2010 IYB: Wings Over Wetlands: Flyway-level Conservation of Migratory Waterbirds

September 28, 2010

Celebrating the International Year of Biodiversity with Success Stories from the Field


Wings Over Wetlands: Flyway-level Conservation of migratory waterbirds


Flyway Conservation

Migratory waterbirds -such as waders, terns and geese- travel vast distances, crossing many countries and often entire continents during their annual migration cycles along “flyways” that connect breeding, staging and non-breeding areas that are sometimes thousands of miles apart from each other. All areas in the flyway, which are most often wetland ecosystems, are critical for the birds to complete their annual life-cycles.


Wetlands are amongst the world’s most vulnerable ecosystems and are primarily threatened by human activity and pressure. In addition to the importance that wetlands hold for migratory waterbirds and other biodiversity, they provide important ecosystem services such as clean water and opportunities for fishing, agriculture, recreation, education and tourism.

Given the pressure that wetlands are under, reversing their deterioration is challenging in itself, but when placed in the context of simultaneously protecting habitats that span continents the problem becomes increasingly complex. With some species migrating more than 10,000 km biannually along established and predictable routes, addressing the problem requires coordinated, international action at sites in many countries to deliver results.


The Wings Over Wetlands (WOW) Project

To overcome these considerable hurdles, the GEF is supporting the Wings Over Wetlands Project (WOW) – the largest international waterbird and wetland conservation initiative ever carried out in the African-Eurasian region.

The overarching goal is to maintain a favorable conservation status for more than 250 wetland-dependent species across their entire migratory range by strengthening the capacity of those responsible for planning and managing the conservation of migratory waterbirds and the critical sites along their flyways.

A diverse group of partners and donors have come together to support this multi-national effort. The GEF project is being led by Wetlands International and BirdLife International, with UNEP as the GEF Implementing Agency, including the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA), the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre, the Government of Germany, UNOPS and several other partners and national NGOs in all participating countries.

The area covered by the project spans four continents: all of Africa, all of Europe, south-west Asia (including the Middle East and Central Asian States), Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago. Its outputs are of direct benefit to all 118 ‘Range States’ of AEWA, and lessons learnt applicable to other major flyways.


Notable achievements

The project has made significant strides forward in its four main areas of work:

  • A new tool for flyway-scale, protected areas network planning and management: The Critical Site Network (CSN) Tool is an innovative website designed to support international conservation efforts for migratory waterbirds. Launched in June 2010, it is publicly accessible from the WOW Website at:

    The web portal provides a new one-stop access to a range of datasets that are held and managed by different WOW partners. The CSN Tool’s new analytical functions will not only significantly help conservation efforts, but also facilitate national implementation of a number of Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs), such as AEWA and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. The CSN Tool has been jointly developed by WI, BirdLife and UNEP–WCMC.

  • A ’Flyway Training Kit’ to enhance decision-making and technical capacity for wetland management and migratory waterbird conservation: Launched in May 2010, the Flyway Training Kit (FTK) was developed in collaboration with over 40 international conservation training institutions that are committed and involved in the conservation of migratory waterbirds and wetland habitats in Africa and Eurasia. The comprehensive kit has three main sections focusing on Understanding, Applying and Communicating the flyway conservation approach. It includes user-friendly and illustrated text, course planning tools, practical exercises and support material, ready-to-use presentations, 4 CDs with all relevant files and reference literature. Content within the FTK can be mixed-and-matched and tailored to individual regional, national and local training needs, providing a flexible platform for a wide range of training courses and awareness raising activities. The Flyway Training Kit can be downloaded in pdf format from the WOW website at and is available in three main languages used in the project region: French, Russian and Arabic.
  • Good practice from 11 Demonstration Projects focusing on a range of themes: These field initiatives have generated impressive results at the local level, providing good practice examples and contributing also to the development of the WOW CSN and FTK tools. Issues covered ranged from management planning, control of invasive species, wetland restoration, ecotourism development, trans-boundary collaboration and developing alternative livelihoods. These site-level projects have been implemented in the following twelve countries: Estonia, The Gambia, Hungary, Lithuania, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Turkey and Yemen. The achievements and all outputs of each demonstration project can be viewed on the WOW website at:
  • Enhanced availability and exchange of information on management of waterbirds and wetlands along the flyway: A dedicated website (, linked to the respective websites of all key WOW partners, provides easy access to all new flyway conservation tools, technical reports and documents that are and will remain publicly available. Information and project news is also being shared periodically to a growing network of flyway conservation professionals, through electronic newsletters and other publications.


Looking Forward

The project has set a new trend in flyways conservation and the successful “WOW partnership” is now formalized as an MOU signed by WI, BLI, Ramsar and AEWA. This sets the stage for enhanced collaboration on flyways issues in the future. Most partners have also established their own individual “flyways” teams, in further recognition of the importance of this new approach to the conservation of migratory birds.

The new tools produced by the project are now adopted as an integral part of all the WOW partners’ conservation work, and are already widely in use. For example, the gaps identified through the CSN tool are providing the basis for further research and for the enhanced protection of poorly studied species/populations of migratory birds, as well as a sound basis for the identification and establishment of new conservation areas across the region.

The “Flyway Training Kit” is already being used to deliver flyway training courses across the region, and it is now part of the training programs of many of the 42 partner institutions involved in the project. Both tools have sparked considerable interest also beyond the African-Eurasian Region, and several donors have expressed interest in continuing and expanding support for the work initiated by this project.

At the level of WOW demonstration sites, the conservation achievements of each project will continue to sustain the important work carried out at the local level by various partner NGO’s and government institutions involved. Most importantly, at each site, the WOW contribution has added a new dimension to site-level conservation, by emphasizing the international significance of each site through its important linkages with the wider picture and international flyway-level conservation efforts.



Full Title: “Enhancing Conservation of the Critical Network of Sites required by Migratory Waterbirds on the African/Eurasian Flyways”.
Duration: 2006-2010.
GEF Grant: US$ 6,000,000, co-financing: US$ 6,195,229.
For more information, please contact: Camillo Ponziani, WOW Operations Manager (

For more information and contacts see

Editor's note: To celebrate the International Year of Biodiversity, every two weeks we will highlight a GEF project that is creatively addressing the challenges to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity. These examples of good practice in conservation and sustainable use will demonstrate the contributions that biodiversity makes to local and national economies and that halting the loss of biodiversity is indeed possible.