Marsh Award for Innovative Ornithology

This Award is run in partnership with the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and celebrates an important contribution which takes forward our understanding of avian ecology or conservation science.

The Award is presented to an individual or group who has made a recent publication or revealed a new finding which substantially advances our understanding of ornithology. It may also be presented to an individual or group whose work positively reflects this new research, or other pioneering work in the field, to the wider public.

Nominations are judged by an independent panel of experts who consider each application against agreed judging criteria.

Rob Clements 2022

Rob has made great contributions to national survey work and avian population estimation as a volunteer over the last three decades and has a record of publishing the results of his work in peer reviewed journals. Rob is a good online communicator, and he has built and encouraged networks of fellow species enthusiasts throughout the country, working closely with county birds clubs. Rob has produced detailed and meticulous field work on some of the most challenging avian species in UK and he has made significant contributions to monitoring breeding in these species. Recently, Rob was the lead coordinator in England of the national survey of breeding Honey-buzzards and has already published a population assessment of the species in British Birds. This spring he has been the co-organiser of a survey of breeding Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers in Hampshire. Rob has promoted the idea of species advisors to help the work of the Rare Breeding Birds Panel (RBBP) in monitoring some of the less rare species. Rob was appointed as the advisor for Hobby, a species of falcon, and he has already set about helping county recorders and others to monitor the species. Rob’s contribution is unique and although he does not have any formal qualifications, he has spent a lifetime studying and thinking about birds in an innovative way, entirely as a volunteer without any institutional or financial support.

Previous Winners

West Midlands Ringing Group (WMRG)

The WMRG have pioneered the use of thermal technology for ringing and surveying birds and are sharing their experiences and knowledge openly and widely around the world. They support other ringers and work with landowners, demonstrating their technology so that it can be shared and utilised effectively to improve surveying. The data collected is critical to aid wildlife-friendly farming, ecology, and land management. The WMRG use social media effectively to reach wider audiences and as a platform for learning. They are currently working to make their technology more accessible to other groups. The group has significantly added to the bank of knowledge with regard to declining farmland bird species, roosting birds and those that become active after dark. This information has only become available as a result of WMRG’s effective use of technology and comes at a crucial time in the fight to halt biodiversity loss in the UK.

Dr Ellie Owen

Ellie launched Project Puffin with the RSPB 2017 to overcome the challenges of the rapid decline of the puffin in recent years, which now features on the Birds of Conservation Concern Red List Project Puffin. Project Puffin invites members of the public to become part of the “puffarazzi” and submit photographs of puffins carrying fish, where the fish are then identified by trained staff and volunteers. In the projects first year, members of the public submitted over 1,400 photographs from 40 sites with over 12,000 fish identified as a result. This data is used to investigate any changes in the Puffin diet and will be used to link these changes to breeding success. The initial results from this project have started to reveal differences in diet across the UK and it has the potential to make a real difference to Puffin and wider seabird conservation.  


Watch the Awards Presentation:


Eurobirdportal (EBP) is one of three core projects of the European Bird Census Council. The purpose of EBP is to establish and maintain a European data repository based on aggregated data from online bird recording portals from across Europe.

It has been a huge task, bringing together 81 institutions from 29 countries. BTO and the BirdTrack portal have been at the forefront of developments since the project started and were one of the first portals to provide real-time data to the EBP repository. In April 2019, EBP launched a near real time viewer which maps the progress of 105 migrant bird species across Europe on a weekly timescale. The maps are updated automatically on a nightly basis. EBP is an inspiring example of the European model of large scale collaboration in ornithological research, with data gathered through national monitoring organisations being brought together to provide a continental scale overview. It provides outputs that are relevant to a wide range of users including birdwatchers, researchers, conservation practitioners and policy makers.

EBP has already developed positive links with the European Commission and has been working with them to explore how EBP results can inform conservation policy, for example in relation to the Key Concepts process that is used to define hunting seasons. Initiatives for major continental-scale analyses of EBP data are now being developed.

Dr Stuart Newson

A few years ago, Stuart Newson spotted the potential for automated acoustic recording stations to provide valuable monitoring data. Focusing initially on bats, he has raised funding and led on bat surveys of Norfolk and southern Scotland and is now working with the Bat Conservation Trust on a national bat monitoring scheme using these techniques. It is no understatement to say that this work is revolutionising bat monitoring in Britain and it is largely down to Stuart’s initiative that it has advanced so quickly. Stuart is now working on applying similar techniques to bird monitoring, looking particularly at monitoring nocturnal birds and finding ways to monitor poorly covered species.

Stuart is a BTO staff member. Although he is now able to do some of his Acoustic Monitoring work within his BTO work programme, the initial idea and the Norfolk bat project was done in his own time and on his own initiative.

Ben Kibel and the Hookpod Team

Ben Kibel is the engineer who designed the Hookpod, a simple but clever seabird mitigation device that has the potential to end seabird deaths in the global longline fishing industry. The Hookpod encapsulated fishing hooks in a polycarbonate case, disabling them until they have sunk to 10m when they are released to begin fishing via a pressure release mechanism. The device demonstrates a simple and elegant use of eco-technology to address a large-scale conservation problem. To date, Hookpods have been used over 80,000 times in trials and no seabirds have been caught and there has been no reduction in fish catches.

In 1999, along with his brother, Ben formed Fishtek a company which aims to reduce the environmental harm caused by the fishing industry. They developed a range of products which prevent dolphins from becoming entangled in fishing nets. Ben works closely with fishermen in several countries, the Regional Fishery Management Organisations and Governments all over the world to ensure that the products are as effective as possible.

Dick Newell

Dick Newell runs an organisation called ‘Action for Swifts’ (AFS) an organisation aiming to minimise the decline of breeding Swifts in the UK and elsewhere.

Dick has stimulated the growth of volunteer groups around the UK to record numbers of Swifts and to take actions to stem declines, leading to the establishment of ‘Swift Local Networks’ (SLN). Using innovative designs, he builds and installs bespoke Swift nest boxes to fit different environments and works with organisations such as local governments, property developers and individual property owners, encouraging them to provide nesting sites for Swifts. He has also pioneered the use of an attraction call system which plays recorded Swift calls by loudspeaker at these sites, to encourage breeding in these areas.

Dick operates a blog, through which he communicates widely about his cause and provides advice and details of nest box designs and installations and AFS has produced a publication covering the basic details of Swift biology and lifestyle which has been translated into several languages. Dick’s use of new technology and various communication channels to encourage people around the world to care and take action for Swifts are an inspiration to many people.

Mark Constantine and the Sound Approach

Mark Constantine is the driving force behind The Sound Approach, a collection of 50,000 recordings of more than 1,000 species of birdsong. The projects aims to popularise birdsong and encourage the use of sounds in bird identification, which can then help to recognise hidden biodiversity and new species. The project engages a very broad audience in the subject of bird songs and calls, while at the same time answering some important ecological and taxonomic questions.

The Sound Approach has provided an innovative way of using and presenting the information gleaned from sound recording. The team have produced interactive e-books which allow ‘readers’ to follow the sonograms while listening to the vocalisations that are built into the text.

The passion and expertise shown by those involved in the project is striking. They have brought the science of birdsong to life through their innovative approach to communicating its richness and revealing the secrets contained within the calls and songs they record.

The Spoon Billed Sandpiper Team

The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust have delivered an innovative project to save the Spoon-billed Sandpiper species, with a particular focus on breeding techniques.

A small flock of adult Spoon-billed Sandpipers was imported from Russia and is now under specialist care where experts are working to develop a captive breeding population. This flock is very valuable as the population of Spoon-billed Sandpipers is threatened with extinction in the wild, and the reserve flock will give researchers time to tackle the range of threats the species is faced with.

The team have also developed ‘head-starting’, where eggs are hatched in Russia and chicks are hand-reared. Once old enough, the birds are returned to the wild, where it is hoped they will resume normal migratory behaviour. In May 2014 a returning ‘head-started’ Spoon-billed Sandpiper from 2012 was seen photographed in Taiwan on its way back to its original breeding grounds,  demonstrating the real value and success of the team’s ‘head-starting’ strategy.

Dr Christian Rutz

Dr Christian Rutz, of the University of St Andrews, has undertaken pioneering work on miniature, bird-borne tracking devices that can gather detailed information on foraging behaviour, habitat use, social interactions, conservation threats and the real-time mapping of social network dynamics on wild populations.

The first notable breakthrough was the development, and successful deployment, of tiny bird-mounted video cameras, to obtain a bird’s-eye view of the world. More recently, Christian’s group deployed highly innovative miniature ‘proximity loggers’ on birds that can detect when individuals meet each other, enabling the real-time mapping of social network dynamics in wild populations. Both papers reported world firsts, pushing the frontiers of what is possible in terms of miniaturisation and sophistication of animal-attached tags. Christian combines technological innovation with cutting-edge research, achieving considerable media impact which has provided a good example of how science can be communicated effectively to broad audiences.

The BTO Cuckoo Team

In 2011, the Cuckoo team at the BTO attached satellite-tracking devices to Cuckoos from Norfolk to find out more about their important stop-over sites and wintering destinations on the way to and from Africa. In 2012 this was expanded to include tagged birds from Wales and Scotland.

The team have demonstrated a keen desire to engage the public in their activities. On the BTO website, viewers can see the cuckoo’s developing migration patterns and can decide to sponsor a particular bird. A real enthusiasm has been generated around the subject and the website has allowed birdwatchers and others who share a fascination with birds, to come together and uncover the story of cuckoo migration.