Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 148, Supplement 1, pp 77–124 | Cite as

Citizens, science and bird conservation

  • Jeremy J. D. Greenwood


Collaborative research by networks of amateurs has had a major role in ornithology and conservation science and will continue to do so. It has been important in establishing the facts of migration, systematically recording distribution, providing insights into habitat requirements and recording variation in numbers, productivity and survival, thus allowing detailed demographic analyses. The availability of these data has allowed conservation work to be focussed on priority species, habitats and sites and enabled refined monitoring and research programmes aimed at providing the understanding necessary for sound conservation management and for evidence-based government policy. The success of such work depends on the independence of the science from those advocating particular policies in order to ensure that the science is unbiased. Wetland birds are surveyed in much of the world. Most countries also have a ringing scheme. Other forms of collaborative ornithology are strong in North America, Australia and Australasia, more patchily distributed in Asia (but with strong growth in some countries) and even patchier in Africa and South America. Such work is most successful where there is a strong partnership between the amateurs and the professional, based on their complementary roles. The participation of large numbers of volunteers not only enables work to be done that would otherwise be impossible but also facilitates democratic participation in the decisions made by society and builds social capital. The recruitment to and subsequent retention of people in the research networks are important skills. Surveys must be organized in ways that take into account the motives of the participants. It is useful to assess the skills of potential participants and, rather than rejecting those thought not to have adequate skills, to provide training. Special attention needs to be paid to ensuring that instructions are clear, that methods are standardized and that data are gathered in a form that is easily processed. Providing for the continuity of long-term projects is essential. There are advantages to having just one organization running most of the work in each country. Various sorts of organizations are possible: societies governed by their (amateur) members but employing professional staff to organize the work seem to be a particularly successful model. Independence from government and from conservation organizations is desirable.


Amateur Census Collaboration Conservation Distribution Habitat Monitoring Survival 



I am most grateful to Erica H Dunn for many discussions and for trenchant criticism of two earlier drafts. I also thank Tony Fox, Jeff Baker and an anonymous referee for helpful criticism of earlier drafts. The paper would not have been possible without the information and advice provided by many colleagues around the world, so voluminous that not all of it could be included in the final version; included or not, I am grateful to: Yeap Chin Aik, David E Allen, Anny Anselin, Leon Bennun, Tatiana Blinova, Bill Bourne, Bruno Bruderer, Greg Butcher, Fred Cooke, Caren Cooper, Marco Cucco, Geoffrey Davison, Simon Delany, Juan Carlos del Moral, David DeSante, Andre Dhondt, Janis Dickinson, Paul Donald, Gina Douglas, Chris du Feu, Alison Duncan, Raymond Duncan, David Ealey, Mark Eaton, Wolfgang Fiedler, Ian Fisher, Martin Flade, Jim Flegg, Nikolai Formosov, Stephen Garnett, David Gibbons, Bob Gill, Frank Gill, Paul Green, Richard Gregory, Stefan Hames, Graeme Hamilton, He Fen-qi, Richard Holdaway, Andrew Hoodless, Magne Husby, Noritaka Ichida, Lukas Jenni, Jen Johnson, Romain Juillard, Mikhail V Kalyakin, Verena Keller, Indrikis Krams, Reiko Kurosawa, Anna Lawrence, Esa Lehikoinen, David Li, Felix Liechti, Lim Kim Chua, Lim Kim Chye, Paul Matiku, Mariella Marzano, David Melville, Clive Minton, Mike Moser, Bryan Nelson, Ian Newton, The Duke of Northumberland, Kiyoaki Ozaki, Christopher Perrins, Sarah Pilgrim, Richard Porter, Robert Prŷs-Jones, Asad Rahmani, Mike Rands, Chandler Robbins, Paul Scofield, Tony Sebastian, Cagan Sekercioglu, Lucia Severinghaus, William Siemer, Henk Sierdsema, Tim Sparks, Fernando Spina, Tatiana Statina, David Stroud, Christoph Sudfeldt, Matthew Symonds, Les Underhill, Petr Vorisek, Jeni Warburton, Claire Waterton, Karel Weidinger, Tomasz Wesołowski, Michael Weston, Sarah Wilde, Frank Willems, Yoram Yom-Tov, Niklaus Zbinden, Pavel Zetindjiev and many colleagues at the BTO. I thank Vicky Percy for her immense practical contribution to the preparation of both the Powerpoint presentation for the Congress and this paper, and Cynthia Greenwood for assisting with the final revision under difficult conditions.


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Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.British Trust for OrnithologyThetfordUK

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