The RSPB is launching an exciting new programme of work, with the support of the Ecological Restoration Fund, to protect and restore vital habitats for migrating birds. The work will target four key landscapes all of which sit on the East Atlantic Flyway – a bird migration superhighway that stretches from the Arctic, through Europe, all the way to the southern tip of Africa. In today's blog, Nick Williams, RSPB Flyway Conservation Outreach Officer, introduces us to one of these migratory bird hotspots – the savannahs of northern Ghana.

Setting the scene
It is midday. The sun is bright above us and we are bumping along a dusty road in northern Ghana. We are visiting our colleagues from Ghana Wildlife Society (GWS), the national BirdLife partner organisation here, to discuss a bold new project to restore and reconnect fragmented areas of this savannah landscape.

Four people study a map out in the field

Staff from RSPB, Ghana Wildlife Society and Ghana Forestry Commission in the field discussing protected wildlife corridors. © Nick Williams (

“There! You can see another one of them!” says Joseph as he points energetically out of the vehicle. “They are so important for elephants and for migrating birds but we’re losing them. We need to bring them back.”

I ask Joseph, Project Officer for Research and Conservation Science at Ghana Wildlife Society, why the acacia trees which he has been busily pointing out to me are so important for this landscape.

“As migrant birds return here from Europe they arrive when most other trees are bare. So the acacias, which still have leaves, provide them with shade and they also begin to fruit at this time which attracts insects, so the returning birds have access to food”. Clearly if we want to re-establish more areas of suitable habitat here, both for migrating birds and a wide variety of other wildlife, the acacia will have a vital role to play.

Drone view of the Sisili River showing the river bed and surrounding vegetation

The Sisili River forms the backbone of the protected Western Wildlife Corridor in north-west Ghana. © Joseph Afrifa (Ghana Wildlife Society).

Crucial corridors
Every year, the wooded savannahs of northern Ghana see the arrival of migratory birds that have travelled south from Europe at the end of their breeding seasons. We are visiting in November and in just an hour of early morning birdwatching at Mole National Park, Joseph spots 38 different species, with five of these being species that breed in the UK including Pied Flycatcher, Willow Warbler, and Yellow Wagtail.

Drone view of Mole National Park with an open water body, stream bed and vegetation stretching into the distance

Mole National Park plays host to a wide variety of wildlife including a large number of migratory birds, many of which return to Europe to breed during our summer. © Joseph Afrifa (Ghana Wildlife Society).

However, outside protected areas, much of the suitable habitat for these birds, and the region’s wildlife more generally, has become broken into disconnected fragments. To the southwest of Mole lies another national park - Bui. In days gone by, animals could move easily between these two areas along a corridor that was used by everything from huge elephants looking for food and water, to tiny songbirds flitting from tree to tree. 

Drone view of dry vegetation and dead trees

Outside protected areas, suitable wildlife habitat in the region becomes fragmented by human activity and burning is common on agricultural land. These fires can start naturally but can also be caused by people seeking to improve their farming land. © Joseph Afrifa (Ghana Wildlife Society).

Today the surviving Forest Reserves in this area are interspersed with farmland, human settlements, and other land-use pressures making it harder for wildlife to move through safely. So we are here to collaborate with Ghana Wildlife Society, meet local community members and discuss the restoration of this important corridor with representatives of the Ghana Forestry Commission (responsible for national parks and forest reserves management). The goal is for this project to serve as an exemplar for landscape-scale conservation in the region and, if similar approaches can be adopted across sub-Saharan Africa, enormous progress will be made in the conservation of migratory birds using the flyway.

Yellow Wagtail standing on the ground with grassy vegetation in the foreground

Yellow Wagtails are spring and summer visitors to Europe with many spending the non-breeding season in West Africa. © Ben Andrew (

Collaboration and communities
The principle of wildlife corridors that allow animals to move safely between protected areas is not new to this part of Ghana. During our time here we visit two established corridors under the stewardship of the Forestry Commission; the Western and Eastern Wildlife Corridors, both of which extend south from Ghana’s border with Burkina Faso. To establish a similar corridor between Mole and Bui National Parks will need a long-term programme of habitat restoration, scientific research and, crucially, collaboration with local communities.

Ghana Wildlife Society’s work in this region has always been rooted in community engagement. They have been instrumental in helping to establish CREMAs (Community Resource Management Areas) for villages close to the boundaries of Mole National Park. A CREMA devolves power for managing natural resources away from the state and into the hands of local communities – making it easier to establish wildlife-friendly practices at a local level.

The hope is that by collaborating with communities to establish a network of these CREMAs, as well as undertaking habitat restoration and wildlife surveys (to monitor population improvements while mitigating human-wildlife conflicts), an effective wildlife corridor can once again be established between Mole and Bui.

One day, perhaps Joseph and I will go birdwatching again, but this time beyond the borders of the national park. Instead, we may be visiting a regenerated wildlife corridor teeming both with resident species and a whole host of migratory birds returning from their northern breeding ranges to safely perch themselves amongst the acacia leaves once more.

A large Elephant with a person looking on in the foreground

An elephant in Mole National Park, Ghana is watched closely by a member of national park staff. © Nick Williams (

This project is being undertaken by the RSPB in partnership with Ghana Wildlife Society and forms part of the RSPB Flyway Team’s new programme of work to protect and restore key sites along the East Atlantic Flyway. This programme has been made possible thanks to the generous support of the Ecological Restoration Fund. The Ecological Restoration Fund supports work that protects biodiverse hotspots, rejuvenates degraded landscapes and promotes local environmental activism. They are committed to re-establishing nature’s essential interconnections while fostering cultural, social and economic opportunities for the communities inhabiting those landscapes.

Continue reading
• World Migratory Bird Day and our work to support migratory birds on the East Atlantic Flyway
• Marvelling at migratory birds – our work on an avian superhighway
• Conserving birds on a continental scale – the Pan-African Ornithological Congress

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