Independent review finds charity delivering remarkable impact

25 Sep 2019 | No. 2019-27

An independent panel of leading scientists, reviewing the impact of the British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO) scientific work, has recognised both the charity’s remarkable impact on policy and practice and its strong leadership role in the environmental sector. 

BTO has a strong reputation for delivering quality science that is being used to support policy and decision-making processes that relate to birds, other wildlife and the habitats that support them. The strength of this reputation has been underlined by a recent and independent review.

BTO's contribution to our understanding of Britain's birds is huge. BTO volunteers, whilst participating in BTO surveys, generate a societal value of around £90 million. BTO supplied 1.5 million records from three of its surveys for the soon to be published European Breeding Bird Atlas, and the charity provided the first evidence of climate change impact on Britain's birds by showing the advancement of the egg laying date for several species is linked to a warming climate.

As part of a wider programme of work to examine the charity’s governance and effectiveness, an independent expert panel of leading scientists was asked to review the charity’s scientific work and its impact. This process will help to ensure that the organisation continues to play a pivotal role in UK conservation, policy and land management decisions.

The panel, which was chaired by Professor Rosie Hails (Director of Nature and Science at the National Trust), reviewed written evidence and questioned BTO staff, before delivering their findings through a report, which was published today.  The review panel concluded that BTO has had “a remarkable impact on policy and practice given its size and resources”, identifying the charity’s main strengths to be its volunteer base, rigorous integration of research and monitoring, and its outreach to a wide range of audiences.

Professor Rosie Hails, review panel chair, said “The BTO and its volunteer base are a great resource for the academic community, and governments across the UK. Organisations such as these have a really important role to play in providing the evidence of success (or failure) of the UK’s future environmental policies.”

As well as identifying the BTO’s strengths and successes, the panel also made a series of recommendations, which it felt would help the organisation to increase the impact of its excellent science over the coming years. These included strengthening engagement with the evidence requirements for current and emerging flagship environmental policies in each of the UK countries, continuing to make the most of ongoing technological development to empower BTO members and volunteers to achieve more, and to develop new partnerships to enhance impact in emerging areas of interest.

James Pearce-Higgins, BTO Director of Science, welcomed the review panel’s findings, commenting “ The panel have recognised the ability of our long-term monitoring data archive, generated thanks to our network of 60,000 volunteers in combination with our scientific research activities, to make a real difference. Their recommendations will help BTO continue to inform societal responses to ongoing environmental challenges so that our excellent science has real-world impact.

Both the recommendations made by the review panel and the written evidence they were presented with are available on the BTO’s website and can be accessed via

Contact Details

James Pearce-Higgins
(BTO Director of Science)
Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5:30pm Mon-Thurs), (9am to 5pm Friday)
Email: press [at] ()

Paul Stancliffe
(BTO Media Manager)
Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5:30pm Mon-Thurs), (9am to 5pm Friday)
Mobile: 07585 440910
Email: press [at] ()

Images are available for use alongside this News Release, September 2019-27, by emailing press [at]

The BTO has an ISDN line available for radio interviews. 
Please contact us to book an interview. Office:01842 750050

Notes to editors

1. BTO is the UK's leading bird research charity. A growing membership and up to 60,000 volunteer birdwatchers contribute to the BTO's surveys, collecting information that underpins conservation action in the UK. The BTO maintains a staff of 120 at its offices in Thetford, Stirling, Bangor (Wales) and Bangor (Northern Ireland), who analyse and publicise the results of surveys and projects. The BTO's work is funded by BTO supporters, government, trusts, industry and conservation organisations. 

2. This review panel was chaired by Professor Rosie Hails (National Trust) and involved Professor Chris Thomas (University of York), Dr Mike Morecroft (Natural England) and Professor Andrew Watkinson (University of East Anglia).

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