About the British trust for Ornithology        

Historically - organised bird-ringing in Britain began in 1909. There were two schemes in operation, one begun by H.F.Witherby and the other by Lansborough Thompson. Thompsons scheme ceased during the First World War when he amalgamated with Witherby.


In 1937 Witherby transferred control of his scheme to the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), who at that time had their headquarters at the British Museum department of Natural History. The museum address was then used on rings, and on some rings, still is to this day.

Ringers pay for the rings that they use and this coupled with the annual licence fee paid by all ringers helps fund the ringing section of the BTO, although the broader aspects of the BTO's work is largely funded by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC).


The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has existed since 1933 as an independent, scientific research trust, investigating the populations, movements and ecology of wild birds in the British Isles. Their speciality is the design and implementation of volunteer wild bird surveys. A unique partnership between a large number of volunteers and a small scientific staff has proved to be a powerful, productive and cost-effective way of monitoring wild birds. Volunteers record wild birds systematically using survey methods developed by BTO scientists, who then compile the records and analyse them for publication. This work makes a direct and vital contribution to bird conservation, by enabling both campaigners and decision-makers to set priorities and target resources. It also provides a unique insight into the state of our environment and how it may be changing.

In addition to organising various surveys, the BTO organise all bird ringing (banding) which is carried out in Britain. Volunteers can learn how to catch wild birds harmlessly and mark them with uniquely numbered leg rings, after a period of training with a BTO-licensed ringer. Only BTO-licensed ringers can legally catch birds in Britain and Ireland. Systematic marking makes a vital contribution to our understanding of how birdsí survival rates, breeding success and movements may be changing. 

The British Trust for Ornithology is a not-for-profit trust, governed by its members through a structure of volunteer committees, which determine their policies and programmes and oversee management. 

Find out more about the BTO

Wild bird Law - how the law relates to wild birds and provides for their protection in Great Britain is covered by various Acts of Parliament. Find out more>>

Scientific bird ringing as a research tool

Ringing has been accepted as a mayor research tool and is used extensively throughout the world. With the increased threat to avian populations from factors such as intensification of farming activities, use of agricultural chemicals, land clearance and drainage many bird species not only in Britain but throughout the world are in serious decline.

A mayor task of ringing today is to provide biological data on which sound conservation policies can be based such as :-

  • mapping winter quarters of breeding populations.

  • discovering migration routes and identifying key stopover points  for resting and feeding.

  • monitoring population dynamics.

Population Dynamics can be measured by:   

  • adult survival

  • the proportion of young birds in the population from season to season and year by year thus giving a measure of productivity.

  • juvenile dispersal and its role in the colonisation of new areas.

Most of these studies could not be undertaken on a large enough scale by an individual ringer but they are possible as collective endeavours. The results can then be analysed and the results used to provide information on which conservation measures can be used to influence individuals, groups and even governments. National Parks, protected areas and reserves together with good farming practises can all play their part. Only in this way can our bird populations be saved from decline or even extinction.

Many species are long distance migrants flying vast distances annually from their breeding ground to their winter quarters and so not just one country has the monopoly on their welfare.

 All the countries which operate ringing schemes co-operate to exchange information of ringed birds, thus the origins of a bird ringed in one country and found in another, alive or dead, can be traced and its movements recorded.


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