BTO Policy on Data and Information

The BTO holds data on avian distributions, abundance and demography (and on habitats and other animals) that are of great value for conservation management, site safeguard, species protection, planning advice and a range of issues concerned with environmental policy and ecological science. The BTO is committed to making these data readily available to users, working principally through our own website and the National Biodiversity Network. In making data available we will ensure that data have been appropriately validated and that the interpretation and limitations of the data are understood properly by end users.

Monitoring and survey results

The BTO gives high priority to ensuring that data from monitoring and surveillance schemes, surveys and research projects are rigorously analysed and that the results are published widely and quickly. The BTO undertakes many sample surveys where appropriate inferences can only be drawn from analyses that take account of the sampling design. Information based on survey results will be published in refereed scientific publications, in publications for conservation practitioners and policy makers, and in popular articles and web pages that provide feedback to surveyors, birdwatchers and the general public. The Trust will also use the information and data generated from its surveys to provide policy advice and information to government, conservation bodies and a wide range of other stakeholders.

Detailed and summary information from major surveys and some other projects, usually including many tables, figures and maps, are published on the BTO website (e.g. The BirdTrends report and BirdFacts) and on other appropriate websites such as those of the National Biodiversity Network and DEFRA. We will also work with others to make our results and data holdings available at an international scale, working with organizations such as the European Bird Census Council (EBCC) and the European Union for Bird Ringing (EURING).


We recognize that our data holdings provide enormous research potential, which should be exploited for science and conservation. We will continue to develop and maintain a high level of ecological and analytical expertise amongst our staff in order to support such analyses. We are keen to develop collaborations where these data are shared with other organizations and individuals so as to bring together complementary skills and datasets that will allow us to address new questions. The Trust has limited resources and will focus its own research on certain priority areas, which will be kept up-to-date and published through our strategy. We will continue to make our data available for a wide range of research projects in other areas, and for work which complements our in-house research programmes.


Many of the unique datasets gathered by the BTO are critically dependent on the fieldwork of our network of skilled volunteers. We will ensure that our volunteers receive appropriate recognition for this work and that surveys are developed in ways that make the best use of their efforts. We will also further develop their access to their own data (and where appropriate to those of other contributors) and their ability to manage and analyse them through online applications. The data held by the Trust are of value at a range of scales from local to international. The Trust works particularly closely with the network of county and local bird clubs throughout the United Kingdom and with the Scottish Ornithologists' Club, the Welsh Ornithological Society and BirdWatch Ireland. We will continue to enhance our collaborations and the sharing of data with these organizations.


Substantial funding is required to maintain the BTO’s data gathering projects, and to publish the results. We therefore give high priority to ensuring that our partners and funders are properly acknowledged within our own website and publications and on other websites and publications that use data that we supply. The Trust will also seek funding to undertake additional research based on the data gathered from its surveys and undertake other projects that provide added value from the work.

Sensitive species

The Trust holds many data on the locations of rare and sensitive species. It will seek to ensure that this information is made available to those in the Statutory and Voluntary Conservation organizations who need such data to ensure that species and sites are adequately protected. It will also ensure that adequate confidentiality of such data is maintained, and that they are not released in ways that could jeopardize individual birds or sites. We will work through the Rare Breeding Birds Panel to further develop and apply best practice in this area.

Data management and storage

The BTO recognizes that it has a special responsibility to ensure that the datasets that it holds are properly managed and curated. Policies for managing data security and preventing data loss are maintained and implemented in line with developing technology. Most paper records that are not fully computerized are held as digital images that make them accessible and protect them from loss. The Trust will seek funding to develop more complete on-line metadata for all its data sets, to computerize those historical data that are not yet available in digital form and eventually to scan all of its remaining paper records, including its extensive archive of detailed results from mapping censuses.

Scientific publications

BTO will ensure that summaries of all its scientific publications and reports are freely available over the Internet (subject only to any copyright restrictions imposed by publishers or contractual delays). Wherever possible the full text of articles and reports will be made available in the same way. With respect to the Trust’s own journals, Bird Study papers are freely available on the Internet two years after publication while all content of Ringing & Migration is freely available.

Rights of data contributors

Some data held by the BTO have been collected as part of particular professional or amateur studies. Under these circumstances it is often the intention of those who collected the data to analyse and publish the results of their own studies themselves, even though they may be happy for them to also be treated as part of the national dataset. Under these circumstances we will take steps to ensure that the legitimate rights of the contributors are appropriately protected and that their data are not released to third parties without their agreement.

Personal data

Personal data form an integral part of any biological recording system and it is essential to maintain an audit trail of the individuals who submitted particular records. The Trust will manage such data securely, in line with the provisions of the Data Protection Act. We will not sell, distribute or lend personal information to third parties, unless we have an individual’s permission or are required to do so by law. We may release personal information to survey partners where joining a survey involved an individual giving their permission for this to happen. We will supply the identities of individual observers to county bird recorders where the observers have given permission for this to happen via our website.

Most requests to use BTO data are approved but there will be some instances where data cannot be released, or where collaboration will be appropriate, as indicated in this policy. The BTO normally makes charges for the provision of data, although these may be waived for volunteer contributors and in some other circumstances. All those using data or information supplied by the BTO are expected to provide appropriate acknowledgements in all publications and websites that make use of BTO material.

Request data and information

Find out about the quality of BTO data


Related content