Raptor research

Scotland is a stronghold for many of the UK’s birds of prey species, including the iconic Golden Eagle, Peregrine, Merlin and Short-eared Owl, as well as two reintroduced species, the White-tailed Eagle and Red Kite. Many UK bird of prey populations have undergone a period of recovery in recent decades, following widespread killing by humans and the negative effects of organochlorine pesticides in the past. Despite this, illegal killing and disturbance of some species, such as the Hen harrier, is still widespread, and a range of other environmental and man-induced threats exists, including declines in prey populations, rodenticide poisoning and the potential impacts of windfarms, to name but three. Recently evidence has emerged for declines of some raptor species in at least parts of Scotland, including the Kestrel and Peregrine.

The BTO has had a long involvement in research on birds of prey, since the late Derek Ratcliffe ran its first National Peregrine Survey in the mid-1960s. The National Peregrine Surveys have continued every 10 years since that time, and in addition the BTO has carried out work on Barn Owls, including the first national survey, Buzzards, and now runs the Hen Harrier Winter Roost Survey for England and Wales. The BTO sat on the UK Raptor Working Group in the early 1990s, a stakeholder group set up to take action to resolve a key human-wildlife conflict between raptors and gamebird and pigeon-racing interests.  

BTO Scotland has particular research interests in Peregrines, Hen Harriers and Short-eared Owls. BTO Scotland is one of seven partners in the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme, and plays a key role in providing advice and expertise to the Scheme on the curation of raptor information, data analysis, reporting and raptor trends and indicators. We were involved in a review of the impacts of predatory birds for Scotland’s Moorland Forum.

BTO Scotland work on raptors cuts across several of the BTO research themes, including monitoring and multi-scale habitats.

Staff contact: Chris Wernham.

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