Enhancing the resilience of Sahel habitats provides long-term benefits

Planting seedlings, Burkina Faso © Michiel van den Bergh_ASC

Unsustainable land management, combined with an increasingly inhospitable climate, is putting pressure on communities and migratory birds in the Sahel. BirdLife Partners are conserving and restoring wetland and dryland habitats across 13 Important Bird and biodiversity Areas (IBAs), and supporting communities to adopt more sustainable land-use practices that are building their resilience to climate change.

Birds and people depend on natural resources for their survival. The intricate link between people and their environment is especially apparent in the Sahel, with its millions of people and livestock, its unpredictable rainfall, and the increasing pressure on wetlands, trees and grasslands. These same habitats are also used by millions of migratory and Afrotropical birds such as Common Whitethroats Sylvia communis (Zwarts et al. 2009, Bayly et al. 2011, Vickery et al. 1999). Declining population trends of many migratory species crossing the Sahara suggest conditions in the Sahel may be having an impact (Zwarts et al. 2009).  A project called “Living on the Edge” run by two European and three African BirdLife Partners are collaborating at 12 sites in four Sahelian countries to combine the needs of both people and nature to increase the resilience of both to climate change.

Whilst it has been suggested that anthropogenic climate change may have been a contributing driver of drying in the Sahel region in the 20th century (Biasutti and Giannini 2006), the projected impacts of climate change in the Sahel region are currently uncertain, with some models suggesting continued dry conditions, and others predicted increases in rainfall (Cook and Vizy 2006). Regardless of which way these changes occur, sustainable land use will be important in ensuring the resilience of the regions wildlife and local communities in a changing environment.

The BirdLife Partners in Burkina Faso and Nigeria have much experience in working with rural communities. Their approach is to establish Local Conservation Groups at the community level, which facilitate a participative process for more sustainable management of natural resources. This process results in a programme of concrete actions and identifies capacity needs, for which training and materials are provided by the project. Experiences and lessons learned are exchanged between sites and communities, both in-country and regionally.

BirdLife Partner the Nigerian Conservation Foundation has successfully implemented this approach in Sahelian wetlands, and is now moving to dryland savanna and forest habitats. Alternative incomes have been generated through the setting up of tree nurseries to enable the replanting of degraded habitats. Existing natural woodlands are conserved by establishing zones for firewood collection and cattle grazing, and promoting new community forests for resource use, whilst training for chicken and duck farming provides income and reduces hunting pressure on wild birds.

In Burkina Faso, new boreholes for livestock watering are being constructed away from wetlands, protecting the lakeside forests from overgrazing, whilst regeneration and replanting of Faidherbia albida is underway. This native tree is favoured by both birds and people because of its reversed leaf-shedding, offering shade in the dry season and nutrients in the wet season. The Local Conservation Groups are trained by scientists to undertake both ecological and socio-economic monitoring of the impacts of these interventions. 

This case study is taken from ‘The Messengers: What birds tell us about threats from climate change and solutions for nature and people’. To download the report in full click here

Related Species


Bayly, N. J., Atkinson, P. W. and Rumsey, S. J. R. (2012) Fuelling for the Sahara crossing: variation in site use and the onset and rate of spring mass gain by 38 Palearctic migrants in the western Sahel. J. Ornithology 153: 931–945.
Biasutti, M. and Giannini, A (2006) Robust Sahel drying in response to late 20th century forcings. Geophys. Res.Lett. 33: doi:10.1029/2006GL026067.
Cook, K. H. and Vizy, E. K. (2006) Coupled Model Simulations of the West African Monsoon System: 20th and 21st Century Simulations. J. Climate. 19: 3681–3703.
Giannini, A., Biasutti, M. and Verstraete, M. M. (2008) A climate model-based review of drought in the Sahel: Desertification, the re-greening and climate change. Global and Planet. Change 64: 119–128.
Vickery, J., Rowcliff, M., Cresswell, W., Jones, P. and Holt, S. (1999) Habitat selection by Whitethroats Sylvia communis during spring passage in the Sahel zone of northern Nigeria. Bird Study. 46: 348–355.
Zwarts, L., Bijlsma, R. G., Kamp, J. and Wymenga, E. (2009) Living on the edge: Wetlands and birds in a changing Sahel. Zeist, The Netherlands: KNNV Publishing.

Compiled: 2015    Copyright: 2015   

Recommended Citation:
BirdLife International (2015) Enhancing the resilience of Sahel habitats provides long-term benefits. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 04/10/2023

Case studies