Simon Gillings


Head of Population Ecology & Modelling & Principal Ecologist


I lead a dynamic team of seven research ecologists tackling applied questions using a combination of intensively collected field data and large-scale datasets collected by BTO citizen scientists


BSc (Hons) Ecology, University of East Anglia, 1992-1995
PhD Diurnal and nocturnal ecology of Golden Plovers Pluvialis apricaria and Lapwings Vanellus vanellus wintering on arable farmland, University of East Anglia, 1999-2003 

Research Interests / Responsibilities

My main interests concern the factors shaping bird distributions and what causes them to change through time.  I was lead analyst for the recently published Bird Atlas 2007-11 and am now actively engaged in research to understand what has driven the significant range changes we documented.  This work includes consideration of urbanisation, management of agricultural land, upland issues and climate change.  I oversee related work via the research programme of the Breeding Bird Survey.  I have a long-standing interest in the ecology and foraging behaviour of shorebirds, including Lapwings and Golden Plovers. 

Other Information

I am a keen birder and avid user of BirdTrack.  As such I am always keen to see the use of birdwatchers' records for research and conservation through appropriate analytical design and novel data visualisation.  A recent example is the production of data-driven calendar wheels and novel seasonal abundance maps for the Collins-BTO Guide to British Birds.

Selected Publications

Links to full lists:

ORCID = 0000-0002-9794-2357

Border, J.A., Newson, S.E., White, D.C.J., Gillings, S. 2017. Predicting the likely impact of urbanisation on bat populations using citizen science data, a case study for Norfolk, UK. Landscape & Urban Planning 162: 44–55.

Newson, S.E., Bas, Y., Murray, A., Gillings, S. 2017. Potential for coupling the monitoring of bush-crickets with established large-scale acoustic monitoring of bats. Methods in Ecology and Evolution In press. DOI: 10.1111/2041-210X.12720.

Oliver, T.H., Gillings, S., Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Brereton, T., Crick, H.Q.P., Duffield, S.J., Morecroft, M.D., Roy, D.B. 2017. Large extents of intensive land use limit community reorganization during climate warming. Global Change Biology DOI:10.1111/gcb.13587.

Dyer, R.J., Gillings, S., Pywell, R.F., Fox, R., Roy, D.B. & Oliver, T.H. 2016. Developing a biodiversity-based indicator for large-scale environmental assessment: a case study of proposed shale gas extraction sites in Britain. Journal of Applied Ecology.

Holloway, P., Miller, J.A. & Gillings S. 2016. Incorporating movement in species distribution models: how do simulations of dispersal affect the accuracy and uncertainty of projections? International Journal of Geographical Information ScienceDOI:10.1080/13658816.2016.1158823

Kosmider, R., Smith, J., Gillings, S., Snow, L., Breed, A., Irvine, R. & Hill, A. 2016. Updated risk of H5N1 HPAI incursion to poultry in Great Britain via wild birds. Veterinary Record. 

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.

Harris, S.J., Massimino, D., Newson, S.E., Eaton, M.A., Balmer, D.E., Noble, D.G., Musgrove, A.J., Gillings, S., Procter, D. & Pearce-Higgins, J.W. 2015. The Breeding Bird Survey 2014. BTO Research Report 673. British Trust for Ornithology, Thetford.

Burgess, M.D., Bellamy, P.E., Gillings, S., Noble, D.G., Grice, P.V. & Conway, G.J. 2015. The impact of changing habitat availability on population trends of woodland birds associated with early successional plantation woodland. Bird Study 62: 39-55.

Gillings, S., Balmer, D.E. & Fuller, R.J. 2015. Directionality of recent bird distribution shifts and climate change in Great Britain.  Global Change Biology 21: 2155-2168

Heward, C.J., Hoodless, A.N., Conway, G.J., Aebischer, N.J., Gillings, S., & Fuller, R.J.  2015. Current status and recent trend of the Eurasian Woodcock Scolopax rusticola as a breeding bird in Britain. Bird Study.

Kirby, W.B., Bellamy, P.E., Stanbury, A.J., Bladon, A.J., Grice, P.V. & Gillings, S. 2015. Breeding season habitat associations and population declines of British Hawfinches Coccothraustes coccothraustesBird Study 62: 348-357

Mason, S.C, Palmer, G., Fox, R., Gillings, S., Hill, J.K., Thomas, C.D. & Oliver, T.H. 2015. Geographical range margins of many taxonomic groups continue to shift polewards. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 115: 586–597.

Newson, S.E., Evans, H.E. & Gillings, S. 2015.  A novel citizen approach for large-scale standardised monitoring of bat activity and distribution, evaluated in eastern England. Biological Conservation 191: 38-49.

Henderson, I., Calladine, J., Massimino, D., Taylor, J.A. & Gillings, S. 2014. Evidence for contrasting causes of population change in two closely related, sympatric breeding species the Whinchat Saxicola rubetra and Stonechat Saxicola torquata in Britain.  Bird Study 61: 553-565.

Newson, S.E., Oliver, T.H, Gillings, S. et al. 2014. Can site and landscape-scale environmental attributes buffer bird populations against weather events? Ecography 37: 872-882.

Rapacciuolo, G., Roy, D.B, Gillings, S. et al. 2014.Temporal validation plots: quantifying how well correlative species distribution models predict species’ range changes over time. Methods in Ecology and Evolution 5: 407-420.

Balmer, D.E., Gillings, S., Caffrey, B.J., Swann, R.L., Downie, I.S. & Fuller R.J. 2013. Bird Atlas 2007–11: the Breeding and Wintering Birds of Britain and Ireland. BTO, Thetford. 

Gillings, S., Avontins, A., Crowe, O., Dalakchieva, S., Devos, K., Elts, J., Green, M., Gunnarsson, T.G., Kleefstra, R., Kubelka, V., Lehtiniemi, T., Meissner, W., Pakstyte, E., Rasmussen, L., Szimuly, G. & Wahl, J. 2012. Results of a coordinated count of Eurasian Golden Plovers Pluvialis apricaria in Europe during October 2008. Wader Study Group Bulletin 119: 125-128.

Oliver, T.H., Gillings, S., Girardello, M., Rapacciuolo, G., Brereton, T.M., Siriwardena, G.M., Roy, D.B., Pywell, R. & Fuller, R.J. 2012. Population density but not stability can be predicted from species distribution models. Journal of Applied Ecology 49: 581-590. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2664.2012.02138.x

Rapacciuolo, G., Roy, D.B., Gillings, S., Fox, R., Walker, K. & Purvis, A. 2012. Climatic Associations of British Species Distributions Show Good Transferability in Time but Low Predictive Accuracy for Range Change. PLoS ONE 7(7): e40212. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0040212

Gillings, S., Swann, B., Balmer, D., & Wernham C. 2011. Bird Atlas 2007-11: Measuring Change in Bird Distribution and Abundance. In: Marrs, S.J., Foster, S., Hendrie, C., Mackey, E.C. & Thompson, D.B.A. (eds) The Changing Nature of Scotland. TSO Scotland, Edinburgh, pp. 67-72.

Holland, R.A., Eigenbrod, F., Armsworth, P.R., Anderson, B.J., Thomas, C.D., Heinemeyer, A., Gillings, S., Roy, D.B. & Gaston, K.J. 2011. Spatial covariation between freshwater and terrestrial ecosystem services. Ecological Applications 21: 2034-2048

Moilanen, A., Anderson, A.J., Eigenbrod, F., Heinemeyer, A., Roy, D.B., Gillings, S., Armsworth, P.R., Gaston, K.J. & Thomas, C.D. 2011. Balancing alternative land uses in conservation prioritization. Ecological Applications 21: 1419-1426.

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.

Eigenbrod, F., Armsworth, P.R., Anderson, B.J., Heinemeyer, A., Gillings, S., Roy, D.B., Thomas, C.D. & Gaston, K.J. 2010. The impact of prox-based methods on mapping the distribution of ecosystem services. Journal of Applied Ecology 47: 377-385

Gillings, S., Henderson, I.G., Morris, A.J. & Vickery, J.A. 2010. Assessing the implications of the loss of set-aside for farmland birds. Ibis 152: 713-723.

Anderson, B.J., Armsworth, P.R., Eigenbrod, F., Thomas, C.D., Gillings, S., Heinemeyer, A., Roy, D.B. & Gaston, K.J. 2009. Spatial covariance between biodiversity and other ecosystem service priorities. Journal of Applied Ecology 46: 888-896.

Franco, A.M.A., Anderson, B.J., Roy, D.B., Gillings, S., Fox, R., Moilanen, A. & Thomas, C.D. 2009. Surrogacy and persistence in reserve selection: landscape prioritization for multiple taxa in Britain. Journal of Applied Ecology 46: 82-91.

Gillings, S., Atkinson, P.W., Baker, A.J., Bennett, K.A., Clark, N.A., Cole, K.B., González, P.M., Kalasz, K.S., Minton, C.D.T., Niles, N.J., Porter, R.C., De Lima Serrano, I., Sitters, H.P., & Woods, J.L. 2009. Staging Behavior in Red Knot Calidris canutus in Delaware Bay: Implications for Monitoring Mass and Population Size. Auk 126: 54-63.

Gillings, S. & Fuller, R.J. 2009. How many Eurasian Golden Plovers Pluvialis apricaria and Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus winter in Great Britain? Results from a large-scale survey in 2006/07. Wader Study Group Bulletin 116: 21-28.

Anderson, B.J., Arroyo, B.E., Collingham, Y.C., Etheridge, B., Fernandez-De-Simon, J., Gillings, S., Gregory, R.D., Leckie, F.M., Sim, I.M.W., Thomas, C.D., Travis, J. & Redpath, S.M. 2008. Using distribution models to test alternative hypotheses about a species' environmental limits and recovery prospects. Biological Conservation 142: 488-499.

Gillings, S. 2008. Designing a winter bird atlas field methodology: issues of time and space in sampling and interactions with habitat. Journal of Ornithology 149: 345-355.

Gillings, S., Wilson, A.M., Conway, G.C., Vickery, J.A. & Fuller, R.J. 2008. Distribution and abundance of birds and their habitats within the lowland farmland of Britain in winter. Bird Study 55: 8-22.

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.

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.

Gillings, S., Fuller, R.J. & Sutherland, W.J. 2007. Winter field use and habitat selection by Lapwings Vanellus vanellus and Golden Plovers Pluvialis apricaria on arable farmland. Ibis 149: 509-520.

Rasmussen, L.M. & Gillings, S. 2007. Results of a coordinated count of Eurasian Golden Plovers Pluvialis apricaria in Northern Europe, October 2003. Wader Study Group Bulletin 114: 60-64.

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

Gillings, S., Austin, G.E., Fuller, R.J. & Sutherland, W.J. 2006. Distribution shifts in wintering Golden Plovers Pluvialis apricaria and Lapwings Vanellus vanellus in Britain. Bird Study 53: 274-284.

Clark, N.A., Gillings, S., Baker, A.J., González, P.M. & Porter, R. 2005. Considerations in the production and use of inscribed permanent leg flags. Wader Study Group Bulletin 108: 38-41.

Fuller, R.M., Devereux, B.J., Gillings, S., Amable, G.S. & Hill, R.A. 2005. Indices of bird-habitat preference from field surveys of birds and remote sensing of land cover: a study of south-eastern England with wider implications for conservation and biodiversity assessment. Global Ecology and Biogeography 14: 223-239.

Gillings, S., Fuller, R.J. & Sutherland, W.J. 2005. Diurnal studies do not predict nocturnal habitat choice and site selection of Eurasian Golden Plovers Pluvialis apricaria and Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus. Auk 122: 1249-1260.

Gillings, S., Newson, S.E., Noble, D.G. & Vickery, J.A. 2005. Winter availability of cereal stubbles attracts declining farmland birds and positively influences breeding population trends. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 272 (1564): 733-739.

Gillings, S. 2004. Prey detectability: significance and measurement using a novel laser pen technique. Wader Study Group Bulletin 103: 50-55.

Gillings, S. & Beaven, P. 2004. Wintering farmland birds: results from mass-participation surveys. British Birds 97: 118-129.

Gillings, S. 2003. Plugging the gaps – winter studies of Eurasian Golden Plovers and Northern Lapwings. Wader Study Group Bulletin 100: 25-29.

Gillings, S. 2001. Factors affecting the distribution of Skylarks Alauda arvensis wintering in Britain and Ireland during the early 1980s. pp 115-128 in: Donald, P.F. & Vickery, J.A. (eds) The ecology and conservation of skylarks Alauda arvensis. RSPB, Sandy.

Gillings, S. & Fuller, R.J. 2001. Habitat selection by Skylarks Alauda arvensis wintering in Britain in 1997/98. Bird Study 48: 293-307.

Gillings, S., Fuller, R.J. & Balmer, D.E. 2000. Breeding birds in scrub in the Scottish Highlands: variation in community composition between scrub type and successional stage. Scottish Forestry 54: 73-85.

Wotton, S.R. & Gillings, S. 2000. The status of breeding Woodlarks Lullula arborea in Britain in 1997. Bird Study 47: 212-224.

Fuller, R.J., Gillings, S. & Whitfield, D.P. 1999. Responses of breeding birds to expansion of scrub in the eastern Scottish Highlands: preliminary implications for conservation strategies. Vogelwelt 120 (Suppl): 53-62.

Gillings, S. & Fuller, R.J. 1998. Changes in bird populations on sample lowland English farms in relation to loss of hedgerows and other non-cropped habitats. Oecologia 116: 120-127.

Gillings, S. & Fuller, R.J. 1998. The breeding bird community of upland Juniper scrub in eastern Scotland. Scottish Birds 19: 231-238.

Gillings, S., Fuller, R.J. & Henderson, A.C.B. 1998. Avian community composition and patterns of bird distribution within birch-heath mosaics in north-east Scotland. Ornis Fennica 75: 27-37.

Contact details

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