BTO and COVID-19

BTO and COVID-19

08 Jan 2021

BBS volunteer. Photograph by David Tipling

This statement was updated at 17:15 on 08.01.2021.

The spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) is having a significant impact on our lives and is likely to continue to do so over the coming months. BTO is taking this threat seriously, with utmost concern for the health and well-being of our staff, volunteers and members, and those landowners and communities with which we interact.

It is vital that our staff, volunteers and members follow the latest government advice in order to prevent the spread and transmission of infection. The monitoring work undertaken by BTO staff and volunteers makes a valuable contribution to society and to their own mental well-being, but these are exceptional times and the government advice provides the framework by which we should direct our activities. People across society are having to make sacrifices, and it is important that we, as volunteers, do our bit by following government advice and supporting the efforts to bring an end to this pandemic. Although volunteer fieldwork has been and continues to be disrupted, BTO staff are working hard to maximise the scientific value of the data that can be collected.

The health of yourselves and your families and friends is important. If you or those close to you are impacted by the virus, we wish you a swift recovery. Whether you are entering old birdwatching records from your notebooks into BirdTrack, or are watching or recording the birds as permitted locally, please stay safe and keep well.

BTO offices and working arrangements

We have put steps in place to minimise disruption to our work and core charitable activities and have produced a risk assessment (PDF 823kb) for our offices. Please note that our staff are mostly working from home, but can be contacted by email or through our website. We have also put in place mechanisms to enable people to contact the BTO over the telephone. Our online sales operation remains open, and we will continue to receive and fulfill orders placed through our website, as permitted by the latest legislation.    

Participating in BTO surveys

BTO’s senior leadership team continues to review published legislation, government guidance and other relevant advice for England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, Channel Islands and Republic of Ireland. We also continue to consult with JNCC, the relevant Statutory Agencies or responsible bodies, and NGO partners about the implications for our volunteer surveys.

In the Isle of Man, Northern Ireland and Wales, members of the public are only permitted to leave their homes or travel for essential purposes. Volunteer surveys are not explicitly included in the list of essential activities, and our current understanding is that they do not qualify as ‘exercise’. The upshot of this is that volunteer surveys can only take place within the boundary of the property in which you reside.   

In England, BTO surveys are technically permitted to continue through the exemption provided by the ‘voluntary or charitable activities’ clause which became applicable in November following guidance from Defra. However, the situation throughout the UK is currently extremely serious and we would very strongly advise all volunteers to err on the side of caution and adhere to the restrictions imposed on the general public. In England, this entails limiting your survey activities to within the boundary of the property in which you reside.

In Scotland, BTO surveys are technically permitted to continue through the exemptions provided by the FISA guidance. However, the situation throughout the UK is currently extremely serious and we would very strongly advise all volunteers to err on the side of caution and adhere to the restrictions imposed on the general public. In Scotland, this entails limiting your activities to the local area, as per guidance pertaining to ‘outdoor recreation’, in the company of no more than one other person from another household, and starting and finishing at the same place a maximum of 5 miles from the boundary of your local authority area.

In a normal year the  following surveys would be operating at this time of year. Please see the individual scheme pages or email correspondence sent out by scheme organisers for guidance relating to each survey. BirdTrack can continue to be carried out during permitted daily exercise.

Ringing Scheme (

BirdTrack (

Nest Record Scheme  (

Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS)  (

Hen Harrier Roost Survey (volunteers will be contacted)

Survey work and coronavirus

No volunteer should undertake survey work if displaying symptoms of Covid-19, however mild, isolating as a result of previous symptoms, living with a household member who is either displaying symptoms or isolating, or if asked to remain at home due to the results of any ‘track and trace’ activity. If volunteering is undertaken, volunteers should follow all government guidance in their geographic region, and maintain social distancing and appropriate health and safety procedures at all times. The latest guidance, including that on any travel restrictions or group size restrictions, should be consulted for the relevant part of the UK before engaging in any survey work. 

The health of our volunteers is very important to us, as are our relationships with the landowners who so generously allow us onto their land. No volunteer should feel under pressure to carry out fieldwork if they do not feel comfortable doing so, or if they are concerned about the impacts of carrying out survey work on relations with landowners or other members of the public. Please be sensitive to the feelings of landowners and your impact on local communities at this time and help foster good relationships with local communities for the future. Inconsiderate actions will be damaging for all of us. As with all fieldwork, please ensure that you have appropriate landowner permission to visit.


Useful links




Northern Ireland:

Isle of Man:

Bailiwick of Jersey:

Bailiwick of Guernsey:

The BTO Team

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