An appraisal of the African-Eurasian waterbird agreement and its role in the conservation and management of migratory birds at flyway-level

M.G. Lewis

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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An Appraisal of the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement and its Role in the Conservation and Management of Migratory Birds at Flyway-level
Melissa Lewis
The annual movements of migratory birds can span thousands of kilometres. In the course of their journeys, these species encounter a myriad of risks associated with human activities. They also traverse multiple jurisdictions. International cooperation is therefore a prerequisite for their effective conservation and management. One of the most ambitious international instruments thus far developed to facilitate such cooperation is the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA). AEWA is an extremely complex and, in some respects, pioneering treaty and has been lauded as a very promising tool for bird conservation. However, the Agreement has attracted little attention from legal scholars. This research consequently sought to examine AEWA’s role in, and implications for, the conservation and management of migratory birds, as well as how the Agreement’s contribution to these objectives might be enhanced in the future.
The dissertation tracks the manner in which AEWA has evolved since its entry into force, explores its relationship with other conservation treaties, and identifies a variety of strengths in the Agreement’s design and functioning which, in principle, position the Agreement to make a valuable contribution to the conservation and management of migratory waterbirds. Examples include AEWA’s emphasis on a flyway-scale approach to conservation, the detail and rigor of its legal provisions, its strong scientific basis, and its active and inclusive supporting institutions and processes. The dissertation also identifies various challenges facing the Agreement and argues that there is a need to better define AEWA’s niche, enhance its engagement with other international fora, and more rigorously prioritise its activities. Various suggestions are made in this regard. For instance, the dissertation identifies several distinct roles that AEWA can play in relation to habitat conservation, despite the Agreement’s overlap with other habitat-focused treaties. It also highlights AEWA’s importance as a platform for regulating the harvest of migratory waterbirds across their ranges, but identifies a variety of challenges that arise in interpreting and implementing the Agreement’s harvest-related provisions. Recommendations are made as to how particular interpretive uncertainties can be resolved, how AEWA’s provisions on harvest could be further developed in the future, and how states can go about better implementing their commitments under the Agreement (especially those concerning internationally-agreed harvest quotas). The dissertation also makes several suggestions and observations concerning the legal avenues through which AEWA’s geographic and taxonomic coverage could potentially be expanded in the future.
The dissertation comprises five journal articles and one commissioned guidance document. It was based primarily on standard international law research methodology and comparative legal methodology, and was further informed by material and perspectives from the natural and social sciences and by the author’s direct involvement in a variety of AEWA processes. It was, from the outset, intended that the author’s academic research and AEWA activities would be mutually supportive, and indeed, several of the recommendations emerging from the dissertation have been incorporated into guidance documents subsequently adopted under the Agreement. Despite focusing specifically on AEWA and its importance for migratory (water)bird conservation in Africa and western Eurasia, much of the dissertation’s analysis is also relevant for other species, treaties and regions.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Laws
Awarding Institution
  • Tilburg University
  • Verschuuren, Jonathan, Promotor
  • Trouwborst, Arie, Promotor
Award date4 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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