St Andrews statistician wins top ornithology award

19 Oct 2021 | No. 2021-45

Dr Alison Johnston, based in St Andrews, has been awarded the prestigious Marsh Award for Ornithology by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) for the huge contribution in advancing avian science.

Dr Johnston is an ecological statistician who has made significant advances in the field of ornithology, by developing novel statistical techniques to further our understanding of the avian world and the challenges species face. Following a move to the University of St Andrews, Dr Johnston will take up the position of Reader of Statistics. Prior to this she was leader of the Ecological Data Science team at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and worked as Ecological Statistician for BTO.

Her work has informed key conservation challenges including the impact of climate change and land use on birds and options for mitigating these impacts. Her work has included important applications, such as in the understanding of the effect of offshore wind turbines on birds. She created innovative ways to crunch the numbers in order to understand how high seabirds fly, which in turn helped alter the design of turbines to reduce the risk of bird collision with the blades. Dr Johnston has also devoted much of her career to improving the methods we use to analyse citizen science data, which has helped unlock the power of huge datasets on both sides of the Atlantic.

Dr Viola Ross-Smith, nominating Alison for the award, said, “Not only is Alison a brilliant statistician and ornithologist, she is a true ambassador for gender equity in science. She is a fantastically supportive colleague who brings out the best in everybody she works with, galvanising them to seek new solutions to the challenges our birds face, and resulting in a world where more species can thrive.”

Dr Alison Johnston, receiving the award, said, “I am delighted and blown away to receive this award and to be following in the footsteps of so many wonderful scientists. All of the work I do has been as part of teams, and I feel privileged to have learnt from and collaborated with so many amazing scientists in the UK and around the world.”

The award was presented by Professor Juliet Vickery, CEO of BTO, and Charles Micklewright, Marsh Christian Trust Trustee, at the Society of Wildlife Artists (SWLA) Natural Eye exhibition in the Mall Galleries, London.

The Marsh Award for Ornithology is awarded to an ornithologist who is making a significant contribution to the field, typically someone who gained a PhD between ten and twenty years prior to the award being made.

The Marsh Awards are supported by the Marsh Christian Trust and presented by BTO.

Contact Details
Paul Stancliffe
 (BTO Media Manager)
Mobile: 07585 440910
Email: press [at] (subject: News%20release%20enquiry)

Images are available for use alongside this News Release. These can be downloaded from this link for which you will need to enter the password SWLA202145 alternatively, please contact press [at] quoting reference 2021-45

Notes for editors
Marsh Award for Ornithology
 is awarded to an ornithologist who is making a significant contribution to the field, typically someone who gained a PhD between ten and twenty years prior to the award being made.

The Marsh Christian Trust was founded in 1981 by its current Chairman, Mr Brian Marsh OBE. From the outset the Trust has aimed to create long-standing relationships with the organisations it supports and partners through both its principle areas of work; the Grants Programme and the Awards Scheme. The Trust supports around 350 charities every year through the Grants Programme and gives around 80 different Awards to individuals and groups from across the charity sector, who make a difference to a cause that they believe in.
BTO is the UK's leading bird research charity. A growing membership and up to 60,000 volunteer birdwatchers contribute to BTO's surveys, collecting information that underpins conservation action in the UK. BTO maintains a staff of 100 at its offices in Thetford, Stirling, Bangor (Wales) and Belfast (Northern Ireland), who analyse and publicise the results of surveys and projects. BTO's work is funded by BTO supporters, government, trusts, industry and conservation organisations.

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