The Denis Summers-Smith Tribute Fund

Denis was an inspiration and very supportive and helpful to many young people, stimulating and encouraging their interest in birds. In May 2006, Denis contacted the then Director of BTO, Jeremy Greenwood, outlining his offer of a generous sum of money, which would be donated in instalments over a period of ten years. Denis was very clear that the money was to be used to support young scientists, to help with research projects and career development.
House Sparrow. Edmund Fellowes

Denis Summers-Smith was a remarkable and widely respected ornithologist. He joined BTO in 1949 and remained a member and dear friend of the Trust until his death, aged 99, on 5 May 2020; just five months shy of his 100th birthday. 

Although Denis had a degree in engineering and a PhD in physics (he specialised in tribology: the study of friction, wear and lubrication) he was a keen ‘amateur naturalist’ and was famous worldwide for his lifelong study of the House Sparrow, a species which he began studying in 1947; due to petrol rationing he was unable to travel very far and the House Sparrow was in abundance in his local patch.

His contribution in this field was recognised by the award of the Stamford Raffles Prize of the Zoological Society of London for ‘Distinguished contributions in zoology by an amateur scientist’. Before he died, Denis donated his research papers to the BTO and we are privileged to hold them in our archive collection.

Supporting young scientists

Denis was very clear that the money was to be used to support young scientists, to help with research projects and career development. Working together with Denis, the BTO launched the Young Scientists’ Fund. The Fund is still open today and provides much needed revenue for the Young Scientists’ Programme

The Young Scientists' Programme seeks to inspire and develop scientists and students and advance our knowledge of the natural world to inform conservation now and in the future. You can read more about the programme and read testimonials from some of the young scientists who were selected to receive funding.

Many scientists have developed impressive careers and have contributed to our knowledge of birds thanks to Denis’s generosity. It will be a fitting memorial to him if we can continue the Young Scientists’ Programme which he was so influential in establishing and funding.

There will be no better memorial to Denis than continuing his commitment to young scientists and their development. Investing in the future of young scientists and enabling them to have access to BTO experts to learn from and develop their skills is incredibly important. 

As well as providing expert supervisors in a number of areas of study the BTO has all the resources you might expect from a national research centre. Students are able to call on wide expertise, including staff involved with complementary research, surveys being carried out with the help of thousands of skilled volunteers across the UK, data sets going back over more than eighty years and advanced technical support from our information systems team. 

Students also have access to BTO field equipment, advice from our media and communications staff and opportunities to network with a range of academics and practitioners, including our partners in the Cambridge Conservation Initiative (CCI).

After liaising with Denis’s son, Mike, we are honoured to launch the Denis Summers-Smith Tribute Fund.

Support young scientists

Please help us to continue to enable gifted young scientists to further their careers in ornithology by making a donation to the Fund.

Donate today

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