Seabird Monitoring Programme logo

Project partners

British Trust for Ornithology logo
JNCC logo

in association with


Project partners

British Trust for Ornithology logo
JNCC logo

in association with


Taking Part

Find out how you can get involved in fieldwork for the Seabird Monitoring Programme at both coastal and inland seabird sites.

A seabird survey volunteer
Monitoring seabirds. Gary Clewley 

What skills do I need to take part? 

You need to be able to identify the seabird species you plan to count.

You will survey species by counting birds, nests, or territories within a defined area - known as Colony counts. There is also the option to record the number of chicks reaching fledging age from a colony - known as Breeding success recording.

  • You can choose to survey just one species, such as Black-headed Gulls at an inland colony, or multiple species at a coastal site.

Improving your skills

If you want to improve your identification skills, or boost your confidence, we have resources to help you:

  • BTO often runs training events covering seabird ID and ecology and these are advertised on the BTO events pages
  • There may be a local SMP participant who you could shadow; contact the SMP team at smp [at] to see if they know of anyone near you.
  • Data are entered via a Portal called SMP Online and guidance on its use is available on the SMP Online homepage, under the 'Help' tab.

How much time does it take?

The time commitment could vary from as little as 20 minutes a visit, to whole-day visits to a colony. Seabird sites range from large colonies on coastal cliffs, burrows of nesting seabirds on islands to inland nesting gulls, terns and Cormorants.

How do I get involved? 

Find a site to monitor

To get started, browse the map on the homepage of the SMP Online Portal. Guidance for using SMP Online can be found in the Portal, under the 'Help' tab. 

In this map, you can zoom in and out, and search locations. A key also shows you what the colour coding on the pinpoints means. Vacant sites are coloured blue. Click on a pin to display the site name and ID.

Then click on the marker on the map and complete the details to ‘Volunteer here’. The SMP Organiser will then get in touch with you.

I have a potential site that’s not part of SMP. What shall I do?

Please get in touch! We can add chosen sites to the SMP system for monitoring. Historic data can also be entered into the database.

  • Email smp [at] to arrange this.

Collecting data from your site

The recommended methodologies for different species can be found in the Seabird Monitoring Handbook for Britain and Ireland

When you collect your data, you should use an SMP-specific recording form: 

You can download and print these forms yourself, or request paper copies from smp [at]

Are zero counts from colonies useful?

Yes! This is essential information – as important as counts. A zero count is the difference between a species no longer being present and a species simply not being surveyed. It is important that these zero counts are recorded every year, especially for terns which can frequently move colonies.

If a species at a colony or site has become extinct from a site, this information – recorded as a ‘nil return’ – allows our Research Ecologists to properly access population changes for the species during the trend production. It also allows us to record zero productivity values for these sites and species.

Submitting your data

You will need to enter the data you collect through the SMP Online Portal. Guidance for using SMP Online can be found in the Portal, under the 'Help' tab. 

Do seabird counts I’ve submitted to BirdTrack, or sent to a County Bird Recorder, feed into SMP?

Like most structured surveys, SMP has bespoke data needs and therefore, transferring data from one place to another often does not cover all the survey-specific details needed.

  • The only way to send data to the SMP is through the SMP Online system, completing all the sections required in the SMP form.

You can continue to add your breeding seabird records to BirdTrack and/or send them directly to your County Bird Recorder if you wish. These data can then be used in a variety of ways from each database.

View and explore SMP data

There are several ways to view and explore SMP data: 

Can the SMP team extract my seabird data from published site-specific or county reports?

Unfortunately, there is no budget or staff capacity available for finding or receiving SMP data via a published report, e.g., a local study group, county bird club or site-specific report, and rekeying those data into the SMP database.

Please ensure all data are entered directly into the SMP Online system to ensure all the information required reaches the database, and in a format that will allow for its use in trend production and seabird-related research. Thank you.

Information for County Bird Recorders

Data are available to County Bird Recorders from the SMP Online system or via a BTO Data Request.


Seabird Monitoring Handbook

Seabird Monitoring Handbook for Britain and Ireland

This handbook contains explains the recommended methodologies for different species.

BTO are looking to fundraise in the near future to allow us to review and modernise the SMP handbook. Species experts will be invited to assist with chapters of this handbook, and considerations are underway with regards to the inclusion and guidance for new technologies, e.g., drone use. Watch this space!

Recording forms for data collection

When collecting data, you should use an SMP-specific recording form. There are separate recording forms for Colony Counts and for Breeding Success. You can download and print these forms yourself, or request paper copies from smp [at]

Health and Safety information for volunteers

We recommend you read BTO’s guidance for volunteer fieldworkers before starting your surveys.

There are several SMP-specific policies that volunteers and surveyors should also be aware of: 

Get in touch

Email us

Would you like to find out more about what we do and how to get involved?

Drop us a line: smp [at]

Find us on Twitter

Follow us at @smp_seabirds, and remember to tag us in your SMP-related tweets!

Subscribe to SMPnews

Stay up to date with everything seabirds: subscribe to our email newsletter.


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