BTO and COVID-19

BTO and COVID-19

06 Mar 2021

BBS volunteer. Photograph by David Tipling

This statement was updated at 06:00 on 06.03.2021.

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. We advise all volunteers to carry a copy of this guidance with them when surveying to help explain to others what they are doing.

It is vital to understand that the guidance presented here represents the latest interpretation of the legislation received by BTO from the relevant government departments. The exemptions regarding leaving the home are, for example, dependent on the activity being undertaken qualifying as a ‘reasonable excuse’. There is always a risk that what may qualify as such to one ‘relevant person’ (e.g. a police officer) may not be considered reasonable by another. For your own benefit, both in terms of disease transmission and avoiding receipt of sanctions from the authorities, we therefore urge volunteers to carefully assess the risks posed by their fieldwork and to minimise travel and group sizes even in countries where these aspects of fieldwork may not technically be constrained by the legislation.  


We have had no further indication that the status of BTO volunteer surveys in England with regards to constituting ‘voluntary or charitable activities’ has changed since this decision was made in autumn 2020. This means that survey volunteers can continue survey activities without restrictions on travel or group sizes.

This element of the legislation does not impose specific restrictions beyond the need to maintain social distancing. It is, however, vital that volunteers consider the risks of their activities in relation to both disease transmission and sanctions being imposed by the authorities, noting that interpretation of guidance by the latter may vary from region to region. Both risks are likely to increase with the distance travelled and the size of the group undertaking the activity, so lone/pair working undertaken locally is the ideal in this respect. If you are in a location where you are conscious of heightened risk (e.g. active testing for a new variant is ongoing), please exercise extreme caution.


In February 2021 we received notification from Scottish Government stating that, given the severity of the current situation, the exemption for 'ecological surveys and research' applied to BTO volunteer surveys from June 2020 was being suspended. This means that volunteers are not currently working to the Forestry Industry Safety Accord (FISA) guidance. We have, however, also been informed that BTO volunteer surveys are now considered to qualify as ‘voluntary and charitable services’, enabling  monitoring activities to continue. As above, however, volunteers are advised to assess the risks of disease transmission and application of sanctions and look to minimise risks, through working locally solo or in pairs wherever possible. 

Isle Of Man

The Isle of Man entered a three week long circuit break lockdown on 03 March 2021. During this period, members of the public are only permitted to leave their homes or travel for a limited range of defined purposes. While one of these purposes is to take exercise, the steer from the government since the start of the pandemic has been that BTO surveys are not classified as such. At the current time, all volunteer survey activities, including ringing and nest recording, must therefore be restricted to areas of land falling within the boundaries of the property in which you reside.   

Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Wales

In these countries, members of the public are currently only permitted to leave their homes or travel for essential purposes, and none of the specified exemptions pertain to volunteer survey activities.


Jersey are following the COVID-19 Winter Strategy.


Bailiwick of Guernsey updated their covid advice on 10 February. The Bailiwick of Guernsey is asked to stay at home, though two hours of recreational activity outdoors is permitted each day.

Specific survey guidance

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.

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

England: /



Northern Ireland:

Isle of Man:

Bailiwick of Jersey:

Bailiwick of Guernsey:

The BTO Team

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