Phil Atkinson


Head of International Research & Principal Ecologist/
Science Director - Combined Ecology


Developing a program of international work at BTO focussing on the impacts of environmental change on bird populations and the ecology of Palearctic migrants.


BSc (Hons) Ecology, University of East Anglia.
PhD The wintering ecology of Twite Carduelis flavirostris and the consequences of sea level rise, University of East Anglia.
Honorary Professor, School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia

Research Interests/Responsibilities

I lead the BTO’s international research program, which is diverse in nature but has a strong emphasis on collaborative projects with biological, social and economic aspects.

My recent research has focused on two areas: (i) understanding the impact of agricultural and poverty alleviation policies on provision of ecosystem services by biodiversity and farmer livelihoods in central Ugandan banana/coffee systems and the cocoa-based systems in Sao Tome e Principe and (ii) developing a program of research on the ecology of Palearctic-African migrants on their wintering grounds (with current field projects in Ghana and Burkina Faso).

My previous work has concentrated on understanding how environmental change will impact bird populations. Project have included developing new methods of modelling migration routes of waterbirds and the associated risk of Avian Influenza incursion into the UK; responding to climate change in the coastal zone by the understanding the issues concerning the creation and restoration of coastal wetland habitats (managed realignment); understanding the demographic implications of environmental change on bird populations (in particular the harvesting of shellfish); the extension of demographic models to estimate total numbers of migrant birds passing through a site (turnover); using stable isotopes to study shorebird migration systems and the application of process-based (i.e. individuals-based) models to conservation issues.  

I am Editor-in-Chief of Bird Conservation International.

PhD Students (current)

  • Katherine Rogerson (University of East Anglia). Mechanisms driving changes in migratory behaviour of long lived birds in response to global environmental change.
  • Marta Acacio Serra (University of East Anglia). The environmental determinants of dispersal and migratory behaviour of long lived birds.

PhD Students (graduated)

  • Victoria Warwick-Evans (University of Liverpool).  Impacts of tidal stream renewable energy production on seabird foraging. Graduated 2016
  • Philip Saunders (School of Environmental Sciences, UK).  The ecology of the European Roller in Cyprus. Graduated 2016.
  • Natalie Gilbert (University of East Anglia).  The role of climate and habitat changes in changing species migratory decisions and population dynamic. Graduated 2014.
  • Ricardo Lima (University of Lancaster).  Effects of agroforestry practices on the biodiversity of São Tomé, West Africa.
  • Dianah Nalwanga Wabwire (Makerere University, Uganda).  The impact of agricultural policy change on the bird fauna in agricultural landscapes of Ugranda. Graduated 2012.
  • Stephen Dugdale (University of East Anglia).  Modelling the Influence of Changes in the Agricultural Landscape on Farmland Birds. Graduated 2011.

Selected Publications

Gilbert N.I., Correia R.A., Silva J.P., Pacheco C., Catry I., Atkinson P.W., Gill J.A. & Franco A.M.A. 2016. Are white storks addicted to junk food? Impacts of landfill use on the movement and behaviour of resident white storks (Ciconia ciconia) from a partially migratory population. Movement Ecology 4:7.

Hewson, C.M., Thorup, K., Pearce-Higgins, J.W. & Atkinson, P.W. 2016. Population decline is linked to migration route in the Common Cuckoo. Nature Communications 7: 12296. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms12296.

Newson, S.E., Moran, N.J., Musgrove, A.J., Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Gillings, S., Atkinson, P.W., Miller, R., Grantham, M.J. and Baillie, S.R. 2016. Long-term changes in the migration phenology of UK breeding birds detected by large-scale citizen science recording schemes. Ibis 158 (3): 481-495.

Warwick-Evans, V., Atkinson, P.W., Arnould, J.P.Y., Gauvain, R., Soanes, L., Robinson, L., Green J.A. 2016. Changes in behaviour drive inter-annual variability in the at-sea distribution of northern gannets. Marine Biology. 163:156.

Warwick-Evans, V., Atkinson, P.W. Robinson, L.A. & Green, J.A. 2016. Predictive modelling to identify near-shore, fine-scale seabird distributions during the breeding season. PLOS ONE 11 (3): e0150592. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0150592.

Warwick-Evans, V., Green, J.A. & Atkinson, P.W. 2016. Survival estimates of Northern gannets Morus bassanus in Alderney: Big data but low confidence. Bird Study 63:3.

Warwick-Evans, V., Atkinson, P.W., Gauvain, R.D., Robinson, L.A., Arnould, J.P.Y. & Green, J.A. 2015. Time-in-area represents foraging activity in a wide-ranging pelagic forager. Marine Ecology Progress Series 527: 233-246.

Atkinson, P.W., Adams, W.A., Brouwer, J., Buchanan, G., Cheke, R.A., Cresswell, W., Hewson, C.M., Hulme, M.F., Manvell, A., Sheehan, D.K., Small, R.D.S, Sutherland, W.J. & Vickery, J.A. 2014. Defining the key wintering habitats in the Sahel for declining African-Eurasian migrants using expert assessment. Bird Conservation International 24: 477-491.

De Lima, R.F., Viegas, L., Solé, N., Soares, E., Dallimer, M., Atkinson, P.W. & Barlow, J. 2014. Can management Improve the value of shade Plantations for the endemic Species of São Tomé Island? Biotropica 46: 238–247.

Douglas, D.J.T., Nalwanga, D., Katebaka, R., Atkinson, P.W., Pomeroy, D.E.,  Nkuutu, D. & Vickery, J.A. 2014. The importance of native trees for forest bird conservation in tropical farmland. Animal Conservation 17: 256-264.

Renwick, A.R., Vickery, J.A., Potts, S.G., Bolwig, S., Nalwanga, D., Pomeroy, D.E., Mushabe, D. & Atkinson, P.W. 2014. Achieving production and conservation simultaneously in tropical agricultural landscapes. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Envionment 192: 130-134

Van de Pol, M., Atkinson, P.W., Blew, J., Duriez, O.P.M.B., Ens, J., Hälterlein, B., Hötker, H., Laursen, K., Oosterbeek, K.H., Petersen A., Thorup, O., Tjørve, K., Triplet, P., Yésou, P. 2014. A global assessment of the conservation status of the nominate subspecies of Eurasian oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus ostralegus). International Wader Studies 20.

De Lima, R.F., Dallimer, M., Atkinson, P.W. & Barlow, J.  2013. Biodiversity and land-use change: understanding the complex responses of an endemic-rich bird assemblage Diversity and Distributions 19: 411-422.

De Lima, R.F., Olmos, F.; Dallimer, .M., Atkinson, P.W., Barlow, J. 2013. Can REDD plus Help the Conservation of Restricted-Range Island Species? Insights from the Endemism Hotspot of Sao Tome. PLOS ONE  8: e74148.

Hulme, M.F., Vickery, J.A., Green, R.E., Phalan, B., Chamberlain, D.E., Pomeroy, D.E., Nalwanga, D., Mushabe, D., Katebaka, R., Bolwig, S. & Atkinson, P.W. 2013. Conserving the Birds of Uganda’s Banana-Coffee Arc: Land Sparing and Land Sharing Compared. PloS One 8 :e54597.

Kariuki Ndang'ang'a, P., Njoroge, J.B.M., Ngamau, K., Kariuki, W., Atkinson, P.W. & Vickery, J. 2013. Avian foraging behaviour in relation to provision of ecosystem services in a highland East African agroecosystem Bird Study 60: 156-168.

Ndang'ang'a, P.K., Njoroge, J.B.M., Ngamau, K., Kariuki, W., Atkinson, P.W. & Vickery, J. 2013. Effects of crop diversity on bird species richness and abundance in a highland East African agricultural landscape. Ostrich 84: 33-39.

Soanes, L.M., Atkinson, P.W., Gauvain, R.D., Green, J.A. 2013. Individual consistency in the foraging behaviour of Northern Gannets: Implications for interactions with offshore renewable energy developments Marine Policy 38: 507–514.

Allcorn, R.I., Hilton, G.M., Fenton, C., Atkinson, P.W., Bowden, C.G.R., Gray, G.A.L., Hulme, M., Madden, J., Mackley, E.K., Oppel, S. 2012. Demography and Breeding Ecology of the Critically Endangered Montserrat Oriole. The Condor 114: 227-235.

Bayly, N.J., Atkinson, P.W. & Rumsey, S.J.R.  2012. Fuelling for the Sahara crossing: variation in site use and the onset and rate of spring mass gain by 38 Palearctic migrants in the western Sahel. Journal of Ornithology 153: 931-945.

Nalwanga, D., Pomeroy, D., Vickery, J. & Atkinson, P.W. 2012. A comparison of two survey methods for assessing bird species richness and abundance in tropical farmlands. Bird Study 59:83-95.

Ockendon, N., Hewson, C.M., Johnston, A. & Atkinson, P.W. 2012. Declines in British-breeding populations of Afro-Palaearctic migrant birds are linked to bioclimatic wintering zone in Africa, possibly via constraints on arrival time advancement. Bird Study 59:111-125.

McGowan, C.P., Hines, J.E., Nichols, J.D., Lyons, J.E., Smith, D.R., Kalasz, K.S., Niles, L.J., Dey, A.D., Clark, N.A. & Atkinson, P.W. 2011. Demographic consequences of migratory stopover: linking red knot survival to horseshoe crab spawning abundance Ecosphere 2:  Article 69.

Atkinson, P.W., Maclean, I.M.D. & Clark, N.A. 2010. Impacts of shellfisheries and nutrient inputs on waterbird communities in the Wash, England. Journal of Applied Ecology 47: 191-199. 

Butler, S.J., Mattison, E.H.A., Glithero, N.J., Robinson, L.J., Atkinson, P.W., Gillings, S., Vickery, J.A. & Norris, K. 2010. Resource availability and the persistence of seed-eating bird populations in agricultural landscapes : a mechanistic modelling approach. Journal of Applied Ecology 47: 67-75.

Holt, C.A., Atkinson, P.W., Vickery, J.A. and Fuller, R.J. 2010. Do field margin characteristics influence songbird nest-site selection in adjacent hedgerows? Bird Study 53: 392-395.

Korner-Nievergelt, F., Sauter, A., Atkinson, P.W., Guelat, J., Kania, W., Kery, M., Koppen, U., Robinson, R.A., Schaub, M., Thorup, K., van der Jeugd, H.and van Noordwijk, A.J. 2010. Improving the analysis of movement data from marked individuals through explicit estimation of observer heterogeneity. Journal of Avian Biology 47: 8-17.

Zockler, C., Syroechkovskiy, E.E. and Atkinson, P.W.  2010. Rapid and continued population decline in the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus indicates imminent extinction unless conservation action is taken. Bird Conservation International 20: 95-111.

Cooke, I.R., Queenborough, S.A., Mattison, E.H.A., Bailey, A.P., Sandars, D.L., Graves, A.R., Morris, J., Atkinson, P.W., Trawick, P., Freckleton, R.P., Watkinson, A.R. & Sutherland, W.J. 2009. Integrating socio-economics and ecology: a taxonomy of quantitative methods and a review of their use in agro-ecology. Journal of Applied Ecology 46: 269-277.

Niles, L.J., Bart, J., Sitters, H.P., Dey, A.D., Clark, K.E., Atkinson, P.W., Baker, A.J., Bennett, K.A., Kalasz, K.S., Clark, N.A., Clark, J., Gillings, S., Gates, A.S., González, P.M., Hernandez, D.E., Minton, C.D.T., Morrison, R.I.G., Poeter, R.R., Ross, R.K. & Veitch, C.R. 2009. Effects of Horseshoe Crab harvest in Delaware Bay on Red Knots: Are harvest restrictions working? BioScience 59: 153-164.

Atkinson, P.W., Baker, A.J., Bennett, K.A., Clark, N.A., Clark, J.A., Cole, K.B., Dekinga, A., Dey, A., Gillings, S., González, P.M., Kalasz, K., Minton, C.D.T., Newton, J., Niles, N.J., Piersma, T., Robinson, R.A. & Sitters, H.P. 2007. Rates of mass gain and energy deposition in red knot on their final spring staging site is both time- and condition dependent. Journal of Applied Ecology 44: 885-895.

Atkinson, P.W., Robinson, R.A., Clark, J.A., Miyar, T., Downie, I.S., du Feu, C.R., Fiedler, W., Fransson, T., Grantham, M.J., Gschweng, M., Spina, F. & Crick, H.Q.P. 2007. Migratory movements of waterfowl: a web-based mapping tool. EURING report to the EU Commission. (

Gillings, S., Atkinson, P.W., Bardsley, S.L., Clark, N.A., Love, S., Robinson, R.A., Stillman, R.A. & Weber, R.G. 2007. Shorebird predation of horseshoe crab eggs: species contrasts and availability constraints. Journal of Animal Ecology 76: 503-514.

Gunnarsson, T.G., Appleton, G.F., Gíslason, H., Garðarsson, A., Atkinson, P.W. & Gill, J.A. 2007. Búsvæðaval og stofnstærð þúfutittlings á láglendi/Large-scale habitat selection, geographical distribution and lowland population size of Meadow Pipits in Iceland. Bliki 28: 19-24.

Atkinson, P.W. [ & 17 authors]. 2006. Using stable isotope ratios to unravel shorebird migration and population mixing: a case study with the Red Knot Calidris canutus.  pp 535-540 in: Boere, G.C., Galbraith, C.A. & Stroud, D.A. (eds) Waterbirds Around the World. The Stationary Office, Edinburgh.

Atkinson, P.W. [& 19 authors]. 2006. Urgent preliminary assessment ornithological data relevant to the spread Avian Influenza in Europe. Wageningen: Wetlands International. EU STUDY CONTRACT N°07010401/2005/425926/MAR/B4.

Atkinson, P.W., Austin, G.E., Rehfisch, M.M., Baker, H., Cranswick, P., Kershaw, M., Robinson, J., Langston, R.H.W., Stroud, D.A., Van Turnhout, C. & Maclean, I.M.D. 2006. Identifying declines in waterbirds: The effects of missing data, population variability and count period on the interpretation of long-term survey data. Biological Conservation 130: 549-559.

Atkinson, P.W., Fuller, R.A., Gillings, S. & Vickery, J.A. 2006. Counting birds on farmland habitats in winter. Bird Study 53: 303-309.

Crick, H.Q.P., Atkinson, P.W., Newson, S.E., Robinson, R.A., Snow, L., Balmer, D.E., Chamberlain, D.E., Clark, J.A., Clark, N.A., Cranswick, P.A., Cromie, R.L., Hughes, B. Grantham, M.J., Lee, R. & Musgrove, A.J. 2006. Avian Influenza Incursion Analysis (through wild birds). BTO Research Report 448. Thetford: British Trust for Ornithology.

Fuller, R.J., Atkinson, P.W., Garnett, M.C., Conway, G.J., Bibby, C.J. & Johnstone, I.G. 2006. Breeding bird communities in the upland margins (ffridd) of Wales in the mid-1980s. Bird Study 53: 177-186.

Gunnarsson, T.G., Gill, J.A., Atkinson, P.W., Gélinaud, G., Potts, P.M., Croger, R.E., Gudmundsson, G.A., Appleton, G.F. & Sutherland, W.J. 2006. Population-scale drivers of individual arrival times in migratory birds. Journal of Animal Ecology 75:1119-1127.  

Gunnarsson, T.G., Gill, J.A., Goodacre, S.L., Gélinaud, G., Atkinson, P.W., Hewitt, G.M., Potts, P.M. & Sutherland, W.J. 2006. Sexing of Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa islandica: a comparison of behavioural, molecular, biometric and field-based techniques. Bird Study 53: 193-198.

Atkinson, P.W., Baker, A.J., Bevan, R.M., Clark, N.A., Cole, K.B., Gonzalez, P.M., Newton, J., & Robinson, R.A. 2005. Unravelling the migration and moult strategies of a long-distance migrant using stable isotopes: Red Knot Calidris canutus movements in the Americas. Ibis 147: 738-749.

Atkinson, P.W., Clark, N.A., Dodd, S.G. & Moss, D. 2005. Changes in fisheries practices and Oystercatcher survival, recruitment and body mass in a marginal Cockle fishery. Ardea 93: 199-212.

Atkinson, P.W., Fuller, R.J., Vickery, J.A., Conway, G., Tallowin, J.R.B., Smith, R.E.N., Haysom, K., Ings, T., Asteraki, E.J. & Brown, V.K. 2005. Influence of agricultural management, sward structure and food resources on grassland field use by birds in lowland England. Journal of Applied Ecology 42: 932-942.

Gunnarsson, T.G., Gill, J.A., Potts, P.M., Atkinson, P.W., Croger, R.E., Gelinaud, G., Gardarsson, A. & Sutherland, W.J. 2005. Estimating population size in Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa islandica by colour-marking. Bird Study 52: 153–158.

Atkinson, P.W., Buckingham, D.L. & Morris A.J. 2004. What factors determine where invertebrate-feeding birds forage in dry agricultural grasslands? Ibis 146 (suppl s2): 99-107.

Atkinson, P.W., Crooks, S. Drewitt, A., Grant, A., Rehfisch, M.M., Sharpe, J. & Tyas, C. 2004. Managed Realignment in the UK – the first five years of colonisation by birds. Ibis 146 (suppl s1): 101-110.

Baker, A.J., González, P.M., Piersma, T., Niles, L.J.,  de Lima Serrano do Nascimento, I., Atkinson, P.W., Clark, N.A., Minton, C.D.T., Peck, M. & Aarts, G. 2004. Rapid population decline in red knots: fitness consequences of decreased refuelling rates and late arrival in Delaware Bay. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: 271: 875-882.

Buckingham, D.L., Atkinson, P.W. & Rook, A.J. 2004. Testing solutions in grass-dominated landscapes: a review of current research. Ibis 146 (suppl s2): 163-170.

Clark, J.A., Robinson, R.A., Clark, N.A. & Atkinson, P.W. 2004. Using the proportion of juvenile waders to measure recruitment. Wader Study Group Bulletin 104: 51-55.

Durell, S.E.A. le V. dit & Atkinson, P.W. 2004. Age, sex and feeding specialisation differences in Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus distribution on the Wash. Bird Study 51: 76-82

Norris, K., Atkinson, P.W. & Gill, J.A. 2004. Climate change and coastal waterbird populations – past declines and future impacts. Ibis 146 (suppl s1): 82-89.

Atkinson, P.W. 2003. Can we recreate or restore intertidal habitats for shorebirds? Wader Study Group Bulletin 100: 67-72.

Atkinson, P.W., Clark, N.A., Clark, J.A., Bell, M.C., Dare, P.J. & Ireland, P.L. 2003. Changes in commercially fished shellfish stocks and shorebird populations in the Wash, England. Biological Conservation 114: 127-141.

Hilton, G.M., Atkinson, P.W., Gray, G.A.L., Arendt, W.J. & Gibbons, D.W. 2003. Rapid decline of the volcanically threatened Montserrat Oriole. Biological Conservation 111: 78-89.

Rehfisch, M.M., Austin, G.A., Armitage, M.J.S., Atkinson, P.W., Holloway, S.J., Musgrove, A.J. & Pollitt, M.S. 2003. Numbers of wintering waterbirds in Great Britain and the Isle of Man (1994/95-1998/99): II. Coastal waders (Charadrii). Biological Conservation 112: 329-341.

Stillman, R.A., West, A.D., Goss-Custard, J.D., Caldow, R.W.G., McGrorty, S., Durell, S.E.A. le V. dit, Yates, M.G., Atkinson, P.W., Clark, N.A., Bell, M.C., Dare, P.J. & Mander, M. 2003. An individual behaviour-based model can predict shorebird mortality using routinely collected shellfishery data. Journal of Applied Ecology 40: 1090-1101.

Atkinson, P.W., Asteraki, E.J., Conway, G.J., Fuller, R.J., Goodyear, J., Smith, R.E.N., Tallowin, J.R.B. & Vickery, J.A. 2002. Use of grassland by wintering birds: effects of management on their food resources. pp 61-64 in: Conservation Pays? Reconciling environmental benefits with profitable grassland systems. Proceedings of the joint British Grassland Society/British Ecological Society Conference 2002.

Atkinson, P.W. & Robinson, R.A. 2002. Landscape diversity and bird populations: the need for regionally flexible and scale-dependent agri-environment schemes. pp 289-299 in Chamberlain, D. & Wilson, A. (eds) Avian Landscape Ecology. Pure and applied issues in the large-scale ecology of birds -  Proceedings of the 2002 Annual IALE Conference.

Atkinson, P.W., Vickery, J.A. & Fuller, R.J. 2002. Distribution and abundance of breeding and wintering birds in lowland farming landscapes. Ecography 25: 466-480.

Robinson, L., Kirby, W., Norris, K., & Atkinson, P.W. 2002. Abundance and distribution of common arable weeds on barley, wheat and linseed stubbles over winter, with reference to stubble-use by granivorous birds. In: Fields of Vision. A future for Britain’s Arable Plants.

Robinson, L.J., Norris, K. & Atkinson, P.W. 2002. Assessing the post harvest quality of different stubble types for use by seed-eating farmland birds within the landscape. pp 222-341 in Chamberlain, D. & Wilson, A. (eds) Avian Landscape Ecology. Pure and applied issues in the large-scale ecology of birds -  Proceedings of the 2002 Annual IALE Conference.

Atkinson, P.W., Crooks, S., Grant, A. & Rehfisch, M.M. 2001. The success of creation and restoration schemes in producing intertidal habitat suitable for waterbirds. English Nature Research Reports. English Nature, Peterborough.

Bell, M.C., Bannister, R.C.A., Walker, P., Atkinson, P.W. & Clark, N.A. 2001. Fisheries and bird predation as components of cockle (Cerastoderme edule) mortality in the Burry Inlet, South Wales. In: The Life History, Dynamics and Exploitation of Living Marine Resources: Advances in Knowledge and Methodology. CM 2001/J:01. International Council for the Exploration of the Sea.

Gill, J.A., Norris, K., Potts, P.M., Gunnarsson, T.G., Atkinson, P.W. & Sutherland, W.J. 2001. The buffer effect and large scale population regulation in migratory birds. Nature 412: 436-438.  

Vickery, J.A., Tallowin, J.R., Feber, R.E., Asteraki, E.J., Atkinson, P.W., Fuller, R.J. & Brown, V.K.  2001. The management of lowland neutral grasslands in Britain: effects of agricultural practices on birds and their food. Journal of Applied Ecology 38: 647-664.

Norris, K & Atkinson, P.W. 2000. Declining coastal bird populations in Great Britain: victims of climate change and sea-level rise? Environmental Reviews 8: 303-323. 

Contact details

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