James Pearce-Higgins

Director, Science

James is a member of the senior management team of the British Trust for Ornithology responsible for providing strategic leadership of the science of the organisation.

Interests & Responsibilities

Working with Andy Musgrove and Rob Robinson, James provides strategic oversight of BTO science, which encompasses both monitoring and research. BTO organises volunteer-based and professional surveys to assess changes in the abundance, distribution and demography of bird populations, and of selected non-avian taxa. It also leads on the analysis of these data, conducting research to understand causes of population change, the processes that underpin observed ecological patterns, and to inform what is required to manage species and habitats sustainably.

In addition, James specifically leads BTO's climate change research. This involves documenting the impacts of climate change on UK biodiversity, undertaking projections of the likely future impace of climate change on species' distributions and abundance, and informing the development of climate change adaptation. In recent years, James has led five multi-organisational climate change research consortia funded by Defra, Natural England and CCI, as well as many BTO projects. In 2014 CUP published Birds and Climate Change. Impacts and Conservation Responses, which he co-authored with Rhys Green. James has also written contributing papers for both MCCIP and LWEC climate change report cards.

From 2010-2014 James led the Population Ecology and Modelling team and was responsible for the BBS research programme, which not only informed potential improvements and additions to the BBS survey, but developed new modelling techniques to understand the drivers of population change, and to improve predictions of future abundance. James now chairs the BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey Steering Group. Prior to this, for eleven years he worked in Scotland for RSPB, leading a wide-range of upland research projects.

Other Information

On the board of Trustees and Conservation Advisory Committee of A Rocha UK.

Honorary Lecturer, School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia.

Member of Scientific Advisory Committee Expert Panel for SNH.

Founding committee member of BES Climate Change Ecology Special Interest Group.


Jul 1994 - BSc Honours Zoology (University of Nottingham). Feb 2000 - PhD Environmental Biology ‘The ecology of Golden Plovers Pluvialisapricaria in the Peak District.’ (University of Manchester).

Recent BTO Publications

Pearce-Higgins, J.W. 2021. Engaging schools with long-term monitoring of nature. School Science Review 102 The Association for Science Education : 27-31 Link to publication 5pp
Harris, S.J., Massimino, D., Balmer, D.E., Eaton, M.A., Noble, D.G., Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Woodcock, P. & Gillings, S. 2021. The Breeding Bird Survey 2020. Research Report no. 736. British Trust for Ornithology, Thetford, Norfolk ISBN: 978-1-912642-28-1
Nagy, S., Breiner, F.T., Anand, M., Butchart, S.H.M., Flörke, M., Fluet-Chouinard, E., Antoine Guisan, A., Hilarides, L., Jones, V.R., Kalyakin, M., Lehner, B., Pearce-Higgins, J.W. & Olga Voltzit, O. 2021. Climate change exposure of waterbird species in the African-Eurasian flyways. Bird Conservation International View at journal website (DOI: 10.1017/S0959270921000150) 26pp
Samplonius, J.M., Atkinson, A., Hassall, C., Keogan, K., Thackeray, S.J., Assmann, J.J., Burgess, M.D., Johansson, J., Macphie, K.H., Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Simmonds, E.G., Varpe, Ø., Weir, J.C., Childs, D.Z., Cole, E.F., Daunt, F., Hart, T., Lewis, O.T., Pettorelli, N., Sheldon, B.C. & Phillimore, A.B. 2020. Strengthening the evidence base for temperature-mediated phenological asynchrony and its impacts. Nature Ecology & Evolution View at journal website (DOI: 10.1038/s41559-020-01357-0)
Pearce-Higgins, J.W. & Chandler, D. 2020. Do surveys of adult dragonflies and damselflies yield repeatable data? Variation in monthly counts of abundance and species richness. Journal of Insect Conservation View at journal website (DOI: 10.1007/s10841-020-00260-0)
Howard, C., Stephens, P.A., Pearce‐Higgins, J.W., Gregory, R.D., Butchart, S.H.M. & Willis, S.G. 2020. Disentangling the relative roles of climate and land cover change in driving the long‐term population trends of European migratory birds. Diversity and Distributions View at journal website (DOI: 10.1111/ddi.13144) 14pp

Other Publications

Evans, R.J., Pearce-Higgins, J., Whitfield, P.D., Grant, J.R., Maclennan, A. & Reid, R. 2010. Comparative nest habitat characteristics of sympatric White-tailed Haliaeetus albicilla and Gold Eagles Aquila chrysaetos in western Scotland. Bird Study 57: 473:482. 

Pearce-Higgins, J.W. 2010. Using diet to assess the sensitivity of northern and upland birds to climate change. Climate Research 45: 119-130.

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