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MORPH is a computer model developed at Bournemouth University (BU) to predict the effects of human activity on coastal and wetland bird populations, enabling policy makers, planners, and conservation organisations in the UK, Europe, and the US to balance environmental protection with societal and economic needs.



Policy makers, planners, and managers need to foster economic growth, while minimising negative impacts on legally protected bird species. A robust method to predict how a diverse range of activities will affect the birds can allow better-informed planning and management decisions.



BU geographers developed computer modelling software, MORPH, which can create virtual versions of real systems, including realistic ways in which animals respond to changes in their environment.

The application of MORPH is usually through research and/or consultancy, commissioned by stakeholders to understand the impacts of one or more types of environmental change that may affect a site. Since 2007, MORPH has been used to model 25 bird species in 22 sites: in Australia, USA, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, France, Spain, Scotland, Wales, and England.



MORPH’s predictions have informed policy, planning, and management associated with the impacts of housing developments, the loss of feeding habitat, and human activity on bird populations both in the UK and the US.

MORPH and its related research have also informed the sustainable management of shellfisheries in the Wadden Sea, the Netherlands; the Dee Estuary and Burry Inlet in Wales; and England’s Exe Estuary.

Bournemouth University has equipped Natural England with models and knowledge to predict in-house the effect of land use change on bird populations. This enables them to conduct a more cost-effective assessment of impacts, without having to use costly external consultants.

UK conservation charity Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) used MORPH to diagnose the environmental causes of the population decline of the Bewick’s Swan, currently listed as ‘Endangered’ in Europe. The British Trust for Ornithology now routinely includes MORPH - or related approaches - as one of its methods in conservation projects. 


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How to cite

Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) (2023) Using a computer model (MORPH) for environmental decision-making to balance the needs of birds and society. Available at  Last accessed on: <date>