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Andy Musgrove, BTO

Harnessing people power: birds, volunteers and the BTO


Since its foundation in 1933, the involvement of volunteers has been fundamental to the work of the BTO. Whilst professional scientists design surveys, and collate and analyse the results, the vast majority of data capture is carried out by volunteers. Currently, about 40,000 people a year are counting birds as part of BTO-led monitoring, with a wide range of surveys available to suit observers with different skill levels and different amounts of available time. BTO volunteer effort has been estimated at about £34 million annually, a figure that dwarfs the investment in the professional side of the surveys. The quantity of robust information gathered is far in excess of what would be possible by using salaried fieldworkers alone. Although the BTO has collected large datasets for many decades, the advent of the internet has produced a step-change in the way in which information can be collected. Having led the way in techniques for online data capture and presentation, the BTO continues to push forward the frontiers of what may be possible in future. Such advances enable the development of techniques of wider value to biodiversity recording in the broadest sense. Although there are challenges inherent in harnessing the dataflow from so many participants, the advantages are clear, both now and in the future. The greatest challenge is to maintain the pool of able and willing volunteers into the future, and the popularity of birds with the general public means that they are ideal for inspiring a new generation of wildlife recorders.


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