The 2017 Annual Conference

Atholl Palace Hotel, Pitlochry

Date: 20 October 2017 - 22 October 2017 Time: Friday evening until Sunday lunchtime Price: Various, please see below

Every year the Club organises an Annual Conference (which includes the Club’s AGM). This takes the form of a weekend event, with registration opening on the Friday afternoon.

Atholl Palace Hotel


The 2017 SOC Annual Conference

Booking information – quick links

Click here to go to the online booking page

Click here to download a printable booking form to book by post

Click here to download the programme


Avian migration has been a topic of interest from the days of Aristotle. In those days, the movements
of Cranes, for example, were particularly noticeable, with the noise of the huge numbers of birds flying
overhead symbolising the changing seasons. Cranes still migrate across Europe, with their southward
movements touching on Champagne in France and many wintering in Spain at Laguna de Gallocanta.

Many myths surround migration: In medieval times, Swallows spent the winter asleep in the mud at the
bottom of ponds, Cuckoos became Sparrowhawks and Storks hibernated!

Over the years, our knowledge has increased dramatically, although there are still many unsolved
mysteries. In the early years, birds were shot to identify them and this continued until the improvement
in optical equipment. Ringing of birds then represented a very important step forward, with recoveries
generating a great deal more information on movements of individuals. This still continues to be an important aspect of bird recording.

It is really only comparatively recently that the tagging of birds has made possible the accurate tracking
from wintering to breeding grounds. The original tracking devices were quite large and relatively heavy
and, as such, could only be used with larger birds. Nowadays, technological advances have made
miniaturisation possible, allowing devices to be attached to smaller species. Indeed, in the US, tiny
devices are being used on Monarch butterflies to monitor their migration to Mexico.

As always, we have an excellent line-up of speakers for this year’s programme, set to deliver a wealth
of insights into this fascinating subject; including one woman’s epic migratory flight with Bewick Swans
and one man’s life-long commitment to Osprey conservation. We’ll also be hearing about advances in
tracking Cuckoos and seabirds, as well as Swifts, thrushes and warblers. We hope you can join us at the
luxurious Atholl Palace Hotel in the heart of Big Tree Country for what is always an informative, thought provoking and sociable weekend.

As well as a chance to hear lots of thought-provoking presentations on this important topic, the conference wouldn’t be complete without its customary social activities; delegates can test their wits against this year’s quiz masters on the Friday evening and/or enjoy an evening’s entertainment at the informal dinner on the Saturday. There is also the usual free time set aside on the Saturday morning for attendees to get out in the field and explore Pitlochry’s bird life. A programme of organised outings will be available nearer the time but to give you an idea of what the area has to offer in terms of birdwatching, as well as a wee bit about this year’s ceilidh band, click here.

Here’s who we have lined up for you…


Sacha Dench- resized

Sacha Dench, Creative Consultant, WWT

WWT put a totally new spin on migration with an epic 7,000km journey by paramotor from the Bewick’s swans’ arctic breeding grounds back to the UK. Sacha flew the Bewick’s entire flyway, at altitudes ranging from as low as a few feet to as high as 4000 ft,  on a voyage that lasted three months and provided a birds eye view on the challenges facing these critically endangered birds. With four years paramotoring experience, eight years paragliding expertise, Sacha is at home in the skies (although this wasn’t always the case!). And she’s no stranger to the oceans either, being a past British national free-diving champion, able to hold her breath for an astonishing 6 minutes and 22 seconds! Sacha will join us in Pitlochry for a live interview on the Friday evening where we will hear all about her amazing ‘human swan’ journey.


Roy Dennis image- resizedRoy Dennis MBE, SOC Honorary President & Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation

Roy is a field ornithologist and wildlife consultant, living in Moray. He is a specialist in raptor conservation, satellite tracking and reintroductions in the UK and abroad, having been involved with Osprey, Red Kite, Golden Eagle and Sea Eagle projects. His Foundation is now involved with a new Osprey recovery project in Poole Harbour, as well as Red Squirrel translocations in the Highlands and White Storks in England. He is a passionate advocate of restoring the Lynx to Scotland as soon as possible.



Chris - BTO - resized

Chris Hewson, Senior Research Ecologist – International Research, BTO Scotland       
Chris currently leads on projects researching the migration strategies, habitat use and population ecology of Afro-Palaeartic migrants, with a focus on understanding population declines. Current major study species are Common Nightingale, Common Swift and Common Cuckoo and current collaborations include work on Pied and Spotted Flycatchers and Wood Warblers. Much of this work involves the use of archival light-level geolocators and GPS tags and satellite tags to better understand the annual cycle of these birds, including the impacts of environmental events at different stages on changes in demographic parameters and population sizes. Earlier in his BTO career, Chris was mostly looking at issues affecting woodland and forest birds, during which time the current issues with Afro-Palaearctic wintering in the humid zone of West and Central Africa were identified. Before joining the BTO 15 years ago, he did a PhD in the Zoloogy Department at Cambridge University, looking at interactions between resident tits and migratory birds in broadleaved woodlands, after spending a year as an Assistant Warden at Fair Isle Bird Observatory and doing a Masters in Advanced Ecology at Durham University.


CatMorrison- resized

Catriona Morrison, Researcher, BTO & University of East Anglia

Catriona is interested in understanding the demographic and environmental processes influencing bird population dynamics. Her current research project uses long-term demographic datasets collected by citizen scientists in order to understand the processes currently driving the sustained and severe declines in Europe’s Afro-Palaearctic migratory bird populations.




Rob Patchett Profile picture (2)

Robert Patchett, PhD student, St Andrews University

After ten years working as an aircraft mechanic, Rob decided to switch careers and follow his passion for ecology. He has broad interests, but is particularly fascinated by migration and juvenile dispersal of birds. He is one year into a PhD project that uses geolocators to understand how migration changes with age in the Cyprus wheatear.




Me_crop- resizedChris Redfern, Newcastle University and Natural History Society of Northumbria








Vlieland Jan 2014 012 - resized

Jeroen Reneerkens, Researcher, University of Groningen, Netherlands

Jeroen is interested in the ecology and evolution of bird migration, the evolution of mating strategies in shorebirds and in general Arctic ecology. His work focusses on Sanderling, which exhibit large intra-specific migration distances. With the help of many international collaborators and enthusiastic volunteer birders, he has collected ten thousand observations of individually colour-marked Sanderling, which can be used for analyses of survival and timing of migration.  Since 2007, Jeroen has studied the breeding ecology of Sanderlings annually in North-east Greenland.



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Linda Wilson, Senior Conservation Scientist, Conservation Science, RSPB Scotland

Linda has a background in seabird ecology and joined RSPB in 2016. She currently works across a selection of seabird research projects but a particular focus is using RSPB’s world-class seabird tracking dataset to gain unique insights into how seabirds are using their marine environment to help inform better management of our seas. Having previously worked for both statutory conservation bodies and research institutes, she is especially interested in the interface between science and policy, translating results from field research into applied conservation action.

Conference costs

Residential delegates

Fee includes Friday night lecture, Friday evening buffet meal, two nights’ bed and breakfast, programmed refreshments, lunch on Sat & Sun, and gala dinner/dance on Saturday.

Members: £225

Non-members: £235

Non-resident delegates

Fee includes Friday night lecture and tea/coffee. Does not include any meals. Day delegates may have meals in the hotel by completing the booking form opposite and making payment to the SOC in advance. Please note that to facilitate speedy service on the Friday evening, the meal will be in the form of a hot buffet.

Attending both days: £55 (£45 SOC members)

Attending Saturday only: £30 (£25 SOC members)

Attending Sunday only: £30 (£25 SOC members)

AGM (click here to view the agenda), Saturday 21 October 2017, 5pm: If you plan to attend the AGM but do not wish to book in for the conference, please just drop the SOC Secretary, Dave Heeley, a note to let him know: Likewise, if you would like to have your apologies for the meeting noted. Equally, if you would like to see a particular item added to the agenda, please email Dave.


Booking information – quick links

Click here to go to the online booking page

Click here to download a printable booking form to book by post

Click here to download the programme



BTO Scotland
Joanna Thomson Jewellery
RSPB Scotland
Scottish Wildlife Trust
Viking Optical Ltd
Wader Quest
and others to be confirmed

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