Prof Davy McCracken


I am a Reader in Agricultural Ecology and an Associate of the Rural Policy Centre. I have over 20 years experience of investigating the relationships between farming systems and farmland biodiversity.

The focus of all my research to-date has revolved around obtaining a greater understanding of the complex ecological relationships between farm management practices and the improvement or maintenance of the biodiversity value of UK and European farming systems.

I regularly post updates on my research activity and other areas of farmland biodiversity research and policy interest on my Linkedin.


After completing my PhD on the feeding ecology of the red-billed chough in 1990, I first worked on an investigation into the relationships between moorland vegetation and upland invertebrates at the University of Newcastle.

I then moved to the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) where, between 1992 and 1995, I helped highlight the nature conservation importance of High Nature Value (HNV) farming systems throughout Europe and the likely implications of the first round of major Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform which was happening at that time.

I joined SRUC in 1995 and input to a wide variety of projects which aim not only to assess the relationships between UK and European farming systems and farmland biodiversity but to also highlight the likely implications of agri-environment and wider CAP reform. I was awarded the Readership in Agricultural Ecology in 2007.

Areas of Expertise

I remain directly involved with on-the-ground research and supervise a variety of projects looking at the relationships and interactions between farm management practices and farmland birds at a field, farm and landscape level. I also work closely with the Scottish Chough Study Group and colleagues at Aberdeen University and Glasgow University studying the conservation needs of the red-billed chough on the Hebridean island of Islay.

At a wider European level, I have been involved with the European Forum on Nature Conservation and Pastoralism (EFNCP) since its inception in 1988 and have helped EFNCP plan, organise and publish the outputs from various seminars held in Brussels and conferences held across Europe. Through my links with EFNCP, I have also continued to be involved in the development of the HNV farming systems concept and hence highlighting the impacts of policy on HNV systems has been a focus of much of my work at a European level.

The work of the EFNCP, myself and others was instrumental in ensuring that HNV farming systems were designated as being a policy priority in the 2007-2013 Rural Development Programmes across the EU27. To this end, I have recently helped the Scottish Government with the development of indicators to assess the extent and broad distribution of HNV farming systems in Scotland.

My wider European work has also involved me coordinating (between 2001 and 2003) a European Commission funded Concerted Action called PASTORAL concerned with highlighting The agricultural, ecological and socio-economic importance of extensive pastoralism in Europe, being joint supervisor (between 2003 and 2006) of an ESRC/NERC funded PhD student investigating The role of Romanian pastoralists in conserving agricultural biodiversity, and leading (between 2004 and 2007) the farmland biodiversity component of an European Commission funded project called MEACAP concerned with assessing The impact of environmental agreements on the CAP and making recommendations as to how farmland biodiversity concerns could potentially be addressed more effectively across Europe.

I am a member of the UK Biodiversity Research Advisory Group, the Scottish Biodiversity Science Group, an Expert Panel supporting the work of Scottish Natural Heritage’s Scientific Advisory Committee, and the Steering Group for the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Scottish Grey Partridge Demonstration Project. I was one of the four lead authors conducting the assessment of Enclosed Farmland as part of the UK National Ecosystem Assessment. Over the years I have acted as independent scientific evaluator for research proposals submitted to a variety of Defra and European Commission research programmes.

I was an Associate Editor of Journal of Applied Ecology, one of the international journals produced by The British Ecological Society (BES), between 1995and 2012. I am a member of the Editorial Advisory Board for the recently established Riparian Ecology and Conservation and have been on the Editorial Board for Pastoralism: Research, Policy and Practice since 2009.

I have served as chairman of the organising committee for the SRUC/SEPA (Scottish Environmental Protection Agency) biennial conferences since 2010. I served on the Programme Management Committee of Defra's Sustainable Arable-Link Programme between 2003 and 2010 and acted as an independent monitor for four projects during that time.

Between 1999 and 2003 I served on the Council of the British Ecological Society and also served on the BES's Public Affairs sub-Committee. I served as lead organiser for the Agri-Environment session at four of the biennial Crop Protection Northern Britain conferences held between 2002 and 2010.

I was a member of the following organising committees: the Scottish Biodiversity Science Group’s Annual Conference in 2011 (Action for Scotland’s biodiversity: from local to global), Edinburgh Consortium for Rural Research/Aberdeen Research Consortium conference held in Perth in 2009 (Scotland’s changing rural biodiversity: policy and action needs) and for the British Grassland Society/British Ecological Society/British Society for Animal Science conference held in England in 2007 (High Value Grasslands: providing biodiversity, a clean environment and premium products). I was co-organiser of the 2nd International Workshop on the Conservation of the Chough which was held in Scotland in 2007.

All my work has involved not only obtaining greater scientific understanding of the links and issues involved, but also of ensuring that the applied management and policy relevance of the findings are made clear to the relevant non-scientific audiences.

To this end, in recent years I have produced a number of research and policy briefings targeted specifically at policy makers and made available to them via the Scottish Government funded knowledgescotland website as well as through the SRUC Rural Policy Centre website. I have also been invited to speak and present my thoughts and views at a number of national and international conferences over recent years.

Research Projects

Current projects which I manage or contribute to include:

  • Scottish Government: Evaluating the cost-effectiveness of biodiversity measures in Scotland. RESAS funded and involving a partnership combining environmental economists from SRUC with ecological and conservation input from The University of York and policy experience from Andrew Moxey of Pareto Consulting.
  • Scottish Government. Implications of implementing biodiversity enhancement and diffuse pollution mitigation at a catchment scale. RESAS funded and involving input from SRUC Research and SAC Consulting staff. This research will complement research being conducted by the James Hutton Institute which is concerned with establishing the multiple benefits associated with measures to manage water quality and control diffuse pollution.
  • Scottish Government. Input to research investigating the application of an ecosystem approach at a range of scales. RESAS funded and involving SAC complementing work undertaken by the James Hutton Institute. This research involves investigating the application of an ecosystem approach in developing sustainable management strategies that deliver the policy objectives for public benefits from Scotland’s natural resources.
  • Scottish Chough Study Group: Annual assessment of breeding success of red-billed chough on the island of Islay
  • UK Biodiversity Research Advisory Group: Assessing the research needs associated with the current and likely future impacts on biodiversity of UK aquaculture systems

Recently completed projects which I have contributed to include:

PhD Supervision

I am currently principal supervisor for the following PhD research projects:

  • 2009-2012. Dawn Thomson: The ecology of yellowhammer and other granivorous songbirds on grassland-dominated farms in south-west Scotland. PhD funded by Scottish Natural Heritage, The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust and SRUC/RERAD and registered jointly at the University of Glasgow and SAC
  • 2011-2017. Dave Grant: Gull movement and disease transmission: identifying potential disease transfer pathways as a method for enhancing bio-security for humans and livestock. PhD funded by SRUC and registered jointly at the University of Glasgow and SRUC

I am currently joint supervisor for the following PhD research projects:

  • 2008-2011. Rose Hanley-Nickolls: The socioeconomic impacts of species reintroductions in Scotland. PhD funded by Scottish Natural Heritage and registered jointly at the University of Edinburgh and SRUC. I took over as second supervisor for this PhD in 2011 following the previous supervisor’s departure from SRUC.

Over the past 17 years I have been principal supervisor of the following PhD research projects:

  • Lisa Webb: The impact of avermectin usage on the ecology of dung invertebrate communities and implications for foraging birds.  Funded jointly by the SRUC Dr D MacLagan Trust Fund and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and conducted jointly between SAC, University of Glasgow and RSPB. Conducted 2001-2004 with final submission June 2005.
  • Lorna Bruce: The effects of heavy metal rich sewage sludge on Collembola communities in grassland. Funded under an SRUC PhD Scholarship and registered at University of Glasgow.  Conducted 1993-1997 with final submission September 1997

During this period I also acted as joint supervisor for the following PhD research projects:

  • Sally Huband: The role of Romanian pastoralists in conserving agricultural biodiversity. Funded under an ESRC/NERC PhD Studentship to Sally Huband for combined study at the University of Edinburgh and SRUC. Conducted 2003-2006 with final submission December 2007
  • Gordon Daly: The development of azadirachtin as a soil-applied granular insecticide. Funded under a BBSRC Case PhD Studentship to the Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Department at the University of Glasgow and conducted jointly between University of Glasgow, SRUC and NeemCo (the industrial partner based in Irvine). Conducted 2000-2003 with final submission December 2003

Selected Publications

  • McCracken, D.I. 2012 An update on Scotland’s Environment. In: Skerratt, S., Atterton, J., Hall, C., McCracken, D., Renwick, A., Revoredo-Giha, C., Steinerowski, A., Thomson, S., Woolvin, M., Farrington, J. & Heesen, F, Rural Scotland in Focus 2012, 22-26. Rural Policy Centre, Scottish Agricultural College, Edinburgh
  • Peppiette, Z., Benzler, A., McCracken, D.I., Beaufoy, G. & Opperman, R. 2012. Approaches to monitoring HNV farming: EU framework and country examples. In: Oppermann, R., Beaufoy, G. & Jones, G. eds. High Nature Value farming in Europe. 35 European countries: experiences and perspectives, 502-516. Verlag Regionalkultur, Ubstadt-Weiher, Germany
  • McCracken, D.I., Cole, L.J., Harrison, W. & Robertson, D. 2012 Improving the farmland biodiversity value of riparian buffer strips: conflicts and compromises. Journal of Environmental Quality 41, 355-363 Open Access. Read Online
  • Cole, L.J., Brocklehurst, S., McCracken, D.I , Harrison, W. & Robertson, D. 2012 Riparian margins: their potential to enhance biodiversity in intensively managed grasslands. Insect Conservation and Diversity 5, 86-94. Read Online
  • Renwick, A., Jansson, T., Verburg, P.H., Revoredo-Giha, C., Britz, W., Gocht, A. & McCracken, D.I. 2013 Policy reform and agricultural land abandonment in the EU. Land Use Policy 30, 446-457 Posted online May 2012
  • Firbank, L., Bradbury, R., McCracken, D.I. & Stoate, C. (In press) Delivering multiple ecosystem services from enclosed farmland in the UK. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment doi:10.1016/j.agee.2011.11.014 Posted online 17 February 2012
  • Reid,  J.M, Bignal, E.M., Bignal, S., Bogdanova, M., Monaghan, P. & McCracken, D.I. 2011 Diagnosing the timing of demographic bottlenecks: sub-adult survival and population viability in red-billed choughs. Journal of Applied Ecology, 48, 797-805 Read Online
  • McCracken D.I. & Midgley A. 2011 Halting farmland biodiversity declines: a way forward In: Marrs, S.J., Foster, S., Hendrie, C., Mackey, E.C. & Thompson, D.B.A., eds., The Changing Nature of Scotland, 299-314. The Stationery Office Scotland, Edinburgh. Read Online
  • McCracken, D.I. 2011 Policy Briefing: Challenges for post-2013: biodiversity. In: Rural Policy Centre report on ‘The future CAP for Scotland’ conference, Wednesday 16th March 2011, Edinburgh, ed. J. Atterton, 3-5. SAC Rural Policy Centre Online (RPC PB 2011/05)
  • McCracken, D.I. 2011 Policy Briefing: Farmland biodiversity and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). SAC Rural Policy Centre Online (RPC PB 2011/04)
  • McCracken, D.I. 2011 Research Briefing: High Nature Value farming indicators established for Scotland. Knowledge Scotland Science Policy Connections Online Read Online
  • Barnes, A.P., Schwarz, G., Keenleyside, C., Thomson, S., Waterhouse, T, Polakova, J., Stewart, S. & McCracken, D. 2011. Research Briefing: Alternative payment approaches for encouraging the production of ecosystem services SAC Rural Policy Centre Online (RPC RB 2011/07)
  • McCracken, D.I. 2011 Policy Briefing: CAP reform post-2013 - an opportunity to support High Nature Value farming systems in Scotland? SAC Rural Policy Centre Online (RPC PB 2011/09)
  • McCracken, D.I. 2011 Comment & Analysis: Omission of HNV farming systems could hurt biodiversity value Agra Europe, 22 November 2011, 27
  • McCracken, D.I. 2011 Describing and characterising the main types of HNV farming systems in Scotland. Supplementary Paper 1 of the Scottish Government Summary report of the Technical Working Group on High Nature Value Farming and Forestry Indicators. Web only publication. Read Online
  • McCracken, D.I. 2011 Declines in farming in the Scottish hills and impacts on biodiversity La Cañada: Newsletter of the European Forum on Nature Conservation and Pastoralism. Issue 27, Winter 2011, pages 19-20. Read Online
  • McCracken, D.I. 2011 Is greening of the CAP beneficial for biodiversity? La Cañada: Newsletter of the European Forum on Nature Conservation and Pastoralism. Issue 27, Winter 2011, page 9. Read Online
  • Huband, S. & McCracken, D.I. 2011 Understanding High Nature Value agriculture in the Romanian Carpathians: a case study. In: Knowles, B. ed., Mountain hay meadows: hotspots of biodiversity and traditional culture. Society of Biology, London. Read Online
  • Hart, K., Baldock, D., Tucker, G., Allen, B., Calatrava, J., Black, H., Newman, S., Baulcomb, C., McCracken, D. & Gantioler, S. 2011 Costing the environmental needs related to rural land management. Report Prepared for DG Environment, Contract No ENV.F.1/ETU/2010/0019r. Institute for European Environmental Policy, London. Read Online
  • Firbank, L., Bradbury, R., McCracken, D.I. & Stoate, C., Goulding, K., Harmer, R., Hess, T., Jenkins, A., Pilgrim, E., Potts, S., Smith, P., Ragab, R., Storkey, J. & Williams, P. 2011 Chapter 7: Enclosed farmland. In: The UK National Ecosystem Assessment Technical Report. UK National Ecosystem Assessment, UNEP-WCMC, Cambridge. Read Online
  • Young, J.C., Marzano, M., White, R.M., McCracken, D.I., Redpath, S.M.,. Carss, D., Quine, C.P. & Watt, A.D.W. 2010 The emergence of biodiversity conflicts from biodiversity impacts: characteristics and management strategies. Biodiversity & Conservation 19 3973-3990 Read Online
  • Webb, L., Nager, R.G., Beaumont, D.J. & & McCracken, D.I. (2010) Field-scale dispersal of Aphodius dung beetles (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae) in response to avermectin treatments on pastured cattle. Bulletin of Entomological Research, Vol. 10, pp175-183. Read Online
  • Reid,  J.M, Bignal, E.M., Bignal, S., McCracken, D.I., Bogdanova, M. & Monaghan, P. 2010 Parent age, lifespan and offspring survival: structured variation in a wild population. Journal of Animal Ecology 79, 851-862 Read Online
  • McCracken, D.I. 2010 How effectively is water quality being managed? In: Skerratt S, Hall C, Lamprinopoulou C, McCracken D, Midgley A, Price M, Renwick A, Revoredo C, Thomson S, Williams F, Wreford A, Rural Scotland in Focus, 60-69. Rural Policy Centre, Scottish Agricultural College, Edinburgh
  • McCracken D.I. & Midgley A. 2010 How well is farmland biodiversity being maintained? In: Skerratt S, Hall C, Lamprinopoulou C, McCracken D, Midgley A, Price M, Renwick A, Revoredo C, Thomson S, Williams F, Wreford A, Rural Scotland in Focus, 70-79. Rural Policy Centre, Scottish Agricultural College, Edinburgh Read Online
  • Huband, S., McCracken, D.I. & Mertens, A. 2010 Long and short-distance transhumant pastoralism in Romania: past and present drivers of change. Pastoralism: research, policy and practice, 1, 55
  • Cole, L.J., Pollock, M.L., Robertson, D., Holland, J.P., McCracken, D.I. & Harrison, W. 2010. The influence of fine-scale habitat heterogeneity on invertebrate assemblage structure in upland semi-natural grassland. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, 136, 69-80 Read Online

Inaugural professorial lecture

Prof Davy McCracken

Head of SRUC Hill & Mountain Research Centre (HMRC) / Professor of Agricultural Ecology

Address: Future Farming Systems, SRUC, JF Niven Building, Ayr KA6 5HW (HMRC, Kirkton, Crianlarich, Perthshire, FK20 8RU)

Telephone: 01292 525 299

Fax: 01292 525 333