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Cornell Lab of Ornithology


Stephen Baillie

Director of Populations Research at the British Trust for Ornithology

As Director of Populations Research, I am a member of senior management team in charge of the Populations Research Department and also have directorial responsibility for the BTO’s Information Systems work. I lead the BTO’s Populations Research Department, which undertakes long-term monitoring of the numbers and demography of British bird populations. Our Integrated Population Monitoring Programme combines results from censuses, nest recording and ringing to raise alerts to population changes of conservation concern and to elucidate

their demographic and ecological causes. My primary research interests are in temporal and spatial population dynamics, particularly the estimation of demographic parameters and the development of population models. I am also involved in developing BTO research on bird migration. I am an author of the Migration Atlas and led the Migration Watch project. I lead the strategic development of the BTO’s use of the Internet for the dissemination scientific results (e.g. and for the collection of ornithological data (e.g. I am currently the Chairman of the European Union for Bird Ringing (EURING).

From Citizen Science to policy and planning – examples from the United Kingdom

If citizen science is to contribute to conservation management and environmental policy it needs to be based on a sound study designs backed by rigorous analytical methods. Good channels of communication between volunteers, scientists, conservation practitioners and policy makers are also essential. Within this framework the primary role of the Citizen Scientist is to provide high quality, impartial data. I illustrate these principles using two examples from the United Kingdom: Farmland Bird Conservation and Avian Influenza.

Large scale declines of farmland birds took place in the UK between the mid-1970s and the early 1990s; in most cases significant recovery has yet to be achieved. They are thought to reflect much broader reductions in biodiversity within the wider countryside. The evidence for these declines, and much of the information on possible solutions, has come from extensive volunteer-based surveys, usually based on random selection of study plots and moderately complex field methods. A composite farmland bird indicator, based on average population changes, has been highly influential in communicating the problem. It now provides the basis for measuring the government’s achievements against its formal (Public Service Agreement) target for farmland bird recovery. Volunteer based surveys are now playing a major part in identifying where agricultural subsidies should be targeted and in assessing the effectiveness of agri-environment schemes in achieving species recovery.

Highly Pathogenic Avian influenza (HPAI) is a problem that has arisen rapidly, with a consequent need to provide policy advice on timescales that are too short for substantive ecological data gathering. Wild birds are only one possible vector of this disease but it is nevertheless important to evaluate their potential role. By combining data from a variety of bird monitoring schemes in the UK, we were able to map the coincidence between the occurrence of potential avian vectors and poultry farms as a basis for national contingency planning. Using ring recoveries from the BTO and EURING we have provided advice on the likely connectivity between outbreak areas and geographical areas to which HPAI could potentially be transmitted by migratory birds. We are currently developing a web-based migration mapping tools that will allow UK and EU policy makers to obtain rapid information on relevant migratory movements in the event of an HPAI outbreak. This work illustrates the value of extensive, long-term datasets based on voluntary data gathering in giving us the capability to address new problems quickly and efficiently.

Citizen science, volunteer monitoring, participatory action research... this site supports organizers of all initiatives where public participants are involved in scientific research.

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