Sarah Binnie

Sarah Binnie


Birds first inspired my fascination with the natural world and have remained a source of joy and wonderment ever since. My research interests lie with applied ecology and ornithology, especially where outcomes can potentially inform conservation actions, which I find to be incredibly motivating and inspiring.

My specific interest in applied ornithology developed through my Applied Ecology MSc dissertation at the University of Exeter, which explored the impact of domestic cats on garden use by wild birds, using a large dataset from the BTO’s Garden BirdWatch project. Prior to this I studied a BA in Biological Sciences at the University of Oxford. My final year dissertation researched nest defence behaviour in great tits (Parus major) and I felt incredibly honoured to work with the Edward Grey Institute at Wytham Woods.

I also gained additional research experience outside of my studies by completing an independent research project with the NGO Para La Tierra in Paraguay. I used baited-traps and sweep netting to record an inventory of the butterfly communuties present at Laguna Blanca and curated a museum collection.  The results of my research contributed towards a publication in the Journal of Insect Conservation.

After graduating from my MSc, I was in employment for 3 years with a Local Environmental Records Centre at Essex Wildlife Trust. This not only gave me the opportunity to develop strong data management and GIS mapping skills, but also to become a well-rounded conservationist and gain additional skills in media and public engagement.

Sarah Binnie

Ecology and Biodiversity

PhD title: Linking Landscape Structure to Productivity and Population Change in Migratory Birds.


Many species of Afro-Palaearctic migratory birds have declined severely in the past few decades. Recent research shows substantial fine-scale variation in population trends, productivity and survival of migrant species on breeding sites across Europe. In addition, site-level population trends and productivity of migrants and resident species are strongly positively correlated, suggesting that conditions at breeding sites contribute to migrant population trends. This PhD aims to identify landscape and environmental factors influencing spatial variation in population trends and productivity, in order to help guide the development of conservation actions to reverse ongoing population declines.


I will first use long-term monitoring data from the British Trust for Ornithology to identify sites at which trends in abundance and productivity of both migrants and resident species are either declining or stable/increasing. I will then quantify the landscape structure and environmental characteristics (particularly for features relevant to conservation management) of these sites, using combinations of remote sensing data and field surveys. Using the outcomes of these two objectives, I will then construct models to explore the potential demographic impact for migratory species of changes in landscape structure and environmental conditions that could result from differing types of local conservation action and management.


    Dickens, J.K., McMahon, L. & Binnie, S. (2019). The butterflies of a Cerrado–Atlantic Forest ecotone at Laguna Blanca reveal underestimation of Paraguayan butterfly diversity and need for conservation. J Insect Conserv.


  • Gave talk on MSc research at the ZSL & Wildlife Gardening Forum Healthy Gardens for People, Plants and Wildlife Symposium in October 2019.

Awards and prizes

University of Exeter (College of Life and Environmental Sciences, Centre for Ecology and Evolution) School Commendations for Exceptional Academic Achievement and Best Research Project Mark for MSc Applied Ecology 2017/18 programme.