James Pearce-Higgins

Director, Science

James is a member of the Senior Leadership Team at BTO. He is responsible for providing strategic leadership of the organisation’s science.

Interests & Responsibilities

James provides strategic oversight of BTO science, which encompasses both monitoring and research. BTO organises volunteer-based and professional surveys to assess changes in the abundance, distribution and demography of bird populations, and of selected non-avian taxa.

BTO also leads on the analysis of these data, conducting research to understand the causes of population change, and the processes that underpin observed ecological patterns, and to inform what is required to manage species and habitats sustainably.

In addition, James specifically leads BTO’s climate change research. This involves documenting the impacts of climate change on UK biodiversity, undertaking projections of the likely future impact of climate change on species’ distributions and abundance, and informing the development of climate change adaptation.

In recent years, James has led five multi-organisational climate change research consortia funded by Defra, Natural England and CCI, as well as many BTO projects. In 2014 CUP published Birds and Climate Change: Impacts and Conservation Responses, which he co-authored with Rhys Green. James has also written contributing papers for both MCCIP and LWEC climate change report cards.

From 2010-2014 James led the Population Ecology and Modelling team and was responsible for the BBS research programme, which not only informed potential improvements and additions to the BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), but developed new modelling techniques to understand the drivers of population change, and to improve predictions of future abundance. James now chairs the Breeding Bird Survey Steering Group.

Prior to working at BTO, James worked in Scotland for RSPB for 11 years, leading a wide range of upland research projects.

Other Information


Jul 1994: BSc Honours Zoology (University of Nottingham)

Feb 2000: PhD Environmental Biology ‘The ecology of Golden Plovers Pluvialis apricaria in the Peak District.’ (University of Manchester)

Recent BTO Publications

Heywood, J.J.N., Massimino, D., Balmer, D.E., Kelly, L., Marion, S., Noble, D.G., Pearce-Higgins, J.W., White, D.M., Woodcock, P., Wotton, S. and Gillings, S. 2024. The Breeding Bird Survey 2023.
Border, J.A., Boersch-Supan, P., Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Hewson, C., Howard, C., Stephens, P.A., Willis, S.G., Houston, A., Gargallo, G. & Baillie, S.R. 2024. Spatial variation in spring arrival patterns of Afro-Palearctic bird migration across Europe. Global Ecology and Biogeography View at journal website (DOI: 10.1111/geb.13850)
Brighton, C.H., Massimino, D., Boersch-Supan, P., Barnes, A.E., Martay, B., Bowler, D.E., Hoskins, H.M.J. & Pearce-Higgins, J.W. 2024. The benefits of protected areas for bird population trends may depend on their condition. Biological Conservation 292 View at journal website (DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2024.110553)
Duffield, S.J., Morecroft, M.D., Pearce-Higgins, J.W. & Taylor, S.D. 2024. Species- or habitat- based assessments of vulnerability to climate change? Informing climate change adaptation in special protection areas for birds in England. Biological Conservation 291 View at journal website (DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2024.110460)
Sutherland, W.J. Bennett, C., Brotherton, P.N.M., Butchart, S.H.M., Butterworth, H.M., Clarke, S.J., Esmail, N., Fleischman, E., Gaston, K.J., Herbert-Read, J.E., Hughes, A., Kaartokallio, H., Le Roux, X., Lickorish, F.A., Newport, S., Palardy, J.E., Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Peck, L.S., Pettorelli, N., Primack, R.B., Primack. W.E., Schloss, I.R., Spalding, M.D., ten Brink, D., Tew, E., Timoshyna, A., Tubbs, N., Watson, J.E.M., Wentworth, J.E., Wilson, J.D. & Thornton, A. 2024. A horizon scan of global biological conservation issues for 2024. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 39 : 89-100 View at journal website (DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2023.11.001)
Williams, J.M., Scott, S.E., Galbraith, C.A., Martay, B., Macphie, K.H., Hereward, H.F.R., Barton, M.G., Bowgen, K.M., Pearce-Higgins, J.W. & Robinson, R.A. 2023. Climate change and migratory species: a review of impacts, conservation actions, indicators and ecosystem services.. JNCC, Peterborough Link to publication ISBN: 978-0-86139-000-7

Other Publications

Evans, R.J., Pearce-Higgins, J., Whitfield, P.D., Grant, J.R., Maclennan, A. & Reid, R. 2010. Comparative nest habitat characteristics of sympatric White-tailed Haliaeetus albicilla and Gold Eagles Aquila chrysaetos in western Scotland. Bird Study 57: 473:482. 

Pearce-Higgins, J.W. 2010. Using diet to assess the sensitivity of northern and upland birds to climate change. Climate Research 45: 119-130.

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