Dilys Breese Medal and Marsh Awards presented

28 Oct 2013

Dr Jane Reid with Professor Bill Sutherland and Professor Ian Newton

BTO guests represented a wide range of partner organisations, long-standing members, funders and media contacts, all of whom support the work of the Trust.

Dilys Breese Medal

John Ingham with his Dilys Breese Medal

John Ingham was presented with the Dilys Breese Medal by Baroness Barbara Young, the BTO’s President.  Through his column in the Daily Express, John Ingham has done a huge amount to support the work of the BTO, but particularly in the last year.  By taking an interest in items such as the Blackcap and Winter Thrushes Surveys, he attracts the attention not only of his large readership but also of his fellow writers.  This award recognises John’s attention to detail, his collaborative approach to writing and the spikes we see on the BTO’s website whenever he mentions our work.

Dilys Breese, a former Vice President and Honorary Secretary of the BTO, was not only a renowned radio and television producer, she also did much to promote the science of ornithology to broader audiences, particularly through the work she did for the BTO. In recognition of this service, a medal is awarded on an annual basis to outstanding communicators who deliver BTO science to new audiences.

Professor Ian Newton, Chair of BTO Council  presented this year’s Marsh Awards, along with Jo Winyard (Director of the Marsh Christian Trust) and Professor Bill Sutherland (President of the British Ecological Society).

The Marsh Trust runs a portfolio of awards with a number of internationally and nationally recognised organisations. Recipients of Marsh Awards range from scientists working in conservation biology and ecology to authors and sculptors from the arts world, and those who give their time unselfishly to work with the young, the elderly, people with mental health issues and for our heritage.

Marsh Award for Local Ornithology

The Marsh Local Ornithology Award was presented to Dr Jim Cassels of Arran Natural History Society by Professor Ian Newton, BTO Chairman, and Jo Winyard, Director of The Marsh Christian Trust. In nominating Arran Natural History Society for the Marsh Award for Local Ornithology, Dawn Balmer, UK Coordinator for Bird Atlas 2007-11, reflected upon the commitment of the Arran Natural History Society and Dr Jim Cassels’ personal drive.

During the early stages of the national Bird Atlas project, Jim Cassels persuaded the Arran Natural History Society to attempt a more-detailed local breeding and wintering atlas of the birds of Arran, despite having only a handful of keen bird surveyors available to support the work.   To complete the project, Jim and the ANHS engaged the whole community on Arran, encouraging people to submit records for the Atlas.  They did this by writing regular articles for the local weekly paper the “Arran Banner”, giving talks and building special atlas pages on the Arran birding website.  Visitors to the Island were persuaded to contribute records. Bird walks were organised to give local people valuable fieldwork experience and to build their confidence levels.   Nearly 700 people submitted records for the Atlas, between them achieving complete coverage of the 139 tetrads (2-km squares) on Arran over five winters and five breeding seasons.

Jim Cassels has been the Atlas Regional Organiser for Bird Atlas 2007–11, coordinating fieldwork and undertaking validation of records on the Isle of Arran.  The project is now in the writing and map production phase, again led by Jim.  The Arran local atlas will advance the knowledge of the status of breeding and wintering birds on Arran and will provide an important baseline against which to measure change in the future.

The Marsh Local Ornithology Award is made to a bird club or group that publishes a book, completes a study or conducts any other exceptional activity that advances knowledge about birds.

Marsh Award for Innovative Ornithology

The Marsh Award for Innovative Ornithology was presented to Dr Christian Rutz yesterday evening (30 October) by Professor Ian Newton, BTO Chairman, and Jo Winyard, Director of the Marsh Christian Trust.

Dr Christian Rutz, of the University of St Andrews, was nominated for The Marsh Award for Innovative Ornithology by Dr Will Cresswell, the Editor of the BTO’s scientific journal, Bird Study. Christian has been undertaking pioneering work on miniature, bird-borne tracking devices that can provide intimate glimpses into the hidden lives of birds.

The first notable breakthrough was the development, and successful deployment, of tiny bird-mounted video cameras, to obtain a bird’s-eye view of the world, and gather detailed data on foraging behaviour, habitat use, social interactions and conservation threats (Science 2007 318: 765). More recently, Christian’s group deployed highly innovative miniature ‘proximity loggers’ on birds that can detect when individuals meet each other, enabling the real-time mapping of social network dynamics in wild populations (Current Biology 2012 22: R669-671). Both papers reported world firsts, pushing the frontiers of what is possible in terms of miniaturisation and sophistication of animal-attached tags. Christian combines technological innovation with cutting-edge research.

Apart from leading to high profile publications, the work by Christian and his research group has had considerable media impact, providing a good example of how science can be communicated effectively to broad audiences. Despite significant potential for commercial exploitation, Christian has made his engineering advances and expertise freely available to others, to facilitate rapid uptake of these emerging technologies by the ornithological research community.

Upon receiving his award, Christian noted: “Clever electronics cannot replace hard fieldwork, with a pair of binoculars and a pocket notebook, but they can provide fresh perspectives and precious complementary data. I can’t wait to learn about the many exciting discoveries field ornithologists will make with these novel technologies in the near future.”

The Marsh Award for Innovative Ornithology celebrates an important contribution which takes forward our understanding of avian ecology or conservation science.

Marsh Award for Ornithology

The Marsh Award for Ornithology was presented to Dr Jane Reid by Professor Ian Newton, BTO Chairman, and Professor Bill Sutherland, on behalf of The Marsh Christian Trust.

Dr Reid was nominated for the Marsh Award for Ornithology by its previous three winners, Dr Jenny Gill, Dr Ian Hartley and Prof Jeremy Wilson, commending Jane as “an outstanding ornithologist who has contributed hugely to the field through her extremely high quality research, her dynamic approach to addressing important scientific issues and her deep commitment to developing young researchers and engaging a wide range of audiences”.

Jane became a Research Fellow at the University of Aberdeen in 2006, where she has contributed greatly to the growth of one of the most dynamic ecological research groups in the UK, and to training a series of excellent young ornithologists.  Jane’s research integrates novel and innovative behavioural ecology with important issues in conservation, population and evolutionary ecology. She uses long-term field studies of wild bird populations, developed in collaboration with both professional and amateur ornithologists, to understand the genetic and ecological forces that influence how populations respond to environmental change. Her studies of Red-billed Choughs on Islay, for instance, have seen her working closely with local enthusiasts and farmers, academic colleagues and conservation agencies to understand the demographic causes of population change and help focus conservation interventions where they can be most effective. She has used long-term studies of Starlings on Fair Isle, Song Sparrows in British Columbia, Ring Ouzels in the Scottish Highlands, and Shags in eastern Scotland to provide new insights into the ecological and evolutionary dynamics of bird populations.

Jane has made significant contributions to the BTO at all levels. She is an active bird ringer and trainer in NE Scotland, and has particularly encouraged and inspired young people to become involved with ringing and other aspects of ornithology. She served as a member of the BTO’s Ringing Committee and BTO Council (2004-10) and as a supportive member of the editorial board of Ringing and Migration (2000-08).

The Marsh Award for Ornithology is made to an ornithologist who is making a significant contribution to the field. Amongst other things, the selection panel considers the significance of the research undertaken so far, contributions to training and capacity-building within ornithology, alignment with the BTO’s mission and engagement with the wider ornithological community.

Marsh International Award for Ornithology

The first International Award for Ornithology was presented to Lars Svensson by Professor Ian Newton, BTO Chairman, and Professor Bill Sutherland, on behalf of The Marsh Christian Trust.

Lars Svensson is best known for his Identification Guide to European passerines, used by bird ringers across the continent to determine the identification, age and gender of birds when caught for ringing.  The book was first published in English in 1970 and Lars is now working on a fifth edition.  Within the wider birdwatching community, Lars Svensson will be recognised as the lead author of the Collins Bird Guide.

Generations of BTO ringers have benefited greatly from the accumulated knowledge that is available to them in ‘Svensson’ and it seems highly appropriate that the first international award should recognise his unique role in the lives of thousands of our BTO volunteers.  As Jacquie Clark, Head of the BTO Ringing Scheme, wrote in the document that was presented to Council in support of this nomination “These books are the passerine-ringers’ 'Bibles', without which our knowledge of different ages and sexes of species would be much poorer”.

The Marsh International Award for Ornithology is made to an individual scientist whose work on the international stage has had significant influence on British ornithology, especially as reflected in the work of BTO scientists and volunteers.

The formal part of the evening closed with a celebration of the creative links between science and arts by the BTO’s Director, Dr Andy Clements. The BTO is very grateful to the Society of Wildlife Artists and the Mall Galleries for providing this opportunity to present these awards and to highlight the success of the last year. Sales of artwork during the course of the evening  will help support the BTO’s research.