Code of Ethics on Animal Research

BTO science covers the monitoring of biodiversity status and trends, and research to understand the causes of change, ecological processes and what is required to manage species and habitats sustainably. Much of this monitoring work is undertaken in partnership with the public, supporting skilled citizen scientists with the field-collection of data; our work does not involve captive animals.

All BTO staff are expected to adhere to our Statement of Good Scientific Practice in their work. This document forms part of that statement and outlines expectations regarding the ethics of our research with respect to wild animals. 

Much of our work with birds concerns observing them in their natural habitats and has little direct impact on the individuals being studied. However, where there is the potential for work to affect individual birds (or other wildlife), BTO fully supports the principles underpinning the guidelines for the treatment of animals in behavioural research and teaching where they are applicable, and all scientists are encouraged to familiarise themselves with its content. The current document provides more detail specific to the main types of work we undertake.

How we do our work

For survey work, all staff and volunteers are expected to follow the Birdwatchers’ Code to ensure that any impact on birds or their habitats is minimised. All surveys are planned to ensure the level of data gathering is consistent with the scientific aims of the survey and that the methods employed are appropriate to the species being studied.

Persons undertaking nest recording are expected to follow their specific Code of Conduct, while ringers, all of whom are trained to a high standard, must follow the rules of the Ringing Scheme, as set out in the Ringers’ Manual, which have the welfare of birds being handled as their primary consideration. Where this work involves species in the breeding season that are specially protected under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) and has potential to cause disturbance a specific licence is required (either from BTO in case of ringing/nest-recording, or the relevant Country Agency for other activities). These activities are overseen by the Ringing & Nest Recording Committee, which is a subcommittee of Trust’s governing Board of Trustees. Breaches of these standards are assessed by the Ringing Standards Select Committee which is comprised of a panel of senior ringers and which reports to the Ringing & Nest Recording Committee, to whom appeals may be made and which recommends changes to the scheme rules where necessary.

Marking and trapping, other than those using standard metal or colour rings and conventional trapping methods, is overseen by a specialist group of independent experts – the Special Methods Technical Panel (SMTP). SMTP operational protocols have been agreed by the Home Office Animal Standards Procedures Inspectorate to which it reports annually. All applications to the Panel must be suitably detailed to assess (a) the risk of harm to birds, (b) the probability of delivering the expected data and (c) whether the findings (including potential for publication) would be of sufficient value to justify the risk. In exceptional circumstances the Panel may request additional input from the Home Office concerning the evaluation of criterion (a) and all endorsement holders must report on their activities to the SMTP annually, which maintains a critical oversight of the methods used.

Ethical approval procedure

BTO expects all work undertaken to be of high quality, using suitable data and tools to draw appropriate conclusions and inferences, as governed by the Statement of BTO Quality Management Process. Where our members, volunteers or other persons are themselves the subject of the research activity, the British Psychological Society’s Code of Ethics should be followed as outlined in our Code of Citizen Science Research Ethics

In order to maintain BTO’s high standards, the ethical implications of new research are considered through an independent assessment by senior project managers in the organisation, and where necessary our senior statistician (to ensure the statistical design is appropriate), to ensure they comply with these guidelines and any ethical risks that may arise are identified. Where this assessment flags up potentially significant risks, the Senior Leadership Team will review proposed mitigation measures to ensure they are proportionate and appropriate. In exceptional cases, where a full ethics review is required, these will be considered by BTO’s Finance & Risk Committee to ensure they comply with the guidelines set out above.

Complaints Procedure

BTO takes ethics and ethical standards very seriously and expects all staff, as part of its Code of Good Scientific Practice, to follow best practice in their work. Any complaint of misconduct in research regarding the ethical review process must be made in writing to the Director of Finance and Services for an initial assessment of the nature and severity of the complaint. Any action that is deemed necessary will follow BTO’s established misconduct procedures.

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