How can we improve the welfare of cats and other wildlife? Our project aims to find out. Read more about our work below:

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Cats have evolved to be successful predators, able to hunt wild birds, small mammals and reptiles. Scientific studies suggest that both domestic and feral cats are having a serious effect on wildlife in countries across the world.

With a cat population of over 10 million in the UK, understanding the impact that cats have on our songbird populations is a crucial area of research.

If we know more about cat behaviour and owner attitudes, we may be able to minimise the damage that cats cause to songbirds and other wildlife.


SongBird Survival has partnered with the University of Exeter to take a novel approach, shifting the focus away from ‘the problem’, and towards resolving the issue.

By funding research into understanding cat owners as well as cats, we hope to be able identify potential solutions to cat predation of wildlife.

The project:

The project started in March 2017, running for 3 years. SBS is funding a PhD student and postdoctoral researcher for the duration of the project.

We know that securing the ongoing interest and input of cat owners is central to the success of this research. This highly collaborative project will combine social science and ecology. We will be working directly with cat owners and other interested groups to identify personal perspectives and co-design research activities to assess cat behaviour.

What we will be studying:

  • Cat behaviour
  • Perspectives of cat owners
  • Potential mitigation measures, e.g. deterrent devices, fitting cats with collars or bells, modifying cat access to the outdoors
  • Urban and rural settings

Through this joint research, we aim to move beyond the contention and social conflict which has plagued the issue of cat predation of wildlife, and achieve real results for songbirds.

Published papers:

Hunting behaviour in domestic cats: An exploratory study of risk and responsibility among cat owners
Sarah L. Crowley, Martina Cecchetti, Robbie A. McDonald
2019. People and Nature 1-13

Researcher profiles

Sarah Crowley  - Postdoctoral Researcher

Sarah gained her PhD from the University of Exeter in 2017, and is now working as a Postdoctoral researcher within the College of Life and Environmental Sciences. She specialises in understanding the social dimensions of managing introduced and invasive species. Her PhD research focused on the management of monk parakeets in southeast England, Eurasian beavers in Devon and grey squirrels nationwide.

Sarah has a background in animal behaviour and anthrozoology – the interdisciplinary study of human-animal interactions. Her research interests include environmental conflict, human-animal interactions and introduced and invasive species management and policy. She is keen to continue conducting and promoting applied, interdisciplinary research into complex socioecological problems. 

Martina Cecchetti – PhD Student

Martina is a PhD student within the College of Life and Environmental Sciences working under the supervision of Professor Robbie McDonald. She holds a BSc Biological Sciences from the University of Perugia and an MSc Evolution of Animal and Human Behaviour from the University of Turin.

Previously she has worked as a fieldworker with Ornis Italica, a not-for-profit association of independent researchers based in Rome. Here she studied the effect of free-roaming cats on shearwaters on Linosa Island, in collaboration with University of Palermo. She also worked as a radar specialist for raptor migration on the Strait of Messina. Martina’s research interests include wildlife conservation, animal welfare and the impacts of invasive species on island endemics.

Professor Robbie McDonald – Supervisor

Professor McDonald is Chair in Natural Environment at the University of Exeter. He leads the University's partnership with the National Wildlife Management Centre as part of a Wildlife Research Co-Operative. He is also a member of the Environment and Sustainability Institute. His research interests lie in mammal ecology and small carnivores in particular, having previously studied the biology of the weasel family. His current projects are looking at the ecology and management of invasive, non-native species, ecological and social aspects of wildlife management and understanding human conflicts over wildlife. His research has also focused on the science, policy and practical implications of bovine tuberculosis (TB) in badgers, and the impacts and management of invasive species. He hopes to develop a programme of applied, interdisciplinary work that will help Cornwall, the South West, and the UK develop in a sustainable way.