• Gulls by Laurie Campbell

    The 2022 Annual Conference - News


This year’s Club conference was attended by over 150 birdwatchers, including over 30 budding young naturalists, who benefited from the Club’s subsidised young person’s attendance fee. It was also our first foray into the hybrid event world and we had around 40 virtual attendees join us via a Zoom over the weekend.

Please note: this event has now passed. Details below are provided for reference only. 

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme (SRMS) and so we decided to make the theme of our 2022 Club conference all about birds of prey.

Raptors are arguably some of the most charismatic and interesting animals on the planet; some can exploit human landscapes fully, bringing wild nature to the hearts of our cities, while others are rare, shy or elusive, so they bring us to wild nature as we seek them in their special places. Some are universally loved, others are persecuted. From Kestrels to Golden Eagles, Merlins to Goshawks, there is always a good story to tell, from their hunting ability to the challenges and triumphs of their conservation. Any day is made special by a raptor encounter, so why not pack a whole lot of special into a weekend! Our speakers have that special insight borne of long and careful study throughout Scotland and further afield.

We will be returning to the Atholl Palace Hotel in Pitlochry, an ideal location for a relaxing weekend as well as a base for late autumn birding at the edge of the Highlands. However, for those unable to join us in person, we are offering an online alternative (see Virtual Delegates below).

The SOC Annual General Meeting is required to be an in-person event, in line with the Club’s Constitution. However, members may attend virtually, in a non-voting capacity, via Zoom.

The SRMS milestone will be marked by a special celebratory event on the Friday afternoon (2-5pm), comprising a series of short talks followed by a drinks reception. This is a private event organized by the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Coordinator and is aimed primarily at those working in the field of raptor research. However, anyone with an interest in raptors and the work of the SRMS is welcome to attend. Places are limited and advance booking is essential. For more details and to reserve a place, click here

We're delighted to announce that this year's conference is kindly supported by Swarovski Optik. We are also grateful to MacArthur Green for sponsoring the Young Birders Networking Session. 




1530 onwards
Registration (Residential delegates)


Introduction/Welcome - Ruth Briggs (SOC President)

Raptor conservation in Scotland: a millennium of good deeds, dastardly acts and promise – Prof Des Thompson, NatureScot



Free morning (local birding, group field trips, browse exhibitior stands)


1245 onwards
Registration (day delegates)

Welcome and Introduction - Ruth Briggs, SOC President

Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme – Dr Amy Challis (SRMS)

The Common Kestrel in Ireland – Dr Kez Armstrong (BTO)


Changes in raptor ranging behaviour in response to altered levels of human activity during COVID-19 lockdowns: A community-driven, global-scale analysis - Dr Rob Patchett (University of St Andrews)

What evidence is there for the presence of an ecological trap in a UK population of Northern Goshawks Accipiter gentilis? - Katie August (University of Aberdeen)

Summing up


Young birders networking session (Sponsored by MacArthur Green)

Conference Dinner & Ceilidh (Alba Ceilidh Band)


0845 onwards
Registration (day delegates)

Welcome and Introduction - Ruth Briggs

Raptor Study Group data shed light on UK Merlin declines - Dr Ian Johnstone (RSPB Cymru) - via Zoom

South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project: Year 5 Update - Dr Cat Barlow


Can raptors make good detectives? If so, what can they tell us about the health of the Scottish Environment? - Dr Gaby Peniche (University of Edinburgh)

Urban-breeding Goshawks in the city of Hamburg, Germany - Prof Christian Rutz FRSE (University of St Andrews)

Summing up

SOC Branch Recognition Awards and Raffle Draw

Close of Conference and Lunch

Book your place 

Now closed.




Rates are per person and include Friday night lecture, Friday evening buffet meal, two nights' bed and breakfast, programmed refreshments, lunch on Saturday and Sunday, and conference dinner/ceilidh on Saturday.

  • £265 (£255 SOC members/£50 young birders rate )*

*Based on shared occupancy of a double/twin room. Single occupancy supplement is £84 (£42/night).


Day Delegate rates for the Saturday and/or Sunday are per person and include tea and coffee on arrival and during the conference programme but do not include meals or the Friday evening talk/quiz, which must be booked separately. 

  • Both days: £55 (£45 SOC members/£20 young birders)
  • One day: £30 (£25 SOC members/£12 young birders)
  • Friday evening talk & Quiz: £12 (£10 SOC members/£5 young birders)


Virtual delegates will receive joining instructions for the live broadcast of the talks on Zoom. The link will be valid for the entire weekend programme. Rates are per household. 

  • SOC members: £20
  • Non-members: £30


Members planning to attend the AGM only do not need to book a Conference place but are asked to let the office know. 


Prof Des Thompson (Principal Adviser on Biodiversity and Science, NatureScot)

Prof Des Thompson (Principal Adviser on Biodiversity and Science, NatureScot)

Des’s enthusiasm and strong commitment to Scotland’s wildlife, in particular to raptors and the uplands, is inspiring, earning him election to the RSE Fellowship in 2015, and the Medal from the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management in 2019. He was founder chair of the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme and is a Board member of the award-winning South Scotland Golden Eagle Project.

He works closely with government, developing the 25-year Scottish biodiversity strategy. Chair of the UN Convention on Migratory Species Technical Advisory Group supporting work on African and Eurasian raptors, Des interacts with numerous raptor policy and research specialists. He publishes widely, and the recent book Curious about Nature. A passion for fieldwork (edited with Tim Burt, CUP), arose from his stint as Chair of the Field Studies Council.

Des took his PhD and DSc from the University of Nottingham and joined the Nature Conservancy Council as Mountain and Moorland Ecologist working under Derek Ratcliffe (about whom he co-edited the book Nature’s Conscience: the life and legacy of Derek Ratcliffe). Des collaborates widely and enjoys nothing more than being with family and friends – not least in the field, and at a push, Celtic Park!

Katie August (PhD student, University of Aberdeen)

Katie August (PhD student, University of Aberdeen)

Katherine is a final year PhD student with broad interests in applied population ecology. She is particularly interested in the impact of ecological traps on population dynamics and how this can affect recovering populations. Twitter handle: @katieaugust15

Dr Amy Challis (SRMS)

Dr Amy Challis (SRMS)

Amy has worked for the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme (SRMS) since 2014. Her role is to drive the work of the Scheme forward under the guidance of the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Group, which is made up of representatives from its nine partner organisations. Amy is passionate about nature conservation and since completing her PhD at the University of Stirling in 2007 has worked for RSPB in various roles in Northern England, Scotland and Wales

Dr Kez Armstrong (BTO)

Dr Kez Armstrong (BTO)

The Common Kestrel in Ireland has suffered a dramatic decline of over 50% in the past 30 years. Kez’s PhD aimed to understand the ecology of the kestrel in a unique island position on the most western point of its range, where much of its preferred prey is unavailable. Kez will discuss the results of her PhD research as well as discuss future work.

Kez is an ornithologist from Belfast who specialises in wetland birds and raptors. She is a C-licenced bird ringer working with the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group and the Irish Brent Goose Research Group and has completed her PhD at Queen’s University Belfast where she investigated factors that might explain the decline of Kestrels across Ireland.

Dr Rob Patchett (Research Fellow, University of St Andrews)

Dr Rob Patchett (Research Fellow, University of St Andrews)

The COVID-19 Bio-Logging Initiative conducts large-scale collaborative analyses of how animals responded to altered levels of human activity during the pandemic. One of its sub-projects is an ambitious collaboration with the Global Anthropause Raptor Research Network (GARRN) and The Peregrine Fund that aims to understand how lockdowns affected raptor movements and activity patterns. Many raptor species are sensitive to human activities, making them ideal models for examining potential ‘anthropause’ effects. The international bio-logging and raptor research communities have come together to create a database of over 360 million GPS fixes for 3300+ individual raptors across 65 species, allowing global-scale comparative analyses across species, ecosystems and geographic regions. Rob will share the latest results from this exciting collaborative research project.

Rob finished his PhD in 2021 where he studied migration and dispersal in the Cyprus Wheatear. He now works as part of the COVID-19 Bio-Logging Initiative where he investigates avian movement patterns in relation to human activities.

Dr Ian Johnstone (RSPB Cymru)

Dr Ian Johnstone (RSPB Cymru)

A collaborative analysis of Raptor Study Group monitoring data over 25 years shows evidence of severe declines in Merlin territory occupation rates across the UK countries, but stable breeding success. We also use data on a habitat, weather, management, prey, and potential predators around each territory to test for correlation with territory occupation rates and breeding productivity. Our results identify a diverse and surprising range of candidate drivers of change, which could inform new work to explore underlying mechanisms of decline and ultimately develop conservation actions to benefit this species.

Ian studied zoology at St Andrews followed by a PhD on avian energetics at Stirling and started working for the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science in 1994 on foreshores shellfisheries in Wales. After the RSPB Cymru North Wales Office was established in 1998, he has worked on a wide range of conservation research and recovery projects that have focussed on species such as Chough, Black Grouse, Curlew and Yellowhammer. He also produces the Birds of Conservation Concern lists for Wales.

Dr Cat Barlow (South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project)

Dr Cat Barlow (South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project)

The South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project aims to reinforce the small, isolated and vulnerable population of Golden Eagles in the Scottish Borders and Dumfries & Galloway. Through a series of translocations over a period of six years, the project will look to increase numbers and prevent the loss of this majestic bird from southern Skies. This talk will explore the background to the project and provide an update on progress since 2017.

Cat holds a degree in Biological Sciences and a PhD in Recreation Ecology, specialising in the management of recreational activities in the countryside and the conflicts that arise from them. She has over twenty years of experience working and volunteering in the field of conservation ecology including on the ground-breaking Osprey Translocation Project at Rutland Water. Cat has specialised in raptors and the stakeholder and community issues involved in the controversial topic of Red Grouse moors and Hen Harriers at Langholm, managing the award-winning Making the Most of Moorlands Project, which worked alongside the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project. Cat is also a member of the Scottish Borders Raptor Study Group and Dumfries & Galloway Raptor Study Groups, involved in monitoring raptor populations, including Hen Harrier, Merlin, Barn and Short-eared Owls. and is an A ringing permit holder.

For the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project, Cat takes the lead developing and maintaining key relationships, managing the day-to-day running of the project and the translocation and subsequent monitoring of Golden Eagles released into the south of Scotland.

Dr Gaby Peniche (Conservation Biologist)

Dr Gaby Peniche (Conservation Biologist)

This work was done with the support from various members of the SOC, the Scottish Raptor Study Group, and members of the public. I looked at the health of raptors across Scotland by analysing both carcasses and live raptors. Presence of disease, heavy-metals, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and parasites, along with the location where each of the birds were found, helped me build a picture of the health of the Scottish environment.

Gaby is a conservation biologist with a PhD in raptor health and environmental toxicology and a background in ecology and veterinary science. Her main interest is understanding ecosystem health and finding ways to address the loss of biological diversity. Gaby’s 17 years of professional experience predominantly focuses on endangered species, having worked on projects for reintroduction, translocation, supplementation and rehabilitation of over 15 endangered species. She has worked with birds, mammals, amphibians, marsupials, reptiles and insects found in locations from Mexico to Australia and the UK.

Prof Christian Rutz (School of Biology, University of St Andrews)

Prof Christian Rutz (School of Biology, University of St Andrews)

Northern Goshawks Accipiter gentilis typically prefer undisturbed woodland habitats for nesting and hunting. In recent decades, however, the species has started colonising urban environments in continental Europe and elsewhere, indicating a surprising degree of behavioural plasticity and tolerance of human disturbance. This talk will showcase a long-term study on urban-breeding Goshawks in the city of Hamburg, Germany, covering aspects of colonisation dynamics, movement ecology, diet choice and reproductive biology. Findings will be compared to those for other urban, and more typical non-urban, populations. As Goshawk populations start expanding in parts of Scotland, there are valuable opportunities to conduct research on this enigmatic species, using well-established monitoring protocols, emerging field and laboratory techniques, and collaborative approaches. An improved understanding of the Goshawk’s ecological needs, and its response to different types of human disturbance, is key to ensuring its effective protection. Perhaps, one day, Goshawks will breed in and around Scottish towns and cities, providing memorable observations for their human inhabitants.

Christian is an evolutionary and behavioural ecologist at the University of St Andrews. A keen fieldworker and explorer, much of his research is driven by a deep curiosity about, and desire to protect, the natural world. Well-known for his long-term studies of tool-using New Caledonian and Hawaiian crows, Christian conducted his doctoral research on urban-breeding Goshawks and has maintained a fascination with raptors ever since. He also has long-standing interests in advanced animal tracking technologies (‘bio-logging’) and led the teams that pioneered the use of video-, proximity- and audio-loggers for studying wild birds. Christian is Founding President of the International Bio-Logging Society, as well as Co-Founder and Chair of the COVID-19 Bio-Logging Initiative – a UN-endorsed global research consortium investigating how animals (including raptors) responded to lockdowns. He is a National Geographic Explorer and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, as well as a former Rhodes Scholar (University of Oxford) and Radcliffe Fellow (Harvard University).


  • BTO Scotland: A wide selection of literature covering BTO’s various monitoring schemes, with Ben Darvill and Steve Willis on hand to explain how you can get involved, including a demonstration of the BirdTrack website and the all-new and massively improved smartphone app
  • Cluggy’s Books: SOC Honorary Librarian, Dave Clugston, offers a selection of quality second-hand natural history books
  • SOC: The Club will have its usual selection of SOC merchandise, new and second-hand books, bird reports, and cards & gifts  
  • Viking Optical: A range of binoculars, telescopes and accessories

If you are interested in having a stand at the conference, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Thank you to this year’s sponsor, Swarovski Optik, and the following businesses and groups for their generous contributions towards subsidising conference places for young birders


SOC Lothian Branch

SOC Lothian Branch

SOC Fife Branch

SOC Fife Branch



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.