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  • Gulls by Laurie Campbell

    The 2019 Annual Conference



22 November 2019 - 24 November 2019


Registration opens from 3.30pm on Friday


Atholl Palace Hotel, Pitlochry

Booking Info:

Fully booked

We’re afraid that the conference is now fully booked.  If you’d like to be added to our reserve list for any cancellations, please call the office on 01875 871330. Thank you for your interest in this event.

This year’s conference is a celebration of Scotland as a special place for birds. Its habitats, its species and our opportunities to enjoy them. So what better way to open the event than with a presentation on the Club’s new mobile app, Where to Watch Birds in Scotland’- a unique resource launched earlier this year, which showcases the best of what Scotland has to offer in terms of birdwatching sites and the birds that have been seen there.

During the weekend, we will then be taking an in-depth look at some of these fantastic sites - from mountain tops, to machair, to marine in-shore waters. Experts with a passion for these special places, borne out of decades of experience, will describe the often world-beating bird communities we have in Scotland and how they work to monitor and conserve the birds there while also managing them for the enjoyment of everybody. And we have talks on how to find your own birds in Scotland, and how birding itself, just might be the answer to keeping these special birds and places for the future.

New this year is a special session early on the Saturday evening, sponsored by MacArthur Green, where young birders attending the conference are invited to enjoy a drink and informal chat with some key professionals involved with bird conservation - a chance for budding ornithologists or conservationists to gain some invaluable insights and career advice! Our speakers and experts are, of course, also around during the weekend to chat informally to anyone about the birds and places that make Scotland so special. 

In addition to a programme of first-class speakers, there will be an opportunity to do some birdwatching, with the option of joining an organised outing on the Saturday morning. This year we are back at the popular 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. 



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.

  • £235 (£225 SOC members)


Rates are per person and include tea and coffee on arrival and during the conference programme but does not include meals, which must be booked separately. 

  • Both days: £55 (£45 SOC members)
  • One day: £30 (£25 SOC members/£15 Student & young birders rate)


1530 onwards
Registration (Residential delegates)


Where to Watch Birds in Scotland – Dr Alan Knox, Lead Author, SOC mobile app

My Patch on the App - Lucy Purbrick and Stephen Inglis, SOC Youth Connect



0900 onwards
Visit exhibitor stands or join one of the organised outings

Buffet lunch

1245 onwards
Registration (day delegates)

Introduction and announcements

Scotland's mountains, special birds and remarkable people – Prof Des Thompson, SNH

Special places - machairs and the Uists – Prof Rob Fuller, BTO


Can ecotourism save the world? - Prof Will Cresswell, St Andrews University

Special places - seabird islands and colonies - David Steel, SNH

Summing up


Young birders networking session

Conference Dinner & Ceilidh


0830 onwards
Registration (day delegates)

Introduction and announcements

Special Protection Areas in Scotland - their value and their future - David Stroud

Special places - estuaries and in-shore waters - Dr Chris Wernham, BTO Scotland


Special places - RSPB Loch Gruinart - James How, RSPB Scotland

Migration, bird finding and species studies - Ken Shaw

Summing up

Branch awards and Raffle Draw

Close of Conference / Lunch

Booking information

Atholl Palace Hotel

Pitlochry, Perthshire, PH16 5LY Tel: 01796 472400 The Atholl Palace Hotel is a luxury highland venue set in 48 acres of beautifully landscaped, award winning grounds, with four-star bedrooms all enjoying stunning views. Added benefits are free wi-fi in all public areas and a superb leisure complex.

Getting there

Detailed directions will be provided along with booking confirmation. Visit or call 0871 200 22 33 to plan your journey Nearest airport: Edinburgh/Dundee Nearest train station: Pitlochry (15 minute, uphill walk) By Bus: Citylink, Megabus By Road: On the main A9 trunk road from Stirling Parking: Onsite, 80 spaces for patrons


There is wheelchair access into the hotel and lift access to the conference suite and bedrooms. Some rooms are especially equipped for wheelchairs and many have walk-in showers.

Car share

In the interest of reducing the carbon footprint of the conference, if you plan to drive, please use the booking form to indicate whether you would be able to give others in your area a lift.


The conference fee for residential bookings includes: Fri night lecture, Fri evening buffet meal, two nights’ bed and breakfast, programmed refreshments, lunch on Sat & Sun, and conference dinner/ceilidh on Saturday. The Day Delegate booking fee includes tea and coffee on arrival and during the conference programme but does not include meals nor the ceilidh, which must be booked separately on the form. Delegates are also welcome to attend the Friday evening lecture at no extra charge.

Conference Dinner

The conference dinner and entertainment on the Saturday evening is included in the residential booking fee. Day delegates wishing to attend the dinner must book and pay the SOC in advance. The cost is £35.00, which includes a three-course meal, tea/coffee and ceilidh. Meal choices for the Saturday dinner must be pre-ordered. A menu selector will be provided along with the conference booking confirmation for this purpose.


Notification of cancellation must be received in writing by Friday 25 October 2019 in order for a refund (minus a 5% admin fee) to be issued. For any cancellations received after this date, we regret that we will only be able to offer a refund if we are able to fill the space.

Booking Confirmation

All bookings will be acknowledged by email (or post, as applicable) IMPORTANT: If you have not received confirmation within 14 days of making your booking, please contact the office.

Data Protection

The information provided on the booking form will only be used for the purpose of administering your conference registration and will not be shared with any third parties. We will store your details for a period of six years as this is a legal requirement.

Annual General Meeting (AGM)

Click here for details of this year's AGM.


Bird outings - Saturday 22 November

There will be a number of organised excursions to nearby bird watching hotspots on the Saturday morning, returning in time for lunch. Please use the booking form to indicate your interest in joining an outing and we will send you more details nearer the time of the conference.

If you are planning to explore the area on your own and would like more information on where to go and what to see, check out the app, Where to Watch Birds in Scotland

Here's who we have lined up for you:

Dr Alan Knox, Lead Author, SOC mobile app

Dr Alan Knox, Lead Author, SOC mobile app

Alan is Emeritus Head of Museums at Aberdeen University and his work on crossbill taxonomy at the university in the early 1970s set off decades of rumbling controversy. He went to the Natural History Museum at Tring, exposing the fraudulent activities of the legendary Col Richard Meinertzhagen, ran museums in Buckinghamshire and then returned north as head of rare books, archives and museums Aberdeen University, where he discovered the only known egg of the (presumed) extinct Jerdon’s Courser. For several years he has been hunting largely non-existent Nightjars in Aberdeenshire, with the help of night-time acoustic recorders. He has over 200 publications and has served on the Councils of BOU, BTO and SOC, chaired BOURC. Alan is one of the three Lead Authors of the Club’s mobile app, Where to Watch Birds in Scotland

Lucy Purbrick, SOC Youth Connect

Lucy is in sixth year at Linlithgow Academy and joined the SOC three years ago. In December 2018, she became part of the Club’s Youth Connect forum and is also a member of the RSPB Phoenix Forum. Birdwatching has become a major part of her life and when she leaves school, she hopes to study Zoology.

Stephen Inglis, SOC Youth Connect

Stephen has been into birds and wildlife since the age of 12, a hobby which started through garden bird feeding. From the age of 15, he took up various conservation volunteering roles and is currently a fourth-year MSci zoology undergrad at Glasgow University where he is undertaking an 11-month voluntary internship with the RSPB, looking at wader conservation in the Clyde Valley. Stephen joined the SOC’s Youth Connect group in December 2018 and his particular interest lies in monitoring breeding, passage and wintering waders.
Prof Des Thompson, Principal Adviser on Science and Biodiversity, SNH

Prof Des Thompson, Principal Adviser on Science and Biodiversity, SNH

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 2019 Medal from the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management. Des oversees science, policy and advisory work, and is heavily involved in the Scottish Government’s work on biodiversity. He chairs the UN Convention on Migratory Species Technical Advisory Group supporting work on African and Eurasian raptors, and the Field Studies Council, which promotes fieldwork and outdoor learning, giving rise to a forthcoming book Curious about Nature: a passion for fieldwork. From the small village of Culrain in Sutherland, as part of the Nethersole-Thompson tribe, Des was steeped in upland and wader studies. He 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!

Prof Rob Fuller, Research Fellow, BTO

Rob retired as Director of Science at BTO in 2015, having been awarded the RSPB medal for services to nature conservation in 2014 and the BOU’s Godman-Salvin medal in 2013. As a Research Fellow, Rob continues to study and write on topics relating to forestry, habitat management and conservation strategies. The ecology of breeding waders, especially their habitat selection, has fascinated him for many years. This interest has been pursued almost exclusively in the Uists which he has visited regularly since the early 1970s. Rob supervised Bird Atlas 2007-11 and has recently edited books on bird-habitat relationships and forest bird ecology, both published by Cambridge University Press.
Will Cresswell, Professor, School of Biology, University of St Andrews

Will Cresswell, Professor, School of Biology, University of St Andrews

Will has been teaching and researching conservation issues for the last 25 years, including how biodiversity is valuable. He is also a world-wide birder and ecotourist, using his research on migrant birds as an excuse to travel as widely as possible. But is this a good thing? How valuable are our birds? Can they pay their way? Can we justify travel to far flung places? He will discuss a wide range of examples in Scotland and further afield of how bird tourism and birders can be a significant part of the solution to conserving biodiversity, and, perhaps, occasionally part of the problem.

David Steel, Isle of May Nature Reserve Manager, Scottish Natural Heritage

Born in Durham, David studied ornithology in East Yorkshire and then went on to work as the National Trust Head Warden for the Farne Islands, managing the site for over fourteen years. He took up his current post with SNH in February 2015, working with a small team to maintain the site, improve habitat, monitor seabirds and undertake population counts.
David Stroud

David Stroud

David knows his way round bird protection policy like nobody else in Scotland. He recently retired from JNCC, where he worked as Senior Ornithologist, responsible for providing ornithological advice to government, statutory conservation agencies and others at both UK and international level. In the late 1990s, David provided the Secretariat to the Raptor Working Group, established by Ministers to consider conflicts between raptors and various other interests. He has been closely involved in many aspects of work related to the implementation of the EU Birds Directive, in particular, co-ordinating three national reviews of the UK network of Special Protection Areas classified under the Directive.
Dr Chris Wernham, Associate Director (Country Offices) & Head of BTO Scotland

Dr Chris Wernham, Associate Director (Country Offices) & Head of BTO Scotland

Chris has a research background in seabird and bird population ecology, and bird movements. She did her PhD on the ecology of Puffins, based for five summers on the Isle of May. After a short post-doctoral position, she joined BTO as a Research Ecologist in 1996 and carried out a variety of roles, including coordinating the Migration Atlas project, based in Norfolk for 6 years. She jumped at the chance to move back north in 2002 to run the Trust’s Scottish operations.
James How, Senior Site Manager, Islay Reserves, RSPB Scotland

James How, Senior Site Manager, Islay Reserves, RSPB Scotland

After training in ecology and agriculture, James spent a brief period milking cows and travelling. In 1996, he joined the RSPB to work on setting up the new reserve on Oronsay. After five years, he moved to work on Islay at the Loch Gruinart reserve, where he has worked ever since.
Ken Shaw, Birdwatcher, Fife

Ken Shaw, Birdwatcher, Fife

Ken was born in Glasgow. He is retired after a 27-year career with the RSPB and 11 years as a freelance ecologist. He was an author on The Birds of Scotland and contributor to the SOC app. He has published on a wide range of species, from Madeiran Storm Petrel, King Eider and White Billed Divers to the identification of Arctic Redpolls, and from Whinchat and Yellow Wagtail to Honey Buzzard. He has served on BBRC, BOURC, SBRC and SOC council and the management committees for both Fair Isle Bird Observatory and the Isle of May Bird Observatory. He lives in Anstruther, where he sea watches, counts Corn Buntings and works his local patch - Fife Ness.

Exhibitors confirmed so far...



Second Nature

Young Birders’ Networking Session sponsored by:




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.