The Archives

The Archives hold a unique range of material relating to the work and history of BTO and UK ornithology, as well as personal papers and photographic material from key figures in ornithology and bird photography.

BTO’s Archives include:

  • Survey material and data from studies carried out by BTO
  • Personal papers and notebooks of prominent figures in the history of British and Irish ornithology
  • Photographic material (with an emphasis on early bird photography)
  • BTO governance and administrative records

Explore the Catalogue

Read more about our collections, and our commitment to sharing these, in our policies:

Visiting the Archives

The Archives are situated in the chapel of the old Nunnery at BTO Headquarters in Thetford and is normally open 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday-Friday.

Everyone with an interest in ornithology is welcome, but as space is limited, please email archives [at] or phone us on +44 (0)1842 750050 to arrange your visit.

  • Wheelchair access and facilities are available, and there is also lift access to the Library.
  • There is a free car park for visitors.
  • Archives Access Policy

Getting here

Collection highlights

From the work of trailblazing women to some of ornithology’s thorniest detective cases, we hold a range of fascinating collections.

The "Hastings Rarities Affair"

Hastings Rarities Paper draft. E.M. Nicholson archive

We hold original and later correspondence regarding the "Hastings Rarities Affair". The "affair" centred around hundreds of bird records for the Hastings area, submitted between 1892 and 1930, many of which were reported to have passed through the hands of George Bristow, a local taxidermist and gunsmith.

These records were publicly challenged in 1962 in the journal British Birds through two articles demonstrating, statistically, that such a high number of rarities he reported was unlikely to be genuine.

The "Hastings Rarities Affair" hit the headlines as one of the most infamous frauds in ornithological history, sending shockwaves throughout the birding community.

Early bird photography

Gannet. John Barlee

We hold a growing collection of photographic materials and have a particular focus on the work of early bird photographers.

Our collection includes glass plate negatives, lantern slides and prints from key photographers including Oliver Pike and John Barlee.

​We also hold the archive for Emma Turner - a pioneering Edwardian bird photographer and ornithologist - which includes diaries, correspondence and photographic slides and negatives.

Cataloguing project

In 2022 we started a cataloguing project to open up our amazing collections to a wider audience.

Although some of our archive material can be found by searching our current Library Catalogue, the collection has not yet been fully catalogued. Our new catalogue will be available online and will allow us to better integrate both library and archives materials.

Uncatalogued archival material will be catalogued for the first time in accordance with international standards, and existing catalogue entries will be moved out of the library catalogue. We expect the first materials to be available in 2023.

  • Updates about this exciting project will be posted here, but for more information please contact us at archives [at]

An extract from ornithologist R. M. Garnett's diary depicting a Stone Curlew and accompanying notes.

Donate to the Archives

We welcome any enquiries about donating collections at archives [at] We consider donations of material relating to the history of ornithology (including personal papers of prominent figures), bird photography (particularly early photography) or the history of BTO.

We sometimes accept donations of notebooks of prominent ornithologists, but we don't usually accept notebooks or diaries containing bird records for the Archives. If you have notebooks containing historical bird records, please upload your data to BirdTrack.

  • If we are unable to accept donations to the Archives for any reason, we will try to help donors find the most suitable home for their material and may direct donors towards a different repository if more appropriate. 

  • Please read our guidance if you’re considering donating a collection or book of special ornithological value to us.

  • Please get in touch with us by email at archives [at] or by telephone on +44 (0)1842 750050 before sending or bringing donations to BTO.

Support BTO in another way

Reading rare and fragile items

We are committed to sharing the wealth of ornithological information in our Archives, but occasionally there may be restrictions placed on certain types of material e.g. if there are preservation concerns for fragile items.

We will always advise visitors if this applies to any of the material they wish to consult, and we will provide surrogate copies if possible.

Making copies of our material

All material in the BTO Archives is reference-only. However, we can provide copies in accordance with copyright law. 

  • Some of our rare books are fragile items and it may not be possible to scan or copy these.
  • Visitors are permitted to take digital photographs.
  • Flash photography is not permitted.


Visitors who require copies in any format must complete a Copyright Declaration Form stating that copies will be used for non-commercial research or private study only.

Copies requested by email or telephone will normally be sent to remote researchers as a PDF file attached to an email, but may be sent as photocopied pages where this is not possible.

Contact the Library and Archives

The Chris Mead Library and the Archives are normally open 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday-Friday.

Everyone with an interest in ornithology is welcome, but space is limited so please contact us first to arrange your visit.

A lift and wheelchair access and facilities are available, and there's also a free car park for visitors.

By email:

  • library [at]
  • archives [at]

By phone:

Getting here

  • British Trust for Ornithology, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, IP24 2PU

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