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. To see details of all our recent publications please visit the Publications page.

Crested Tit (Neil Calbrade)

Crested Tit (

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

Great Crested Grebe, photograph by Sam White

Riverine birds under threat from climate change?

Current climate change models predict that, by 2050, river flows will decrease in summer and increase in winter, with extreme flow events becoming more frequent. Two recent papers suggest how river birds might respond to these changes and highlight the species most at risk.

Cotton grass by Anne Carrington-Cotton

Testing compensatory habitat mitigation for biodiversity

Management “prescriptions” to mitigate effects of habitat damage and loss caused by development are often used as conservation tools. However, the effectiveness of such prescriptions is not routinely assessed. An area of protected Scottish moorland was managed to mitigate effects of habitat damage by mining development in this and an adjacent area. In a 10-year study, BTO researchers monitored the responses of breeding bird populations to the chosen management prescriptions. Most species failed to respond positively, probably due to insufficient control of bird and mammal predators. The effectiveness of mitigation management prescriptions must be assessed to ensure the successful delivery of their objectives.

Burkina Faso, photograph by Chris Orsman

Migratory bird populations linked to African, Mediterranean and UK weather

Many migratory birds that winter in Africa have declined in number in recent years. Iconic species under threat include Cuckoo and Nightingale. The mechanisms behind these declines must be understood in order to direct conservation efforts to where they will have the biggest impact. Recent BTO research has highlighted the importance of African rainfall, spring Mediterranean and UK breeding season temperatures on the subsequent breeding success and abundance of British summer visitors.