Phil Atkinson

Head of International Research & Principal Ecologist

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

Interests & Responsibilities

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

His 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).

Phil's previous work has concentrated on understanding how environmental change will impact bird populations. Projects 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.

Phil is 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 migrator behaviour of long lived birds.

PhD Students (graduated)

  • Philip Saunders (School of Environmental Sciences, UK). The ecology of the European Roller in Cyprus. Graduated 2016.
  • Victoria Warwick-Evans (University of Liverpool). Impacts of tidal stream renewable energy production on seabird foraging. 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.


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

Recent BTO Publications

Buchan, C., Gilroy, J.J., Catry, I., Bustamante, J., Marca, A.D., Atkinson, P.W., González, J.M. & Franco, A.M.A. 2021. Carryover effects of long-distance avian migration are weaker than effects of breeding environment in a partially migratory bird. Scientific Reports 11 View at journal website (DOI: 10.1038/s41598-020-80341-x) 10pp Sutherland, W.J., Atkinson, P.W., Broad, S., Brown, S., Clout, M., Dias, M.P., Dicks, L.V., Doran, H., Fleishman, E., Garratt, E.L., Gaston, K.J., Hughes, A.C., Le Roux, X., Lickorish, F.A., Maggs, L., Palardy, J.E., Peck, L.S., Pettorelli, N., Pretty, J., Spalding, M.D., Tonneijck, F.H., Walpole, M., Watson, J.E.M., Wentworth, J. & Thornton, A. 2020. A 2021 Horizon Scan of Emerging Global Biological Conservation Issues. Trends in Ecology and Evolution View at journal website (DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2020.10.014) Åkesson, S., Atkinson, P.W., Bermejo, A., de la Puente, J., Ferri, M., Hewson, C.M., Holmgren, J., Kaiser, E., Kearsley, L., Klaassen, R.H.G., Kolunen, H., Matsson, G., Minelli, F., Norevik, G., Pietiäinen, H., Singh, N.J., Spina, F., Viktora, L. & Hedenström, A. 2020. Evolution of chain migration in an aerial insectivorous bird, the Common Swift Apus apus. Evolution View at journal website (DOI: 10.1111/evo.14093) Sutherland, W.J., Alvarez‐Castañeda, S.T., Amano, T., Ambrosini, R., Atkinson, P., Baxter, J.M., Bond, A.L., Boon, P.J., Buchanan, K.L., Barlow, J., Bogliani, G., Bragg, O.M., Burgman, M., Cadotte, M.W., Calver, M., Cooke, S.J., Corlett, R.T., Devictor, V., Ewen, J.G., Fisher, M., Freeman, G., Game, E., Godley, B.J., Gortázar, C., Hartley, I.R., Hawksworth, D.L., Hobson, K.A. Lu, M.-L., Martín‐López, B., Ma, K., Machado, A., Maes, D., Mangiacotti, M., McCafferty, D.J., Melfi, V., Molur, S., Moore, A.J., Murphy, S.D., Norris, D., van Oudenhoven, A.P.E., Powers, J., Rees, E.C., Schwartz, M.W., Storch, I. & Wordley, C. 2020. Ensuring tests of conservation interventions build on existing literature. Conservation Biology 34 : 781-783 View at journal website (DOI: 10.1111/cobi.13555) 3pp Tucker, A.M., McGowan, C.P., Robinson, R.A., Clark, J.A., Lyons, J.E., DeRose-Wilson, A., Du Feu, R., Austin, G.E., Atkinson, P.W. & Clark, N.A. 2019. Effects of individual misidentification on estimates of survival in long-term mark–resight studies. The Condor 121 (part 1) Link to publication View at journal website (DOI: 10.1093/condor/duy017) 13pp Clark, J.A., Atkinson, P.W., Dey, A., Gillings, S., Mace, J. & Neima, S. 2018. Large gulls taking fully grown shorebirds during spring passage in Delaware Bay, USA. Wader Study 125 (part 2) : 144-146 View at journal website (DOI: 10.18194/ws.00119) 3pp

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