British Trust for Ornithology

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British Trust for Ornithology
Legal status Non-profit company
PurposeOrnithology in the UK
  • The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, IP24 2PU
Region served
Website BTO
Entrance to Thetford Nunnery, base of the BTO Entrance to Thetford Nunnery - - 385371.jpg
Entrance to Thetford Nunnery, base of the BTO

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) is an organisation founded in 1932 for the study of birds in the British Isles.

British Isles Group of islands in northwest Europe

The British Isles are a group of islands in the North Atlantic off the north-western coast of continental Europe that consist of the islands of Great Britain, Ireland, the Isle of Man, the Hebrides and over six thousand smaller isles. They have a total area of about 315,159 km2 and a combined population of almost 72 million, and include two sovereign states, the Republic of Ireland, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The islands of Alderney, Jersey, Guernsey, and Sark, and their neighbouring smaller islands, are sometimes also taken to be part of the British Isles, even though, as islands off the coast of France, they do not form part of the archipelago.




In 1931 Max Nicholson wrote:

In the United States, Hungary, Holland and elsewhere a clearing-house for research is provided by the state: in this country such a solution would be uncongenial, and we must look for some alternative centre of national scope not imposed from above but built up from below. An experiment on these lines has been undertaken at Oxford since the founding of the Oxford Bird Census in 1927 [...]. The scheme now has a full-time director, Mr W.B.Alexander. [...] It is intended to put this undertaking on a permanent footing and to build it up as a clearing-house for bird-watching results in this country.

Wilfred Backhouse Alexander was an English ornithologist and entomologist. He was a brother of Horace Alexander and Christopher James Alexander.

This led to a meeting at the British Museum (Natural History) in February 1932, which in turn led to the foundation of an organisation to develop the Oxford scheme. The name British Trust for Ornithology was used from May 1933 and an appeal for funds was published in The Times on 1 July.

Natural History Museum, London Natural history museum in London

The Natural History Museum in London is a natural history museum that exhibits a vast range of specimens from various segments of natural history. It is one of three major museums on Exhibition Road in South Kensington, the others being the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. The Natural History Museum's main frontage, however, is on Cromwell Road.

<i>The Times</i> British daily compact newspaper owned by News UK

The Times is a British daily national newspaper based in London. It began in 1785 under the title The Daily Universal Register, adopting its current name on 1 January 1788. The Times and its sister paper The Sunday Times are published by Times Newspapers, since 1981 a subsidiary of News UK, in turn wholly owned by News Corp. The Times and The Sunday Times do not share editorial staff, were founded independently, and have only had common ownership since 1967.

Max Nicholson was the first treasurer, Bernard Tucker the secretary. Harry Witherby was an early benefactor and vice-chairman.

Bernard Tucker English ornithologist

Bernard William Tucker was an English ornithologist. He was lecturer in zoology at Oxford University, a long-time editor of British Birds and one of the authors of The Handbook of British Birds. He was the first Secretary of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and founder of the Oxford Ornithological Society in 1921.

Much has been discovered about birds by watching and counting them, but such methods rarely allow birds to be identified as individuals. This is essential if we are to learn about how long they live and when and where they move, questions that are vital for bird conservation. Placing a lightweight, uniquely numbered, metal ring around a bird's leg provides a reliable and harmless method of identifying birds as individuals. Each ring also has an address so that anyone finding a ringed bird can help by reporting where and when it was found and what happened to it. Some ringing projects also use colour rings to allow individual birds to be identified without being caught.

Birds have been ringed in Britain and Ireland for nearly 100 years, and ringing still reveals new facts about migration routes and wintering areas. However, the primary focus of the BTO's Ringing Schemes is now the monitoring of bird populations, to provide information on how many young birds leave the nest and survive to become adults, as well as how many adults survive the stresses of breeding, migration and severe weather. Changes in survival rates and other aspects of birds' biology can indicate the causes of population changes. This information is so important that the BTO runs two special projects to collect it. The Constant Effort Sites (CES) scheme provides information on population size, breeding success and survival of bird species living in scrub and wetland habitats. Ringers work at over 130 CES scheme sites each year. The Retrapping Adults for Survival (RAS) project gathers survival data for a wide range of species, particularly those of current conservation concern. Ringing revealed that declines in the number of Sedge Warblers breeding in Britain and Ireland was linked to lower levels of rainfall in their African wintering quarters; whilst the recent dramatic decline in the numbers of Song Thrushes was found to relate to a reduction in the survival rate of young birds. This information should aid identification of the environmental factors responsible for the decline.

Edward Grey Institute

In 1938 the BTO contributed funds to the new Edward Grey Institute of Field Ornithology.

Edward Grey Institute of Field Ornithology academic body that conducts research in ornithology

The Edward Grey Institute of Field Ornithology (EGI), at Oxford University in England, is an academic body that conducts research in ornithology and the general field of evolutionary ecology and conservation biology, with an emphasis on understanding organisms in natural environments. It is named in honour of Edward Grey, 1st Viscount Grey of Fallodon, a notable politician and ornithologist, and is part of the Department of Zoology at Oxford University.

In 1947, the institute became part of a new department of Zoological Field Studies at Oxford University, and the BTO again concentrated on a programme of volunteer-based surveys.

Beech Grove

In December 1962, at the behest of Tony Norris, the BTO purchased Beech Grove, a large Victorian house in Tring, Hertfordshire, relocating there from Oxford, along with their Ringing Office, which had been at the British Museum.

The Nunnery

In April 1991, the BTO moved to The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, a large property lying between the A134 and the River Little Ouse, which had been donated to them. Parts of the medieval Benedictine Nunnery of St George can still be seen on this site.

The BTO also runs its only bird reserve, Nunnery Lakes Reserve, on this site. The reserve lies between the River Thet and the River Little Ouse, extending upstream from The Nunnery, along the banks of the Little Ouse, and incorporates several flooded gravel pits. [1]

In the early 2000s, a new library was created there, dedicated to the memory of Chris Mead. Professor Jeremy Greenwood PhD, who had been Director since 1988, retired in September 2007, and the current Director is Dr Andy Clements. [2]


The BTO carries out research into the lives of birds, chiefly by conducting population and breeding surveys and by bird ringing, largely carried out by a large number of volunteers. Its Garden Birdwatch survey, for example, allows large numbers of non-expert birdwatchers to participate, by making a weekly count of the birds they see in their gardens.


The BTO publishes a number of journals:


In September 1967, inspired by on-going work on the innovative Atlas of Breeding Birds of the West Midlands, produced by the West Midland Bird Club, and in partnership with the Irish Wildbird Conservancy (now BirdWatch Ireland), work began on the first Atlas of Breeding Birds in Britain and Ireland. 3,862 10 km squares were surveyed and the atlas was published in 1976.

The New Atlas (1993) updated and refined this huge survey, again with the help of IWC and the Scottish Ornithologists Club. A Winter Atlas and a Historical Atlas have also been published. The groundbreaking Migration Atlas presents the results of almost 100 years of bird ringing. As with all BTO studies, the vast majority of the fieldwork was undertaken by volunteers.

The Bird Atlas 2007–11, published November 2013, [3] combines breeding and winter surveys across the entire UK and Ireland, involving the BTO, Birdwatch Ireland, and the Scottish Ornithologist's Club, in order to produce a new atlas. Fieldwork began in winter 2007, and was due to continue until the end of 2011.


The Trust awards the Bernard Tucker Medal for services to ornithology, named in memory of Bernard Tucker, the first Secretary, and the Dilys Breese Medal [4] in honour of Dilys Breese [5] and several Marsh Awards for Ornithology. [6]


BirdTrack is an online citizen science website, operated by the BTO on behalf of a partnership of the BTO, the RSPB, BirdWatch Ireland, the Scottish Ornithologists' Club and the Welsh Ornithological Society (Welsh : Cymdeithas Adaryddol Cymru). [7] [8]

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Birdwatching hobby

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The West Midland Bird Club is the UK's largest regional ornithological society. It has been serving birdwatchers and ornithologists in the four English counties of Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire and the Metropolitan West Midlands, with lectures, field trips, research, a bulletin and an annual report, since 1929. It is a registered charity in England and Wales, number 213311.

Sedge warbler species of bird

The sedge warbler is an Old World warbler in the genus Acrocephalus. It is a medium-sized warbler with a brown, streaked back and wings and a distinct pale supercilium. Sedge warblers are migratory, crossing the Sahara to get from their European and Asian breeding grounds to spend winter in Africa. The male's song is composed of random chattering phrases and can include mimicry of other species. The sedge warbler is mostly insectivorous.

Harry Forbes Witherby British ornithologist

Harry Forbes Witherby, MBE, FZS, MBOU was a noted British ornithologist, author, publisher and founding editor of the magazine British Birds.

Christopher John (Chris) Mead was a popular British ornithologist, author and broadcaster, and an influential member of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO).

BirdWatch Ireland (BWI) is a voluntary conservation organisation devoted to the conservation and protection of wild birds and their habitats in Ireland. It was formerly known as the Irish Wildbird Conservancy (IWC). Irish Wildbird Conservancy was founded in 1968, among others by Major Robert (Robin) Ruttledge, an Irish ornithologist who became its first president.

Jeremy John Denis Greenwood CBE is a British ornithologist and was Director of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) from 1988 until he retired in September 2007.

Dr Malcolm Alexander Ogilvie is a British ornithologist and freelance natural history author and consultant. One of his areas of expertise is wildfowl.

Scottish Ornithologists Club Scottish ornithological body

The Scottish Ornithologists' Club (SOC) is a Scottish ornithological body, founded in March 1936 at the premises of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. As of 2008, the SOC has 2,200 members. The Club runs the Scottish Birds Records Committee, which maintains a list of birds recorded in Scotland. In 2007, the club was awarded the Silver Medal by the Zoological Society of London.

The Catalan Ornithological Institute is a not for profit association, established in 1975 for aid the study of birds in Catalonia, with the name of Grup Català d'Anellament. The association specialises in the development and coordination of large scale monitoring schemes requiring the contribution of many ornithologists. The association runs courses for a wide range of practical ornithological activities, including ringing.

Professor David Norman is a British Chartered Physicist and ornithologist, he has lived in Cheshire since 1978.

Stanley Cramp was a British civil servant and ornithologist best known as the first Chief Editor of the encyclopaedic nine-volume handbook The Birds of the Western Palearctic (BWP).

The Devon Bird Watching & Preservation Society, also known as Devon Birds, is one of the UK's regional ornithological societies.

Raymond Duncan is a Scottish ornithologist. He is the chairman of Grampian Ringing Group, established in 1977. He lives in Aberdeen.

The Dilys Breese Medal is a medal awarded by the British Trust for Ornithology to recognise communicators who help to deliver ornithological science to new audiences. It is named in memory of film maker Dilys Breese, who died in 2007, and was inaugurated in 2009, funded by a bequest from Breese. The medal features a design by Robert Gillmor, showing a robin in front of a TV screen.

The Sussex Ornithological Society (SOS) is a British registered charity dedicated to the study, recording, and conservation of wild birds and their habitats in the English historic county of Sussex. It was founded in 1962 and is one of the largest county bird clubs in Great Britain with a membership of 1988 as at the end of financial year in December 2014.

The five Marsh Awards for Ornithology are among over 40 Marsh Awards issued in the United Kingdom by the Marsh Christian Trust and the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), in the field of ornithology. The awards given include:

BirdTrack citizen science website

BirdTrack is an online citizen science website, operated by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) on behalf of a partnership of the BTO, the RSPB, BirdWatch Ireland, the Scottish Ornithologists' Club and the Welsh Ornithological Society. It is also available though mobile apps.

John Callion

John Cragg Callion is an award-winning British ornithologist. His 25-year study of the European stonechat and his findings on the Eurasian dotterel have revealed much previously unknown information about both species.

Dr Stephanie Tyler, also known as Steph Tyler is a British ornithologist, zoologist, naturalist, conservationist, and author from Monmouthshire. She is particularly known for her work on Dippers and the preservation of river habitats.


  1. Nunnery Lakes Reserve - a visitor leaflet produced by the BTO
  2. BTO Press Release 19 March 2007 Archived 12 October 2008 at the Wayback Machine retrieved 4 February 2009
  3. "New Bird Atlas for Britain out today". Birdwatch. Archived from the original on 23 September 2015. Retrieved 21 November 2013.Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  4. Pitches, Adrian. "'Science geek' picks up BTO medal". British Birds . 104 (1): 52. ISSN   0007-0335.
  5. "WildFilmHistory - Dilys Breese". Wildscreen. Retrieved 15 January 2011.
  6. "Jeremy Wilson receives the 2012 Marsh Award for Ornithology". British Ornithologists' Union . Retrieved 1 November 2012.
  7. "BirdTrack partners". British Trust for Ornithology. Retrieved 25 April 2016.
  8. "Bird Track". National Biodiversity Network . Retrieved 25 April 2016.

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