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Department of Geography


Land Use Change and African-Palaearctic Migrant Birds

This project explores the social, economic and policy drivers of land use change in the Sahel that may be associated with population declines in Palaearctic-African migrant birds.

The Sahel region is a key habitat for birds that summer in Europe, and migrate to winter in Africa. Many depend on the resources of the Sahel at some stage in their life cycle. Many of these species are now declining in numbers. Drought and habitat change in the drylands of West Africa are thought to be associated with these decline, but the links between actual land cover change and declines in migrants are poorly understood. The Sahle is a region of rapid social and economic change, and the project is exploring the links between those changes, land management and land cover (and hence space for migratory birds)

This project will .

Work co-funded by the Cambridge Conservation Initiative Collaborative Fund, and the Isaac Newton Trust involved a collaboration between the University of Cambridge (Departments of Geography and Zoology), the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the British Trust for Ornithology. This reviewed the extent of land cover change in the Sahel, the social and the economic processes that are driving it, and its significance for migrant birds (Atkinson et al. 2014, Adams et al. 2014).

New research with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB in Ghana will analyse the political ecology of landscape change in a study area in northern Ghana. Ornithological and ecological research by the RSPB and their local partners have shown the importance of woodland and farm trees for migratory birds, especially the wood warbler. The project will focus on the social and economic drivers of tree cover. The project’s aim is to understand what factors influence the way farmers manage trees on and around their land, and the implications of the decisions of land managers for landscape change.

Research Briefs


  • Mortimore, M. J. and Adams, W.M. (2001) ‘Farmer adaptation, change and ‘crisis’ in the Sahel’, Global Environmental Change 11: 49-57.
  • Atkinson, P.W., Adams, W.M., Brouwer, J., Buchanen, G., Cheke, R.A., Cresswell, W., Hewson, C.M., Hulme, M., Manvell, A., Sheehan, D.K., Small, R.D.S., Sutherland, W.J., Vickery, J.A. (2014) ‘Identifying key wintering habitats in the Sahel for declining African-Palearctic migrants’, Bird Conservation International 24: 477-491 doi:10.1017/S0959270913000531.
  • Adams, W.M. , Small, R.D.S. and Vickery, J.A. (2014) ‘The impact of land use change on migrant birds in the Sahel’, Biodiversity 15 (2-3): 101-108