Department: Pathobiology and Population Sciences

Campus: Hawkshead

Research Groups: Sustainable Food Systems, IRLFS (Research Programme), Brain Health and Behaviour

Christine Nicol is Professor of Animal Welfare and a member of the Animal Welfare Science and Ethics group. 

Christine Nicol graduated from the University of Oxford with a first-class degree in Zoology in 1981, and a PhD (DPhil) in 1986 on the welfare of laying hens. In 1985 she was appointed to a lectureship in Animal Welfare, followed by a Professorship (2001) at the University of Bristol. She has also held visiting appointments at Merton College, Oxford (2000),  the University of Waikato (1994) and honorary posts at  the University of Oxford  and the University of Lincoln. Currently, and since 2018, Professor of Animal Welfare at the Royal Veterinary College. 

She has been awarded the Prince Laurent Foundation prize for work on equine welfare (with Prof McGreevy) (2001), the UFAW medal for             Outstanding Achievement in Animal Welfare Science (2012), the International Society for Applied Ethology 50th Anniversary Wood-Gush Memorial Award (2016), the European Association for Animal Production (EAAP) A.M. Leroy Fellowship Award for outstanding scientific contribution (2016), the British Veterinary Association (BVA) 50th Wooldridge Memorial Medal (2016) and was the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour, Tinbergen Lecturer (2017). She will give the 2020 Gordon Memorial Lecture at the WPSA Spring Meeting. 

She is currently a member of the the Swedish Formas grant assessment panel, the RSPB Ethics Advisor Committee and the Stevin Prize Committee


Research projects running in 2020 include:

Supporting the transition from colony cages to cage-free systems. With Dr Siobhan Abeyesinghe and Dr Kate Norman, RVC. A project to support a large commercial producer in making the transition to cage-free systems, whilst protecting and enhancing bird welfare. 

Improving the welfare assessment of broiler chickens. With Dr Siobhan Abeyesinghe RVC and Dr Sophie Elwes, RSPCA. A vital project to evalute the robustness, health and overall welfare of emerging breeds of broiler chicken, funded by the Open Philanthropy Project. Alongside assessing various breeds of bird we will validate a behavioural assessment protocol to be used for future assessments for inclusion in the RSPCA Broiler Breed Welfare Assessment Protocol.

A formal analysis of behavioural structure as a tool to assess the impact of chronic equine disease.  Equine PhD studentship funded by the Horse Trust, with Freddie Daw, Charlotte Burn, Ruby Chang.  The impact of chronic conditions such as sweet itch and gastric ulceration on equine welfare will be assessed using subtle behavioural analysis. Is the horse sleeping normally? Is the behaviour fragmented? Are some activities delayed to prioritise shorter-term needs?

Social buffering in horses. Equine PhD studentship with Claire Ricci-Bonot, Daniel Mills and Teresa Romero, University of Lincoln. The role of social support in reducing harmful stress responses in horses. 

Developing objective, robust, real-time animal welfare measures for the Australian meat industry.  A project led by Dr Cameron Clark and Dr Sabrina Lomax, University of Sydney.  Analysis of behavioural changes in beef cattle from birth to slaughter will be undertaken using cutting edge,robotic and ear-tage based technologies. The project will determine which behavioural changes predict or are associated with changes in health or welfare.  The aim is to devise a set of objective protocols for industry to ensure a high welfare level for each animal in the herd.

Smart Farming - Monitoring the Health of Chickens.  With Maja Makagon, University of Davis, California. The aim of this project is to develop and and validate small, bird mounted acoustic sensors and complementary analysis systems for monitoring changes in the health, welfare and locations of individual birds housed in commercial flocks. Funded by University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources High Risk/High Reward Program.

Patterns of Sleep Behaviour in Chicks. With Lorna Wilson, University of Bath. The aim of the project is to describe and quantify patterns of sleep behaviour in chicksand relate these patterns to other indicators of welfare. Funded by M2D (models to decisions). 


Orcid ID:

Nicol, C.J. Bejder, L., Green, L., Johnson, C., Keeling, L., Noren, D., Van der Hoop, J. and Simmonds, M. (2020) Anthropogenic threats to wild cetacean welfare and a tool to inform policy in this area. Frontiers in Veterinary Science

Olsson, IAS, Nicol, C.J., Niemi, S. and Sandoe, P (2020) From unpleasant to unbearable: why and how to implement an upper limit on pain and other forms of suffering in research with animals. ILAR ILAR Journal, ilz018,

Freire, R. and Nicol, C.J. (2019) Bibliometric analysis of animal welfare science. Animal Welfare 28: 465-485. 

Norman, K., Adriaense, J. and Nicol, C.J. (2019) The impact of early structural enrichment on spatial cognition in chicks. Behavioural Processes 164, 167-174. 


Buijs, S., Nicol, C.J., Booth, F., Richards, G. and Tarlton, J. (2019) Light-based monitoring devices to assess range use by laying hens. Animal

Fernyhough, M., Nicol, C.J., van de Braak, T., Toscano, M.J and T Tønnessen (2019) The ethics of laying hen genetics. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics doi: 10.1007/s10806-019-09810-2

Norman, K., Weeks, C.A and Nicol, C.J. (2018) The effect of experience of ramps at rear on the subsequent ability of layer pullets to negotiate a ramp transition. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 208: 92-99

Paul, E.S., Edgar, J.L., Caplen, G. and Nicol, C.J. (2018) Examining affective structure in chickens: valence, intensity, persistence and generalization measured using a conditioned place preference test. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 207, 39-48.

Edgar, J.L. and Nicol, C.J. (2018) Socially mediated arousal and contagion within domestic chick broods. Scientific Reports, e10509

Pettersson, I., Weeks, C.A. and Nicol, C.J. (2018) Internal roosting location is associated with differential use of the outdoor range by free-range laying hens. British Poultry Science 59, 135-140

Pound, P. and Nicol, C.J. (2018) Retrospective harm benefit analysis of pre-clinical animal research for six treatment interventions. Plos One 13,3, e0193758

Mandel, R., Harazy, H.,Gygax, L., Nicol, C.J., Ben-David, A., Whay, H.R. and Klement, E. (2018) Detection of lameness in dairy cows using a grooming device. J. Dairy Science. 101, 1511-1517

McGreevy, P., Berger, J., de Brauwere, N., Doherty, O., Harrison, A., Fiedler, J., Jones, C., McDonnell, S.., McLean, A., Nakonechny, L., Nicol, C.J., Preshaw, L., Thomson, P., Tzioumis, V., Webster, J., Wolfensohn, S., Yeates, J and Jones, B. (2018) Using the Five Domains model to assess the adverse impacts of husbandry, veterinary and equitation interventions on horse welfare. Animals 8, 41

Buijs, S., Booth, F.J., Richards, G., McGaughey, L., Nicol, C.J., Edgar, J. and Tarlton, J. (2018) Behavioural and physiological responses of laying hens to automated monitoring equipment. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 199, 17-23

Pettersson, I., Weeks, C.A., and Nicol, C.J. (2017) The effect of ramp provision on the accessibility of the litter in single and multi-tier laying hen housing. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 186, 35-40

Mandel, R., Nicol, C.J., Whay, H.R. and Klement, E. (2017) Detection and monitoring of metritis in dairy cows using an automated grooming device. Journal of Dairy Science 100, 5724-5728

Mandel, R. and Nicol, C.J. (2017) Re-direction of maternal behaviour in dairy cows. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 195, 24-31

Pettersson, I., Weeks, C.A., and Nicol, C.J. (2017) Provision of a resource package reduces feather pecking and improves ranging distribution on free-range layer farms Applied Animal Behaviour Science 195, 60-66.

Pettersson, I., Weeks, C.A., Norman, K. and Nicol, C.J. (2017) The ability of laying pullets to negotiate two ramp designs as measured by bird preference and behaviour Peer J DOI 10.7717/peerj.4069

Bennett, R.M., Jones, P.J., Nicol, C.J. Tranter R.B. and Weeks, C.A. (2016). Consumer attitudes to injurious pecking in free range egg production. Animal Welfare  25, 91-100

Hothersall, B., Caplen, G., Parker, R.M.A., Nicol, C.J., Waterman-Pearson, A.E., Weeks, C.A. and Murrell, J.C. (2016) Effects of carprofen, meloxicam and butorphanol on broiler chickens’ performance in mobility tests. Animal Welfare 25, 55-68

Brantsaeter, M., Tahamtani, F.M., Moe, R.O., Hansen, T.B., Orritt, R., Nicol, C. and Janczak, A. (2016) Rearing laying hens in aviaries reduces fearfulness following transfer to furnished cages. Frontiers in Veterinary Science 3 (13) 10.3389/fvets.2016.00013

Pettersson, I., Freire, R. and Nicol, C.J. (2016) Factors affecting ranging behaviour in commercial free-range hens. World’s Poultry Science Journal 72, 1-14

Mandel, R., Whay, H.R., Klement, E. and Nicol, C (2016) Environmental enrichment of dairy cows and calves in indoor housing. Journal of Dairy Science 99, 1695-1715

Pettersson, I., Weeks, C.A., Wilson, L. and Nicol, C.J . (2016) Consumer perceptions of free-range laying hen welfare. British Food Journal 118, 1999-2013

Davies, A.C., Radford, A.N., Pettersson,I.C., Yang, F.P.,and Nicol, C.J. (2015) Elevated arousal at time of decision-making is not the arbiter of risk avoidance in chickens. Scientific Reports 5, 8200

Edgar, J., Held, S., Paul, E.S., Pettersson, I., I’Anson-Price, R. and Nicol, CJ. (2015) Social buffering in a bird. Animal Behaviour 105, 11-19



Served as member of BBSRC Appointments Committee, and on Scientific Advisory Board of Messerli Institute.

Writer and presenter of BBC Radio 4 series on animal ethics (produced by Mary Colwell). 

Would you eat an alien?

  • Assessing and Improving Animal Welfare

    Genetics and management can greatly affect the welfare of farm, laboratory, companion and wild animals. We aim to improve animal welfare by understanding how human activities and management practices affect the welfare of animals that are kept, killed or otherwise impacted by humans. Comparative research can identify practices that generally elicit poor or good welfare outcomes, providing evidence that can be used to support initiatives to improve animal welfare. 

  • Development of welfare assessment protocols and technology

    Assessment of animal welfare is continually being improved using new insights in animal behaviour, non-invasive physiological methods, animal-environment interactions, and novel monitoring systems for animal responses and behaviours. 

    Some of our work aims to develop a more fundamental understanding of which measures (e.g. behaviour, activity, posture etc) should most appropriately be targeted with sensor technology. However, technology is not always feasible (or even desirable) in some sectors, so we develop welfare assessments that are valid and practical in whatever context they are needed and tailored to the specific welfare aim.

  • Ethics of animal use and management

    Animal welfare issues often arise when there are conflicts of interest between humans and animals. This poses challenges around whose interests to prioritise, and what actions can be taken to produce the best moral outcome. The needs and wants of human, animal, and even environmental stakeholders must be understood and evaluated to decide what is the right course of action, but different ethicists and stakeholders may disagree about the conclusions of any ethical analysis. For example, unnecessary suffering must not be caused to legally protected animals, but what counts as ‘suffering’, when is it really ‘necessary’, and which animals should be protected? Evidence must be gathered and some consensus must be agreed upon as to weight the different possible actions.

  • Fundamental understanding of welfare

    Animal welfare refers to animal feelings, health, and environmental suitability. These projects explore which animals are sentient and what feelings they have, and how behaviour, health, environments, and welfare interrelate. We use a wide range of techniques to investigate these fundamental questions, each of which is tailored to the particular hypothesis and species involved. Emotions are subjective (private) to the individual experiencing them, which makes them challenging to investigate scientifically. 

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