Nigel Hopper

University of Birmingham


Innovative Digital Technologies Enhancing Citizen Monitoring of Breeding Success of Birds as Monitors of Environmental Health


Dr S. James Reynolds, Centre for Ornithology, School of Biosciences, and Professors Jon Sadler and Lee Chapman, School of Geography, Earth & Environmental Sciences, College of Life & Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, UK, and Dominic Goodwin, NatureCounters, Maidstone, Kent, UK

PhD Summary

Birds are acknowledged widely as being good barometers of the health of the wider natural environment, and a good measure of avian health and fitness is breeding success. Citizen scientists are crucial to the monitoring and recording of avian breeding success over broad spatial scales and generate a rich source of ‘big’ environmental data. However, at a time of extreme variability related to climate and anthropogenic forcing, monitoring change is becoming a substantial issue. This project aims to enhance the capability (and capacity) of citizen scientist recording of avian breeding success in a changing environment by producing low-cost and effective monitoring technologies that have the potential to work in a transformative manner, providing an early warning of demographic issues surfacing in wild birds, some of which sit at the top trophic level within terrestrial ecosystems.

What inspires you?

As a young boy, I was captivated by birds – first by images in books, especially Eric Hosking’s photographs – and then by the birds I discovered in the back garden in all their variety and beauty. I became an avid reader of bird books and field guides, not only to identify and know about the birds I had seen but also to wonder at all the birds I had yet to encounter.

Previous Activity

I worked for A Rocha UK, managing their Eco Church award scheme. A Rocha UK is a charity working to mobilise Christians and churches to care for the natural world. Two years in the planning, the Eco Church award scheme was launched in January 2016 as means of resourcing and motivating churches to make caring for nature an integral part of their everyday community life. By September 2017, more than 700 churches had registered with Eco Church and well over 100 awards had been confirmed!

Why did you choose Docotoral Research?

Having ‘taken a back seat’ in early adult life, my love of, and interest in, birds was reawakened when my own children were young and eager to engage with the natural world. This led to a desire to re-train for a career in bird conservation. To this end, I undertook a part-time course of study at the University of Birmingham, graduating with an MSc in Ornithology (Distinction) in 2013. The MSc whetted my appetite for further ornithological research and training, and it became clear that a PhD would enhance my conservation career prospects greatly. So, I began exploring funded research opportunities.

Why did you choose a CENTA Studentship?

The prospect of being able to undertake ‘cutting edge’ research supported by the Natural Environment Research Council, and being able to do so in a community context – including an industrial partner – with all the richness of expertise and resources that that brings.

What are your future plans

This programme of study will equip me with the essential knowledge, skills and expertise to take up a fulfilling and rewarding career in bird conservation – a role that will allow me to ‘give something back’ having benefitted from this amazing research opportunity.