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Migratory birds under threat
Every year, an estimated two billion birds migrate between Europe and Africa. Many of these birds spend at least part of the non-breeding season in the Sahel region, a semi-arid zone which spans Africa south of the Sahara. For some the Sahel is their wintering ground, for others an important staging area before travelling to Southern Africa. Populations of many of these long-distance migrants, like Turtle Dove and Northern Wheatear, are in dramatic decline.

Recent research indicates that European breeding birds that winter in Africa are faring worse than short-distance migrants or resident species, and are increasingly encountering problems in the Sahel. Damming of major rivers is causing floodplains and associated marshes to disappear. Timber extraction and agricultural land clearance diminish the area of forest and woodland, and overgrazing and unsustainable wood-cutting for fuel are leading to desertification. As a consequence, biodiversity is being reduced, along with the crucial natural resources that are shared by people and birds alike.

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What is Living on the Edge
The steep decline of migratory birds calls for swift action before it is too late. It is encouraging that BirdLife Partners in Africa have been successful in projects that restore habitats and ensure sustainable resources for people. In the project ‘Living on the Edge’, named after the award-winning book based on research into birds and land use in the Sahel, these experiences are being put into practice on a large scale in four Sahelian countries.

For birds and people
The project ‘Living on the Edge’ focuses on the shared interests of birds and people in the Sahel. It promotes sustainable land use, aiming to enhance peoples’ livelihoods while restoring and protecting important habitats used by birds. Volunteer groups from local communities – Site Support Groups – play an important part in this process. Supported by the national BirdLife Partners, they organize participative planning for natural resource use, including advocating alternative agricultural techniques and actions to reduce problems such as overgrazing.

Living on the Edge is setting the example
The Sahel is an important region for trans-Saharan migrant birds, but the area it covers is vast, and migratory birds are widely distributed. The same is true for the problems that birds and people face. ‘Living on the Edge’ supports 12 project sites to showcase conservation actions designed to deliver an improved environment for both people and birds.

The overall objective is that sustainable land use and restoration of bird habitats are put into practice more widely throughout the Sahel. To achieve this, the project puts much emphasis on local and national capacity building, national and international policy advocacy, and training and exchange between conservationists and Site Support Groups. ‘Living on the Edge’ stimulates organizations and governments to implement this approach more widely, and to ensure that development policies take the habitats and biodiversity – that people as well as birds depend on – into account.

‘Living on the Edge’ demonstrates that nature conservation in Africa is relevant, that it is not a mere luxury but a necessity. Neither birds nor people in the Sahel can live without trees, lakes and floodplains.