• Gulls by Laurie Campbell

    The 2018 Annual Conference



26 October 2018 - 28 October 2018


Various - see under 'Charges' opposite or the booking form


Registration opens from 3.30pm on Friday


Macdonald Aviemore Resort
Birds in the Human Landscape

* Apologies, the Conference is fully booked for Residential Delegates however remains open to Day Delegates. There may be some general room availability left at the resort - please enquire directly with the hotel * 

There are two approaches to conservation: One is where you create reserves in wild places where you leave people out (land sparing), the other is where you embrace people and attempt to conserve wildlife within increasingly human-dominated environments (land sharing).

We have had a century of land sparing, leading to many conservation success stories. But is it now time to concentrate on land sharing? Is wildlife in remote, inaccessible areas likely to be forgotten if it doesn’t remain in the places where people actually live and work? Can we ignore the increasing evidence that wildlife around us, on a day-to- day basis, makes us happy in terms of improving our quality of life and our mental health? This surely means that we need to conserve the commonplace everywhere, not just rare species in special places. This year’s conference explores and celebrates this idea with the theme.

The talks and displays over the weekend will explore the opportunities for wildlife around us, in gardens and cities, recreated habitats such as woodland replanting, and new habitats such as sewage works and off-shore oil platforms. We explore how important it is to get people aware and enthusiastic about the wildlife around them for effective conservation; from House Sparrows in cities, to raptors in landscapes where they are still perceived as a pest, to the wilder landscapes of Scotland where so many of us spend our weekends, creating both problems and solutions. And we finally consider the overall relationship between birds and humans - as a source of inspiration, wellbeing and just plain fun.

We hope you can join us in Speyside – where examples of the opportunities for birds in human-dominated landscapes abound, from Swifts to Red Grouse and Peregrines – for an informative, thought provoking and sociable weekend where we celebrate our co-existence with the wildlife around us.




Rates are per person and include lunch and programmed refreshments. Evening meals and ceilidh are not included and must be booked separately

  • Both days: £89 (£79 SOC members)
  • One day: £47 (£42 SOC members)
  • Student one day rate: £20
Annual General Meeting (AGM)

Click here for details of this year's AGM.  




1530 onwards
Registration (Residential delegates)


SCOTLAND: The Big Picture – Pete Cairns, Conservation Photographer


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

Buffet lunch

1245 onwards
Registration (day delegates)

Introduction and announcements

City living: gardens, birds and the built environment – Mike Toms, BTO

What are the impacts of woodland creation on biodiversity? – Eilidh McNab, University of Stirling


Scottish Raptor Reintroductions: Success, challenges & progress - Andrew Stevenson, SNH

From sludge to incineration: The story of Beddington, the last sewage farm - Derek Coleman, Beddington Farm Bird Group

Summing up


Conference Dinner & Ceilidh


0830 onwards
Registration (day delegates)

Introduction and announcements

The Loss of our boreal pinewoods: Causes and consequences for birds and other wildlife - Dr Ron Summers, RSPB Scotland

Bringing people, science and conservation together: The Glasgow House Sparrow Project - Kat Jones/Ross McLeod, RSPB Scotland/Glasgow University


Birds, bats and beasties- 40 years of offshore recording - Andrew Thorpe, North Sea Bird Club

Birds and People - Dr Nigel Collar, BirdLife International

Summing up

Branch awards and Raffle Draw

Close of Conference / Lunch

Booking information

Macdonald Aviemore Resort

Aviemore, PH22 1PN Tel: 0344 879 9152 www.macdonaldhotels.co.uk/our-hotels/macdonaldaviemore-resort/ The resort is located in the centre of Aviemore village, easily accessible by road, bus and rail, and a great place to go birdwatching. Talks will take place in the dedicated conference centre, with resident delegates accommodated in the resort’s stylish 4-star Highlands Hotel, offering 149 luxurious rooms and the spacious Aspects Restaurant, where the Saturday evening dinner and ceilidh will be held. Resident delegates have complimentary use of the resort’s leisure facilities, which includes a swimming pool and gym.

Getting there

Detailed directions will be provided along with booking confirmation. Visit www.travelinescotland.com or call 0871 200 22 33 Nearest airport: Inverness (35 miles) Nearest train station: Aviemore (250metres,uphill) By Bus: Citylink, Megabus By Road: On the main A9 trunk road from Stirling Parking: On-site free parking for 1000 vehicles


The conference centre is fully wheelchair accessible. However, some corridors within the Highlands hotel accommodation have a small step. Where delegates have indicated special access requirements and subject to availability, we will allocate rooms in proximty to a lift, which avoid steps and have a walk-in shower. The hotel is a short walk across the car park from the conference centre. A shuttle service can be provided if required.

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 charge includes lunch and refreshments on arrival and mid programme. Day Delegates are also welcome to attend the Friday evening lecture at no extra charge. However, evening meals and the ceildih are not included and must be booked separately on the form.

Conference Dinner

The dinner on Saturday will be held in the Peregrine Suite. Meals must be pre-ordered and a menu selector will be provided along with the conference booking confirmation.


Notification of cancellation must be received in writing by Friday 28 September 2018 in order for a refund to be issued. For any cancellations received after this date, we regret that we are unable to guarantee a refund.

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.

Bird outings - Saturday 27 October

Autumn can be a fantastic time for birding in Speyside; the geese and other wintering wildfowl will be in, as should the winter thrushes. SOC Highland Branch members will lead three field trips on the Saturday morning, all starting from the hotel and returning around noon in time for lunch. Options 2 & 3 will be on a car-share basis to minimise vehicle numbers. The options below are subject to change, depending on weather conditions and what birds are around at the time. If you are interested in joining one of the trips, please indicate your preferred option/s on the booking form.

Option 1: A walk around Aviemore (departing 0930)

This can be as long or as short as the group decides on the day. We will look at places in and around the village where migratory and wintering birds are usually found, such as thrushes and the possibility of Waxwing.

Option 2: A drive to the ski car park on Cairngorm (departing 0900)

On this walk, we’ll be hoping for Ptarmigan and Snow Bunting, followed by a lower level look for Crested Tit and Crossbills etc.

Option 3: A drive to Insh Marshes RSPB reserve (departing 0900)

A visit to the reserve and the surrounding area for wintering wildfowl, raptors, thrushes, etc.
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 SOC Highland Branch website

Here's who we have lined up for you (with more speakers to be added):


Andrew Thorpe, North Sea Bird Club

Andrew Thorpe, North Sea Bird Club

The NSBC was formed in 1979 and has been recording birds, marine mammals and insects seen offshore ever since. After almost 40 years, a considerable database has been built up of all these sightings. Many involve close encounters with the personnel who work offshore. Andy’s talk will cover some of the highlights of the records gathered (mainly birds) and some of the interesting stories that have been associated with them.
Andrew was appointed to the part-time post of NSBC Recorder in 1999 and has remained in post ever since, being based in the University of Aberdeen’s Oceanlab facility at Newburgh, north of Aberdeen. The Recorder’s role primarily involves liaising with offshore observers and verifying the records sent in and helping to identify birds, insects, marine mammals and cetaceans from the many photos now also sent in. He is responsible for maintaining the Club’s database (which now holds 150,000+ records) and producing an Annual Report. He promotes the Club through talks and magazine and newspaper articles and responds to the many requests for data from around the world, for those interested in analysing aspects of the offshore environment.
Pete Cairns, Conservation Photographer

Pete Cairns, Conservation Photographer

A long-term advocate for rewilding and a serving Board Member of Scottish charity Trees for Life, Pete’s latest project – the title of his presentation – is working with a committed group of photographers, filmmakers, writers and designers. Against a backdrop of stunning imagery gathered over several years by some of Scotland’s best photographers, Pete looks at the country’s undoubted natural splendour and some of its key wildlife characters, but also asks an asks an intriguing question: What should Scotland look like?
Pete is a conservation photographer with two decades of professional experience under his belt. For him, the power of photography lies with its ability to make us feel, make us think; to elicit a response at an emotional level. Pete is a Senior Fellow with the International League of Conservation Photographers.
Mike Toms, BTO

Mike Toms, BTO

Urbanisation is an ongoing process and considered to be one of the greatest threats facing species and their ecosystems. We know surprisingly little about how birds and other wildlife use the built environment but are learning more, with much of this research focused on one of the most visible components of urban biodiversity, namely birds. BTO has been studying urban bird populations and their behaviour for 50 years, generating important knowledge on the use of garden feeding stations, on disease, and on the use of urban green space. Mike presents some of this research to tell the story of how birds have adapted to this environment.
Mike Toms (Head of Communications, BTO) is responsible for how the BTO communicates with a range of audiences, presenting the BTO's science and monitoring work and promoting the role of its volunteer fieldworkers in the provision of data that support conservation science and inform policy. He has spent 17 years working on urban birds and, in particular, the use of gardens and is author of the forthcoming New Naturalist volume on Garden Birds (due 2019).
Andrew Stevenson, SNH

Andrew Stevenson, SNH

Raptor reintroductions are high profile conservation projects which can divide opinion but need widespread support to be successful. Andrew's talk will cover how the approach to reintroductions in Scotland has changed over the years, with increasing public consultation and involvement. He'll look at the various stages of a reintroduction, from planning to release and monitoring to management once the species has become successfully re-established. Andy will touch on some of the challenges that can occur and how these are being managed, as well as the positive side of public engagement and the tourism value of reintroductions. Finally he'll provide an update on how the Scottish projects are faring.
Andrew is Policy and Advice Officer -Ornithology for SNH, a role he has carried out since 2007 and is the SNH policy and advice lead for most raptor topics. Besides chairing the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Group, Andrew is SNH lead for the reintroduced White-tailed Eagle and Red Kite, and nominated officer for national raptor survey contracts. Andrew's role also involves being the casework adviser on bird matters for the SNH Argyll and the Outer Hebrides Area. Andrew has been actively involved in raptor monitoring in Scotland for over 25 years.Originally from Ayrshire Andrew has been based in the Uists since 1997.
Derek Coleman, Beddington Farm Bird Group

Derek Coleman, Beddington Farm Bird Group

For the older generations, sewage farms were recognised as exciting places to go birdwatching, especially for migrant waders. Nottingham, Perry Oaks and Wisbech have all long disappeared off the map; Beddington remains but is no longer used for sludge drying. The talk will show how the sludge drying cycle provided ideal habitats for different assemblages of birds at different stages. Wetland birds in the initial phases and seed eating passerines in the later stages. In particular, it was good for Tree Sparrows with Beddington hosting one of the largest colonies in the country; unfortunately, the colony has declined to precarious levels in recent years.
Derek has been birdwatching since he was a child and learnt his birds at Beddington, which has been his local patch during his working life in cancer research and since he retired. He was chair of the Beddington Farm Bird Group for a number of years and was one of the authors of The Birds of Beddington Farmlands. Derek was BTO Representative for London for twelve years and is now one of the editors of the London Bird Report. His biodiversity interests have increased and he is now more likely to be searching out moths and caddisflies than birds!

Dr Ron Summers, RSPB Scotland

Scotland was once a well-wooded country, but gradually lost most of its natural woodland over several thousand years. There are believed to be small remnants of this ancient forest (e.g. Caledonian pinewoods, such as parts of Abernethy Forest), which hold an astonishing variety of wildlife. In the last 100 years, a new type of woodland has been established, where timber production is the primary aim. Further, there are aims to expand the remnant Caledonian forests for the conservation of biodiversity. Ron will discuss the changes that have taken place in our woodlands and the consequences for birds and other wildlife.
Ron Summers is a Conservation Scientist at the RSPB and, over the past 28 years, he has been involved in studies of a range of Highland birds and particularly pinewood species. He is from Dundee, and attained a BSc in Zoology and PhD after studying at St Andrews and Aberdeen Universities. Further bird studies have taken him to the University of Cape Town, Goose Green in the Falkland Islands, and the Norfolk coast before joining the RSPB in Inverness.

Kat Jones/Ross McLeod, RSPB Scotland/Glasgow University

Over the past three years, a collaboration between RSPB Scotland and Glasgow University, delivered largely off the side of their desks, has produced a project monitoring sparrow breeding success, studying habitat requirements for colonies, and implementing conservation measures. At the centre of the project is a team of citizen scientists, opportunities for large-scale engagement of people in the city, and a link with masters projects from the University. Kat and Ross will present some of the results of the project so far, offer the chance to see the recording app that has been created by two teams of IT students at Glasgow University, and discuss the joys and the challenges of making people a central part of conservation and data gathering.
Kat manages RSPB Scotland's work with people in an area spanning Argyll and the Islands, via the Central Belt and south to Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders. She had set her mind to work for the RSPB since joining the Young Ornithologists Club at the age of five, but took her time to get there working with SNH for a decade after her PhD on Lesser Black Backed Gulls.
Cutting Edge Ceilidh Band

Cutting Edge Ceilidh Band

Cutting Edge are regularly voted as one of Scotland’s liveliest ceilidh bands. The four-piece group, based in Dundee, cover all the well-known ceilidh dances as well as swing, rock, pop and jazz classics so there is sure to be something for everyone. Visit the band's website.

Exhibitors confirmed so far...


Second Nature

What does this year’s theme mean to you?

We asked conference attendees for their thoughts on what this year’s theme of ‘Birds in the Human Landscape’ meant to them. Here’s what they shared...

Mike Thornton, SOC Lothian Member:


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.