British philanthropists, the ‘Province of Freedom’ was established on the Peninsula for around 400 freed slaves from London. A second wave of 1,100 freed slaves from Nova Scotia arrived to the Peninsula in 1792 and joined the original settlers to found the settlement of Freetown which is now Sierra Leone’s capital city and the oldest urban municipality in Africa. The British were later to acquire the Peninsula as one of its colonies in 1808, and used Freetown as a base from which to fight the slave trade for half a century. Numerous slaves were released from captured passing slave ships and settled in Freetown. These freed slaves along with the original settler population gradually amalgamated to create a single ethnic group, the Krio, with its own language (also called Krio). The role of Krio in the acceleration of the modernization process in Africa is severally documented in such works by John Hargreaves (1958), Martin Kilson (1969), J.F.A. Ajayi (1965), Kopytoff (1965) and Wyse (1989).
Criterion (vii): Only in the Western Area of Sierra Leone does the Upper Guinea Forest ecosystem manifest itself on mountains which descend directly into the sea. When viewed from the sea the green hills, white sandy beaches and blue waters of the Atlantic personify the National Flag colours: green, white and blue. Many small granite based islands lie offshore the peninsula and are inhabited with the same rich biodiversity of the mainland. The granite of the Western Area is of high quality black granite which is used in monuments locally and has been exported to the developed world for ornamentation. Despite the rapid expansion of Freetown in the post-war years, the natural beauty and significance of the Western Area Peninsula still very much remains intact. For centuries the beauty of the Peninsula and its mountains has captured the imagination of those visiting the region for many centuries. The Portuguese described the Peninsula as Serra Lyoa (the Lion Mountain), a moniker that would remain throughout British Colonial rule and would subsequently become the name of the country, Sierra Leone. As the lion mountain, the Peninsula is the only place on the West African coast where forested mountains meet the sea. A recent travel guidebook written about Sierra Leone perhaps best summarizes the amazing beauty of the Peninsula: "The Western Peninsula is […] the holiday of happiness of the ocean breeze, glorious rays, pristine beaches and cosy camp fires; rainforest reserves revealing chimps, rare birds, and picnic perfect waterfalls; the legacy of the coastal West African slave trade; and some of the best-preserved examples of the country’s Krio and Sherbro heritage."
Criterion (x): The rainforests of West Africa have been lauded as one of the world’s most important hotspots for biodiversity. These forests extend from Senegal to Togo, and are referred to as the Upper Guinean forest block. These are separated from the rest of the African rainforests by the Dahomey gap: an extension of the woodland savannah of the Sahel to the Gulf of Guinea. Because of its isolated position the Upper Guinean forest zone harbours a large number of endemic animal and plant species. Most of the Western Area Forest is classified as Guineo-Congolian rainforest of the hygrophilous coastal evergreen type. It has a closed canopy at about 30 m or more with emergent trees rising above this canopy. The drier rocky slopes and summits support low shrub forest. The laterite pans are covered by natural grassland, since the soil there is too poor to support shrub or high forest. The areas inland of the Peninsula are a mixture of farm bush and scattered grassland with small remnants of Lophira savannah. Neighbouring coastal areas support mangroves. WAP-NP contains over 50 species of mammals, of which seven are primates (five of these are threatened species: Western Chimpanzees, Red Colobus Monkeys, Black-and-White Colobus Monkeys, Sooty Mangabeys and Diana Monkeys). Other threatened mammals include Leopards, Jentink’s Duikers, Black Duikers and Maxwell Duikers. There are also at least 316 bird species present on the Peninsula including the endangered species: the Green-tailed Bristlebill and White-breasted Rockfowl (Picathartes Gymnocephalus). The white-breasted Rockfowl was recently rediscovered on the Freetown Peninsula and is considered as one of the most threatened birds in continental Africa. An endemic toad (Cardioglosus aureolli) is also present on the Peninsula. More than 2000 species of plants occur in Sierra Leone, of which about 74 species and one genus are endemic. The mangrove swamps of the Western Area are the plushest in the sub-region and declaration of the WAP-NP as a World Heritage Site could promote more interest in conservation of the mangroves as sea barriers. One such site is the Aberdeen Estuary within the city which is an Important Bird Area recognized by the Ramsar Convention, one of only a few globally located in the middle of a capital. Migratory species from Europe are a common site in the WAP-NP. The directness of the Upper Guinea Current also makes the WAP-NP an instinctive landing site for sea turtles in their reproductive cycle. The designation of the Western Area Peninsula as a World Heritage Site would be complementary to the other existing and proposed sites in the region as it would help ensure the survival of endangered, rare and endemic species more efficiently than one protected area alone. The Swedish botanist Adam Afzelius, the first of his profession in Sierra Leone, already in the 1790s recognized the Peninsula’s unique beauty and decried even then for the mechanism to be put in place to ensure the forests would be preserved for future generations. Colonial documents from the British herbaria in Kew, throughout the 1800s describe the Peninsula as having "from a scientific point of view” forests and species of “extraordinary interest.”
The management of the forest reserve is responsibility of the Forestry Division of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS). The reserve was declared in 1916 and gazetted a non-hunting forest reserve in 1973. Due to the expansion of Freetown after the civil war and the subsequent encroachment into the Northern part of the Forest Reserve, and the significance of WAP-NP as a freshwater reserve for Freetown, the conservation of WAP-NP has been identified as an issue of National Security by His Excellency the President of Sierra Leone. In 2011 Government approved a revised demarcation line and protection mechanism and in February 2012 the former forest reserve was upgraded as the Western Area Peninsula National Park. Government has recently ordered the establishment of a Presidential Task Force to ensure to longer-term environmental protection of the Reserve. The Task Force consists of the Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries (MAFFS), Ministry of Lands, Country Planning and Environment (MLPCE), Environmental Protection Agency-Sierra Leone (EPA-SL), Ministry of Electricity and Power (MEP), Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and the Office of National Security (ONS). Current debates about the establishment of a Protected Area Authority will also enhance the management of the reserve including biodiversity and wildlife research and law enforcement.
The touristic assets of the Western Area Peninsula are managed by the department of culture and the National Tourist Board of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture and the hosting communities. The cultural assets are managed by the hosting communities. Contributions are also made by local tour companies, communities, Non-Governmental Organizations, and individuals. The present system is working well as long as the political will is available, while still leaving room for ample improvements.
The recognition WAP-NP as an UNESCO World Heritage Site will significantly contribute to the conservation and protection of the forest reserve, the wildlife and its human history heritage. As one of the least developed countries in this world, internal means for conservation and management of its natural beauty is difficult to be leveraged by government in Sierra Leone. Therefore external resources have to serve in support of conservation and management duties. The recognition as UNESCO World Heritage would boost international awareness and increase opportunities for sourcing funding for government and supporting actors of civil society. Such funding could potentially derive from; the World Heritage Fund, the African World Heritage Fund, IUCN and carbon-financing through REDD+. Furthermore it will help expand the tourism industry on the Peninsula and contribute to conservation in the form of eco-tourism or as climate-friendly tourism. Increased tourism flows will have positive impacts on job creation.
There are currently no designated World Heritage Sites in Sierra Leone. There is one in the neighbouring country of Guinea, and none in Liberia. The WAP-NP is similar to Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve in Guinea and Côte d.’Ivoire, and Taï National Park in Côte d.’Ivoire; which are existing World Heritage Sites. All three parks are home to populations of pygmy elephants, chimpanzees, and Diana monkeys, and are part of what was once contiguous primary forest across West Africa. As they are all in the same eco-region, the three parks have many species in common, but as they are located in areas of different weather patterns and topography, they each support a different assemblage of species. It is critically important to protect multiple populations of species in order to preserve genetic diversity and account for potential natural disaster or population collapse. The uniqueness of the Western Area Peninsula is the interaction of natural and aesthetic beauty with cultural heritage. There are parks where culture and nature are closely linked: e.g. Huanglong Scenic and Historic Interest Area. It is difficult however to compared it with WAP-NP in its complexities.