13 eagle chicks arrive from Norway, at Edinburgh airport, RSPB East Scotland Sea Eagle Project

Why do people migrate?

Humans are also animals, and - like most animals - we migrate. In the distant past, people had to move with the seasons in order to stay alive.

Human migration

Today we have the skills and resources to survive staying in one place. But we have also created problems, such as war and poverty, that force many people to move. 

For those of us lucky enough to have a stable home, life still involves many journeys. And the instinct to explore keeps driving people towards new horizons. We are the only animal known to have reached the moon. So far!

Out of Africa

The very first people evolved several million years ago on the plains of East Africa. Since then we have spread out, migrating across land and sea, to reach almost every inhabitable corner of the earth.

More recently, people have moved around the globe in search of new opportunities, such as the Europeans who founded new colonies all over the world during the 19th century. Others have undergone forced migration, such as the millions of Africans who were shipped across the Atlantic to America as slaves.

Moonrise over Cadair Idris, Snowdonia, Wales

Moving with the seasons

The earliest people were hunter-gatherers. They travelled from place to place and found food as they went. 

Today a few scattered groups of people still live in this traditional way, such as the San people of the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa.

San communities are nomadic – continually on the move in search of food as the seasons change. But the San do not wander at random. They know exactly where they can find food, water or shelter as they travel. They store water under the desert sand in ostrich eggs hidden in secret places. The calcium in the eggshell keeps the water fresh for up to a year.

Follow the herd

By 10,000 years ago people had developed farming. Those living in fertile regions led a more settled life – they could stay mostly in one place and tend their crops. But those in less fertile regions often had to follow their livestock as they migrated. 

Today the Sami people of Lapland follow the migration routes of their reindeer, moving every year from a winter home in the forests of Finland to a summer home on the Arctic coast of Norway. Although they now use snowmobiles to herd the reindeer, their migration route has not changed in 400 years.

Oil seed rape, RSPB Hope Farm, Cambridgeshire, England