British Trust for Ornithology

From Academic Kids

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



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



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.

This led to a meeting at the British Museum (Natural History) in February 1932, which 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.

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

Edward Grey Institute

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

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.


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 10km squares were surveyed 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 and the groundbreaking Migration Atlas presented the results of almost 100 years of bird ringing, largely undertaken by volunteers. The next Atlas will combine breeding and winter surveys and is now at the planning stage.

The Nunnery

The BTO moved to The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, which had been donated to them, in April 1991. Parts of the medieval Benedictine Nunnery of St George can still be seen on this site. The current Director of the BTO is Professor Jeremy Greenwood PhD (St Catherine's College, Oxford).

External links


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