Science

Barn Owl. Photograph by John Harding

Barn Owl (John Harding)

The dominant context for our scientific work is undertaking impartial research on bird populations in a changing environment, to better inform the management of resources and to aid conservation effort. We are committed to developing and advancing the science of ornithology through the use of innovative analyses and the latest data-gathering technology.

Our approach involves work at a range of scales from extensive volunteer-based monitoring programmes to intensive observations and experiments. While the focus of our research is on British and Irish birds, we are increasingly involved in international work and in collaborative research that includes other taxa.

Bluebells in woodland. Photograph by John Evans

Bluebells in woodland (John Evans)

Much of our research is based on data derived from our long-term monitoring schemes. Our population dynamics and modelling theme is continuing to develop the understanding of demographic processes and their environmental drivers. Climate change is a cross-cutting issue, touching on many aspects of our research, both directly in terms of its impact on the natural environment and indirectly through Government policies designed to mitigate and adapt to the change. Our theme on multi-scale habitats addresses the ecological consequences of land-use and landscape change. Using our expertise to collaborate on international projects is becoming an important priority for the BTO, as is broader inter-disciplinary work. We have a long history of migration research and knowledge about the ecology of migration is important in understanding the mechanisms causing population change in migrant species. Through our wetland and marine theme, we are at the forefront of delivering information on waterbirds in the UK, often in response to the requirements of international legislation and policy development. In recent years we have increased our involvement in seabird research to complement our expertise on waders and wildfowl.

We endeavour to publish much of our scientific work in peer-reviewed journals. See details of all our recent publications.

Crested Tit (Neil Calbrade)

Crested Tit (www.neilcalbrade.co.uk)

Where appropriate, we collaborate actively with those who have complementary expertise such as the statutory conservation agencies, universities and other research institutes. We are an Affiliated Institute of the University of East Anglia, a member of the Cambridge Conservation Initiative and we also maintain particularly strong links with the University of Birmingham. Collaborative work with Europe is promoted through our active involvement in EURING (European Union of Ringing) and in the European Bird Census Council. We are always seeking to extend these areas of collaboration.

Latest Research

Linnet. By John Harding.

Spare or share to benefit biodiversity?

Agriculture is necessary to meet the food demands of an increasing human population, but it is also a leading threat to biodiversity, both because natural habitats are destroyed when land is converted to agricultural use and because the intensive management of existing agricultural land has negative consequences for many species. For this reason, scientists are studying strategies to mitigate the impacts of agriculture on biodiversity.
Knot flock by Dawn Balmer

Waders wane while geese gain

A major new study led by BTO, working with the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) partners, JNCC, RSPB and in association with WWT, provides detailed information on the importance of Great Britain for waterbirds each winter.
Corn Bunting by Mark R Taylor

Land sparing and bird conservation

As demand for food increases, a crucial question in conservation is how to limit the negative impacts of agriculture on biodiversity. ‘Land sparing’ has been proposed as a strategy to address this problem, with high-yield agriculture minimising the area of farmland so that other land can be spared for conservation. Research – mostly from tropical regions – suggests that most species would achieve larger populations under a land-sparing strategy than under a strategy in which lower-yielding wildlife-friendly farmland delivers food production over a larger total area.