Niall Burton


Niall Burton. Head of Wetland & Marine Research.

Head of Wetland & Marine Research & Principal Ecologist


I manage a team of seven staff undertaking pure and applied research on the UK’s waterbirds and seabirds. 


BSc in Physical Geography, Reading University, 1986-1989
MSc in Ecology, University of Durham, 1989-1990
PhD on the roosting behaviour of waders, University of Durham, 1991-1995

Research Interests/Responsibilities

As Head of the Wetland and Marine Team, I oversee the BTO’s research into waterbirds and seabirds, working closely with Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) staff in the BTO's Monitoring Team.  The team's research explores the wide range of factors that may affect waterbird and seabird population dynamics, including climate change, habitat change and loss and the impacts of coastal and offshore developments.  My personal research work has focussed on assessing how waterbirds (from individuals to groups) respond to disturbance, habitat change and habitat loss. 

Other Information

I am currently chair of the British Ornithologist's Union (BOU) Meetings Committee and have been a member of the BOU's Council since 2011.  I am also an Honorary Research Fellow at the School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia.

Selected Publications

  • Ross-Smith, V.H., Thaxter, C.B., Masden, E.A., Shamoun-Baranes, J., Burton, N.H.K., Wright, L.J., Rehfisch, M.M. & Johnston, A. 2016. Modelling flight heights of lesser black-backed gulls and great skuas from GPS: a Bayesian approach. Journal of Applied Ecology doi: 10.1111/1365-2664.12760.
  • Thaxter, C.B., Ross-Smith, V.H., Clark, J.A., Clark, N.A., Conway, G.J., Masden, E.A., Wade, H.M., Leat, E.H.K., Gear, S.C., Marsh, M., Booth, Furness, R.W., Votier, S.C. & Burton, N.H.K. 2016. Contrasting effects of GPS device and harness attachment on adult survival of Lesser Black-backed Gulls Larus fuscus and Great Skuas Stercorarius skua. Ibis 158 (2): 279-290.
  • Johnston, A., Thaxter, C.B., Austin, G.E., Cook, A.S.C.P., Humphreys, E.M., Still, D.A., Mackay, A., Irvine, R., Webb, A. & Burton, N.H.K. 2015. Modelling the abundance and distribution of marine birds accounting for uncertain species identification. Journal of Applied Ecology 52: 150-160. Download.
  • Thaxter, C.B., Ross-Smith, V.H., Bouten, W., Rehfisch, M.M., Clark, N.A., Conway, G.J. & Burton, N.H.K. 2015. Seabird-wind farm interactions during the breeding season vary within and between years. Biological Conservation 186: 347-358. Download.
  • Johnston, A., Cook, A.S.C.P., Wright, L.J., Humphreys, E.M. & Burton, N.H.K. 2014. Modelling flight heights of marine birds to more accurately assess collision risk with offshore wind turbines.  Journal of Applied Ecology 51: 31-41 Download.
  • Thaxter, C.B., Ross-Smith, V.H., Clark, J., Clark, N.A., Conway, G.J., Marsh, M., Leat, E.H.K & Burton, N.H.K. 2014. A trial of three harness attachment methods and their suitability for long-term use on Lesser Black-backed Gull and Great Skua. Ringing & Migration 29: 65-76. Download.
  • Wade, H.M., Masden, E.A., Jackson, A.C., Thaxter, C.B., Burton, N.H.K., Bouten, W. & Furness, R.W. 2014. Great skua (Stercorarius skua) movements at sea in relation to marine renewable energy developments. Marine Environmental Research 101: 69-80. Download.
  • Burton, N.H.K., Banks, A.N., Calladine, J.R. & Austin, G.E. 2013.  The importance of the United Kingdom for wintering gulls: population estimates and conservation requirements.  Bird Study 60: 87-101.
  • Chamberlain, D.E., Austin, G.E., Green, R.E., Hulme, M.F. & Burton, N.H.K. 2013. Improved population trends of Great Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo in England and Wales for effective management of a protected species at the centre of a human-wildlife conflict. Bird Study 60: 335-344.
  • Chamberlain, D.E., Austin, G.E., Newson, S.E., Johnston, A. & Burton, N.H.K. 2013. Licensed control does not reduce local Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo population size in winter. Journal of Ornithology 154: 739-750.
  • Newson, S.E., Marchant, J.H., Sellers, R.M., Ekins, G.R., Hearn, R.D. & Burton, N.H.K. 2013. Colonisation and range expansion of inland-breeding Cormorants in England. British Birds 106: 737-743.
  • Burton, N.H.K. 2012.  Avian habitat use on the non-estaurine intertidal coast. Pp. 334-351 in Fuller, R.J. (ed) Birds and Habitat: Relationships in Changing Landscapes.  Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  • Mendez, V., Gill, J.A., Burton, N.H.K., Austin, G.E., Petchey, O.L. & Davies, R.G. 2012.  Functional diversity across space and time: trends in wader communities on British Estuaries.  Diversity and Distributions 18: 356-365.
  • Thaxter, C.B. Lascelles, B., Sugar, K., Cook, A.S.C.P., Roos, S., Bolton, M., Langston, R.H.W. & Burton, N.H.K. 2012.  Seabird foraging ranges as a tool for identifying candidate Marine Protected Areas.  Biological Conservation 156: 53-61.
  • Burton, N.H.K., Baker, H., Carter, I., Moore, N. & Clements, A. 2010. The impacts of non-native species: a review of the British Ornithologists' Union's Autumn 2008 Scientific Meeting. Ibis 152: 654-659.
  • Burton, N.H.K., Musgrove, A.J., Rehfisch, M.M. & Clark, N.A. 2010. Birds of the Severn Estuary and Bristol Channel: their current status and key environmental issues. Marine Pollution Bulletin 61: 115-123.
  • Burton, N.H.K., Thaxter, C.B., Cook, A.S.C.P., Austin, G.E., Wright, L.J. & Clark, N.A. 2010. Evaluating the potential impacts of tidal power schemes on estuarine waterbirds. BOU Proceedings – Climate Change and Birds.
  • Banks, A.N., Burton, N.H.K., Calladine, J.R. & Austin, G.E. 2009. Indexing winter gull numbers in Great Britain using data from the 1953 to 2004 Winter Gull Roost Surveys. Bird Study 56: 103-119.
  • Burton, N.H.K. 2009. Reproductive success of Tree Pipits Anthus trivialis in relation to habitat selection in conifer plantations. Ibis 151: 361-372.
  • Burton, N.H.K. & Armitage, M.J.S. 2008. Settlement of Redshank Tringa totanus following winter habitat loss: effects of prior knowledge and age. Ardea 96: 191-205.
  • Burton, N.H.K., Rehfisch, M.M., Spray, C.J. & Stroud, D.A. (eds) 2008. The European Non-Estuarine Coastal Waterbird Survey. International Wader Studies 18. International Wader Study Group, Thetford, UK.
  • Conway, G.J., Burton, N.H.K., Austin, G.E. & Handschuh, M. 2008. UK population estimates from the 2007 Breeding Little Ringed Ploverand Ringed Plover Surveys. BTO Research Report No. 510 to Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Countryside Council for Wales, the Environment & Heritage Service (Northern Ireland), Anglian Water and the D'Oyly Carte Charitable Trust.
  • Banks, A.N., Burton, N.H.K., Calladine, J.R. & Austin, G.E. 2007. Winter gulls in the UK: population estimates from the 2003/04-2005/06 Winter Gull Roost Survey. BTO Research Report No. 456 to English Nature (now Natural England), the CountrysideCouncil for Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Environment & Heritage Service (Northern Ireland), the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and Northumbrian Water Ltd. BTO, Thetford.
  • Burton, N.H.K. 2007. Intraspecific latitudinal variation in nest orientation among ground-nesting passerines: a study using published data. Condor 109: 441-446.
  • Burton, N.H.K. 2007. Landscape approaches to studying the effects of disturbance on waterbirds. Ibis 149 (Suppl s1): 95-101.
  • Burton, N.H.K. 2007. Influences of restock age and habitat patchiness on Tree Pipits Anthus trivialis breeding in Breckland pine plantations. Ibis 149 (Suppl s2): 193-204.
  • Robinson, R.A., Burton, N.H.K., Clark, J.A. & Rehfisch, M.M. 2007. Monitoring survival of waders in Britain. BTO Research Report No. 469. BTO, Thetford.  
  • Burton, N.H.K. 2006. The impact of the Cardiff Bay barrage on wintering waterbirds. p 805 in: Boere, G.C., Galbraith, C.A. & Stroud, D.A. (eds) Waterbirds Around the World. The Stationery Office, Edinburgh, UK, p. 805.
  • Burton, N.H.K. 2006. Nest orientation and hatching success in the Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis. Journal of Avian Biology 37: 312-317.
  • Burton, N.H.K., Rehfisch, M.M., Clark, N.A. & Dodd, S.G. 2006. Impacts of sudden winter habitat loss on the body condition and survival of Redshank Tringa totanus. Journal of Applied Ecology 43: 464-473.
  • Goss-Custard, J.D. Burton, N.H.K., Clark, N.A., Ferns, P.N., McGrorty, S., Reading, C.J., Rehfisch, M.M., Stillman, R.A., Townend, I., West, A.D. & Worrall, D.H. 2006. Test of a behavior-based individual-based model: response of shorebird mortality to habitat loss. Ecological Applications 16: 2215-2222.
  • Burton, N.H.K. & Armitage, M.J.S. 2005. Differences in the diurnal and nocturnal use of intertidal feeding grounds by Redshank Tringa totanus. Bird Study 52: 120-128.
  • Burton, N.H.K., Fuller, R.A. & Eaton, M.A. 2005. Between-year changes in the wintering sites of Ruddy Turnstones Arenaria interpres: a response to diminished food resources? Wader Study Group Bulletin 107: 36-39.
  • Rehfisch, M.M., Austin, G.E., Freeman, S.N., Armitage, M.J.S. & Burton, N.H.K. 2004. The possible impact of climate change on the future distributions and numbers of waders on Britain’s non-estuarine coast. Ibis 146 (Suppl s1): 70-81.  
  • Burton, N.H.K., Rehfisch, M.M. & Clark, N.A. 2003. The effect of the Cardiff Bay barrage on waterbird populations. Final report. BTO Research Report No. 343 to the Council of the City and County of Cardiff. BTO, Thetford.
  • Burton, N.H.K., Musgrove, A.J., Rehfisch, M.M., Sutcliffe, A. & Waters, R. 2003. Numbers of wintering gulls in the United Kingdom, Channel Islands and Isle of Man: a review of the 1993 and previous Winter Gull Roost Surveys. British Birds 96: 376-401.
  • Burton, N.H.K., Rehfisch, M.M. & Clark, N.A. 2002. Impacts of disturbance from construction work on the densities and feeding behavior of waterbirds using the intertidal mudflats of Cardiff Bay, UK. Environmental Management 30: 865-871.
  • Burton, N.H.K., Armitage, M.J.S., Musgrove, A.J. & Rehfisch, M.M. 2002. Impacts of man-made landscape features on the numbers of estuarine waterbirds at low tide. Environmental Management 30: 857-864.
  • Burton, N.H.K. & Evans, P.R. 2001. Aggressive behaviours and correlates of dominance in Purple Sandpipers Calidris maritima at a communal winter roost. Ibis 143: 248-254.
  • Burton, N.H.K. 2000. Winter site-fidelity and survival of Redshank Tringa totanus at Cardiff, south Wales. Bird Study 47: 102-112.
  • Burton, N.H.K. & Evans, P.R. 1997. Survival and winter site-fidelity of Turnstones Arenaria interpres and Purple Sandpipers Calidris maritima in north-east England. Bird Study 44: 35-44.
  • Burton, N.H.K., Evans, P.R. & Robinson, M.A. 1996. Effects on shorebird numbers of disturbance, the loss of a roost site and its replacement by an artificial island at Hartlepool, Cleveland. Biological Conservation 77: 193-201. 

Contact Details

Email: niall.burton [at]
Telephone: 01842 750050
Fax: 01842 750030
Postal address: British Trust for Ornithology, The Nunnery, Thetford, IP24 2PU, UK.