Northern Seas & Coasts: Ornithological highlights from Scotlands northern waters

  • Scotland's Bird Club

    Young Birders' Training Course


A week-long funded opportunity, the Young Birders' Training Course provides an opportunity annually for three female and three male naturalists (aged 16 – 25 years), to spend a week at the Observatory learning first-hand, a wide range of bird survey skills and techniques. These skills are out with the scope of most university/college curricula yet are essential attributes for those embarking on a career or role in wildlife recording/conservation. 

Saturday 6 - Saturday 13 July 2019

In 2014, the SOC and Isle of May Bird Observatory (IoMBO), joined forces to pioneer the first and only course of its kind: the Young Birders’ Training Course (YBTC). Working in partnership, the course draws upon the talents of highly experienced bird ringers, researchers and surveyors and ensures that participants receive first-class, expert tuition in an unrivalled setting. 

With additional teaching on the island provided by Scottish Natural Heritage and Centre for Ecology and Hydrology staff, YBTC also provides a network of contacts to assist participants on their journey. So far twenty four young birders have taken part in the YBTC, with six more due to set sail for the May in July 2019. The opportunity has sparked a wave of similar initiatives by related-organisations, and has received widespread praise and support for addressing the seemingly widening gap between today’s young people and nature. The project was also recently shortlisted for a prestigious Nature of Scotland Award. To find out more about the impact of the course on participants, click here

The course presents a unique opportunity for budding ornithologists’, both in its setting and teaching options. Course participants get a thorough introduction to daily recording of birds and other taxa, species monitoring (including assistance with ongoing seabird studies), hands-on  experience of bird ringing, and activities such as visible migration watches and co-ordinated seawatching counts. Outwith the scope of most university curricula, these skills are essential attributes for those embarking on a career or role in wildlife recording, surveying and conservation. The successful applicants will gain invaluable first-hand practical experience of a wide range of bird survey skills and techniques and participants will be able to draw on the talents and knowledge of highly experienced bird ringers, researchers and surveyors.

The week-long stay on the island will also allow participants to find out more about the Isle of May National Nature Reserve (NNR) and to experience the many aspects of island and bird observatory life. At the end of the course, participants will be provided with a certificate to present to potential employers outlining their achievements on the Young Birders’ Training Course.

Find out how the latest group of young birders got on and what they got up to on their week on the May, here.

How to apply

In the first instance applicants are required to submit a completed application form (download below)

However before completing the application form when the time comes, please read through the following guidance and make sure you can satisfy all of the minimum criteria to be awarded a place on the course:

  • You must be aged between 16 and 25 years of age on the day of trip departure (written permission will be required from a parent or guardian if under 18 years of age, see below)
  • Applicants must be resident in GB and Ireland
  • You must be available for the full duration of the course 
  • You must be able to make your own way to and from Anstruther
  • You must be able to make  a personal contribution of £25 (for food & drink supplies) if successful in your application


Please post or hand in a copy of your completed application form by the application deadline of Wednesday 1 May 2019 at 5pm to: Jane Allison (Confidential), The SOC, Waterston House, Aberlady, EH32 0PY, or send it via email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Receipt of your application will be acknowledged via email within 3 working days. If you have not been contacted within this time frame, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Who to contact should you have any questions about this project:

Jane Allison on 01875 871 330 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

More information about the project

About the Isle of May

The Isle of May lies 5 miles off the Fife coast in East Scotland. It is a National Nature Reserve and is managed by Scottish Natural Heritage. Situated at the mouth of the Firth of Forth, the May is ideally placed to draw in migrating birds as well as providing a breeding site for many thousands of seabirds. It is internationally important for its populations of Puffins.

Contributing organisations

This opportunity is a joint collaboration between the SOC and the Isle of May Bird Observatory, and will be led by representatives from each organisation. Additional support and resources will be provided from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) staff on the island. The project is being funded by the SOC.

For the 2019 course only, British Birds Charitable Trust have kindly offered successful participants assistance with the cost of travelling to Anstruther, please see 'Travelling to Anstruther' below, for more info.

Participants should be aware that neither the SOC, The Isle of May Bird Observatory, nor individual leaders of this project, can accept any responsibility for any injury suffered by individuals taking part in the training course, nor any loss or damage to personal property. Successful applicants will be given a thorough health & safety briefing on the island as part of their induction process.

Under 18’s on the Isle of May

Individuals aged between 16 and 25 are invited to apply for a place on the course. If you are under 18 and successful in your application, then written permission from a parent or guardian will be required before we can confirm your place on the course.

Travelling to Anstruther

SOC and IoMBO are pleased to announce that British Birds Charitable Trust have been in touch and will be able to offer assistance with the cost of travelling to Anstruther for participants attending the 2019 Young Birders’ Training Course. In addition, participants will receive a free year’s membership to the SOC, the latest Isle of May Bird Report and a year’s free subscription to British Birds.

Travelling to the island

Transport to the island (less than 5 miles) is provided by the Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) ‘Osprey’. This sets sail from the middle pier in Anstruther, the same pier as the lifeboat house is on, postcode: KY10 3AB. Due to the nature of the crossing and entry and exit to/from the boat, travelling by RIB is not suitable for anyone with back ailments, those who are pregnant or persons reliant on wheelchairs / walking aids.

Accommodation on the island

Accommodation for the duration of the trip will be provided at the Isle of May Bird Observatory, with dorm-style separate male and female facilities. There should be enough water for participants to get a decent wash every day, but not regular showers. Pillows and a duvet will be provided, however successful applicants will need to bring their own bed linen, or sleeping bag. The recently upgraded facilities also house a dining kitchen, washroom, lounge, boot room and store room. There is limited access to electricity in the accommodation, however there is the opportunity to charge laptops/mobile phones at the nearby SNH/CEH facilities. There are no shops on the island, however snacks can be purchased from the May Princess when she docks at the island, which happens most days.


SOC brings together like-minded individuals with a passion for birds, nature and conservation through a programme of talks, outings, conferences and via the Club’s quarterly journal, Scottish Birds.