The conservation of Afro-Palaearctic migrants: what we are learning and what we need to know

Juliet Vickery*, John Mallord, William Adams, Alison Beresford, Christiaan Both, Will Cresswell, Ngone Diop, Steven Ewing, Richard Gregory, Catriona Morrison, Fiona Sanderson, Kasper Thorup, Rien Van Wijk, Chris Hewson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

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The global long-term decline of migrant birds represents an important and challenging issue for conservation scientists and practitioners. This review draws together recent research directed at the Afro-Palaearctic flyway and considers its implications for conservation. The greatest advances in knowledge have been made in the field of tracking. These studies reveal many species to be highly dispersed in the non-breeding season, suggesting that site-level conservation at a small number of locations will almost certainly be of limited value for most species. Instead, widespread but ‘shallow’ land-sharing solutions are likely to be more effective but, because any local changes in Africa will affect many European populations, any impact will be extremely difficult to detect through monitoring in the breeding grounds. Targeted action to boost productivity in Europe may help to halt declines of some species but reversing declines for many species is also likely to require these ‘shallow’ land-sharing approaches in non-breeding areas. The retention or planting of native trees in the humid and arid zones within Africa may be a generic conservation tool, especially if planting is concentrated on favoured tree species. Overall, and despite a growing knowledge, we remain largely unable to progress beyond general flyway-level actions, such as maintaining suitable habitat across an increasingly anthropogenic landscape for generalists, targeted site-based conservation for specialists and at stop-over sites, protection of species from hunting, and individual species-level solutions. We remain unable to assess the cost-effectiveness of more specific conservation action, mainly because of uncertainty around how migrant populations are affected by conditions during passage and on the non-breeding grounds, as well as around the efficacy of implementation of actions, particularly in non-breeding areas. For advances in knowledge to develop and implement effective conservation, scientific approaches need to be better integrated with each other and implemented across the full annual cycle. However, we urge the immediate use of available scientific knowledge rather than waiting for a complete understanding, and that any action is combined with species monitoring and adaptive management across the flyway.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)717-738
Number of pages22
Issue number3
Early online date14 Feb 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2023


  • Connectivity
  • Dispersal
  • East Atlantic flyway
  • Tree establishment
  • Trial solutions


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