Guyana has one of the highest proportions of forest cover of any country in the world. The FAO estimates that of the total land area of just over 21 million hectares 71% is forest cover with 17% other wooded land (FAO 2010). A recent study places the area of forested areas in Guyana at 18.4 million hectares, equivalent to 87% (GFC & Poyry 2011). The major types of forest are rainforest, seasonal forest, dry evergreen forest, marsh forest (including mangrove and swamp forest) and mountain forest (ITTO 2005).
Guyana is a constituent of the wider Guiana Shield Rainforest that also covers Suriname, French Guiana and part of Venezuela and Brazil. This rainforest is one of the largest expanses of untouched tropical rainforest in the world. It also contains a high level of biodiversity with estimates in the range of more than 1,200 vertebrate species and more than 6,000 plant species present in Guyana (ITTO 2005). Many of these are endemic and/or vulnerable and Guyana is home to 68 species on IUCN’s red-list (IUCN 2011).
Guyana has historically experienced very low rates of deforestation with the FAO reporting zero rates of deforestation back to 1990. A recent study, the first of its kind in Guyana, identified deforestation rates of 0.06% for 2009-2010, rising from 0.02% per annum between 2005 and 2009 (GFC & Poyry 2011). The increase in the latter year was attributed to increased mining activity that accounted for 91% of the deforestation in 2009-2010. This mining activity is a crucial part of Guyana’s economy, however, representing 11% of GDP in 2009 (IMF 2011), while gold and bauxite made up over half of all exports in 2010 (Guyana Bureau of Statistics 2010).