Report on the Third Annual Meeting of the AWRN

Birmingham Hilton Metropole - Monday 3rd to Tuesday 4th September



Day 1 - Monday 3rd September: Industry Linked Day on Automatic Monitoring


The topic of automatic monitoring of animal welfare proved a popular one and the 100 spaces at the event were all booked in advance of the meeting. Mike Mendl  (University of Bristol and Network Lead for the AWRN) welcomed the delegates to the event and gave a brief update on the Animal Welfare Research Network, changes in our membership, what we have achieved since the last Annual Meeting and what we have planned for the future. He then handed over to the first plenary speaker of the day Duncan Forbes from Agri EPI-Centre, whose talk was titled "Wired up welfare for the well connected cow". He gave us an insight into the research facilities that Agri EPI-Centre have and the projects that the levels of automatic monitoring that they have been carrying out. This was followed by a short session of elevator pitches where the speakers had just two minutes to describe their automatic monitoring projects, which covered topics such as monitoring range use in laying hens and how visual barriers affect dog welfare in rehoming centres. The second plenary speaker of the morning was Marian Stamp-Dawkins from University of Oxford who gave a fascinating talk titled "OPTICFLOCK: using flock behaviour to monitor chicken health and welfare". This fantastic session was completed by Mike Mendl handing over an award of 'Honorary Fellowship of the ISAE' to Marian for her contributions to the field of animal behaviour and welfare, which gave the delegates the opportunity to thank her for all the work she has done. The last event before lunch was our speed networking session, in which everyone had the chance to talk to 15 different people for 2 minutes each. The buzz generated by this activity never ceases to amaze me, everyone participates with such enthusiasm and are then able to continue their conversations into the lunch break.


Lunch was served in a large room surrounded by stalls with innovations for automatic monitoring of welfare, giving the delegates the chance to browse and talk to the stall holders over a period of two hours. There were 13 stalls in total, covering a range of topics including:

- Animal Welfare Assessment Grid (AWAG): A software system for capturing, storing and visualising animal welfare assessment data (Public Health England and Uni of Surrey)

- Automated monitoring of companion dog health and welfare using IMU's (Newcastle University, RVC and VetSens)

- University of Leeds Smart-Agri Systems (Leeds University)

- Automated Welfare Monitoring of Rhesus Macaques: from the breeding centre to the laboratory (MRC Harwell, Newcastle University, University of Oxford)

- OPTIFarm Real time  human monitoring 24/7 (Applied Group)

- Ross Robotics - Autonomous robotics for data collection in poultry sheds (Ross Robotics)

                                                                                                              - Vencomatic, poultry welfare is our passion (Vencomatic)

- Tailtech: A high tech system involving 3D cameras to help UK farmers spot the early warning signs of tail-biting in pigs (Innovent and Harbro)

- Can the promise of real-time remote monitoring be realised? (Farmex)

- Tracksys integrated solutions and services for behavioural research (Tracksys)

- Supporting welfare and performance in the dairy and beef industries (Strathclyde University)

- Insights for livestock, driven by data, powered by sensors (30mhz)

- Identifying and monitoring health and welfare in dairy cattle through lifetime behaviour monitoring (IceRobotics)


The afternoon session started with a plenary talk from Tomas Norton from KU Leuven on "Real-time algorithms for multifunctional Precision Livestock Farming tools and systems" in which he talked about how PLF has the capacity to enable even large scale farms to focus on individual animals and monitor their behaviour and welfare. This was followed by talks from Rebeca Garcia Pinillos from Defra on "Precision slaughter", Lucy Asher from Newcastle University on "Automatic monitoring of chick distress calls" and Edward Codling from University of Essex on "Space-use patterns highlight behavioural differences linked to health status in barn-housed dairy cows. The delegates were then given an insight into funding opportunities with industry, with talks by Callum Harvey from Innovate UK, Luke Williams from BBSRC, Casey Woodward from CIEL and Mark Rutter from Harper Adams.

After coffee the delegates had a choice of three breakout groups. Andy Dowsey from University of Bristol chaired a session on "Big data - how to analyse and integrate the large datasets collected from automatic monitoring", Louise Valducci from Compassion in World Farming chaired "The whole solution, exploring the value of combining measuring animal welfare with the commercial proposition" and Siobhan Mullan from University Bristol teamed up with Casey Woodward from CIEL to cover "Forging links with industry". Despite these being the last sessions at the end of a long day of networking and learning they were still greeted enthusiastically and the delegates in Siobhan and Casey's group managed to generate lots of ideas for grant proposals, some of which will hopefully be submitted in the near future.

At this point some well-earned refreshments were served followed by the conference dinner.


Day 2 - Tuesday 4th September: Spotlight on Sentience


Given recent events, the theme of sentience was deemed topical and also proved popular with our members, with over 80 delegates attending day two of the meeting. Mike Mendl (University of Bristol and Network Lead for the AWRN) welcomed everyone to the meeting and gave some information about workshops that have been funded by the AWRN and upcoming events that delegates might be interested in. Liz Paul (University of Bristol) then introduced the topic of Sentience and chaired the discussions on sentience. The first plenary speaker was Mike Radford a specialist in animal welfare law from University of Aberdeen. His talk was on "The Sensitivity of Sentience - a case study in (non?) decision-making", in which he considered the process by which the government had undertaken to include animal sentience into UK law but not actually done so (yet), what the significance of this issue is and whether it is an appropriate model for determining public policy. The second plenary speaker was Richard Bennett (University of Reading) who gave us "An Economists' view of sentience", his presentation related sentience, utility and economics to the moral philosophies of writers such as Jeremy Bentham and Peter Singer and discussed the practical applications of this 'economic approach to sentience' for animal welfare policy.

This was followed by a coffee break in which many of the Early Career Researchers managed a brief meeting to make some plans to increase links between ECR's and setting up a platform for them to communicate with each other. One output from this meeting was that Emmeline Howarth agreed to set up a Facebook group for ECR's with AWRN, which she did and it has 62 members already. If you are interested in joining this group then the page can be found be searching for "AWRN Early Career Researchers" within groups in Facebook, it is a closed group but an admin will include you once they have verified who you are. If you have problems then please just get in touch with Poppy.  

After coffee the Sentience theme continued with a plenary from Don Broom from the University of Cambridge on "The Biology of Sentience". Don discussed the requirements an animal must meet in order to be classed as sentient and the ways in which tests for sentience require subtle methodologies an area in which there has been rapid development in recent years. The final plenary talk was from Helen Lambert from Animal Welfare Consultancy who focused in further to ask "What can we learn about sentience from the faces of animals?". Helen's talk included a description of her work on facial expressions, the use of eye whites, ear postures and nasal temperatures as measures of both positive and negative emotional states in dairy cattle. This was followed by short poster talks from all of the poster presenters, for which they had just one minute to describe their work to the other delegates.

During the lunch break the delegates were free to browse the posters whilst the Coordinating Group had a meeting to discuss the future of the network and to discuss which workshop proposals to fund for the next year. We were pleased to announce in our last newsletter that the upcoming workshops will be on:

1. "Implementing new methods to improve companion animal welfare science (CAWS) in the UK" at RVC

2. "The emotional cost of caring: Managing emotional burden when working with laboratory animals: the role of communicating and assessing the impact of animal welfare on the resilience of co-workers." at Queen Mary University London.

3. "Better welfare metrics for novel species in aquaculture" at the University of Swansea.  

Further information on these workshops will become available over the next few months.

The final session in the annual meeting was made up of three parallel workshops, the delegates had the difficult job of selecting from the following options. Helen Lambert chairing a session on "How understanding sentience can lead to animal welfare improvements". Gareth Arnott from Queen's University Belfast chairing a panel of speakers for "Early Career Researcher mentoring session - advice from across the academic career stage spectrum". Tamzin Furtado from University of Liverpool chairing a session on "How to get a leopard to change its spots: behaviour change science for animal welfare". After the sessions we came back together to hear what each of the groups had been doing and then Mike Mendl brought the meeting to a close.



Overall the delegates seemed to enjoy and take a lot away from both days of the event, with feedback that included:

"Thank for letting us be a part of yesterday's conference and for organising such a great meeting. We had so much interaction which is sometimes hard to get at events, but speaking to a couple of other people who had stalls yesterday, we all agreed that this was a great event with a great amount of interaction. The talks were really informative, the speed networking was a fantastic idea nad it felt as though everyone that attended was there to learn, share and interact" - Caitlin Palmer (Harbro Ltd)

"Thank you for such an engaging and informative conference in Birmingham last week. I am sorry I couldn't let you know before how much I enjoyed the "brain workout" you all worked so hard to provide. I thought the two days were structured really well and had obviously had a lot of though put into their planning." - Heather Maggs (University of Reading)

"Thank you for providing a platform for early career researchers, like myself, the chance to get experience presenting alongside well established people in the field. It was also invaluable for Dogs Trust to be able to attend and reach out to other researchers to try and find more collaborators or projects to fund" - Carys Williams (Dogs Trust)

"Thank you to you and the team for another great meeting. The networking circles are great and I met someone to set up a Masters student project to get some tracking software off the ground" - Emily Bethell (Liverpool John Moores University)


Video footage of most of the presentations is now available on the members section of the website, simply log in and then click on the Meeting Presentation tab and choose Annual Meeting 2018 Presentations.