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.

Dr Stuart Newson 2018

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.

Previous Winners

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.