NFA executive director Olav Bjella resigned and returned to his Norway home after failing to resolve a dispute with the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni, over plans to axe a large area of forest reserve for palm oil company, Bidco.

Mr Bjella said the president had given him an ultimatum to sign a 90-year licence for part of Bugala Island central forest reserve to Bidco – or resign.

In a statement, Mr Bjella said: “I was given the options of signing the licence or resign. I regret to inform you I have submitted a letter…offering to resign.”

In 2003, the Ugandan government signed a co-operating agreement with Bidco for the development of palm oil in Uganda. Under the agreement, the government committed itself to provide land for palm oil production in areas where cultivation is possible – including Bugala Island.

But environmentalists say, if it goes ahead, the plan could have disasterous ecological consequences, threatening rare species and potentially drying out Bugala’s favourably wet climate.

President Museveni has been criticised in local media for another plan to allow the country’s Mehta Group to axe 7,000ha – or nearly a third – of Mabira forest on the mainland, a reserve since 1932 and home to hundreds of species.