Our history

AWF was established in 1983 by eight members of the British Veterinary Association (BVA) with the proceeds of a legacy from Colleen Macleod left to BVA. The members agreed that the funds would be better placed in a charity which could operate with the sole aim of improving animal welfare. The charity has since functioned as an independent entity, while maintaining a close relationship with the BVA.

Putting animal welfare at the heart of veterinary education

Since its early days AWF has played an important role in cementing animal welfare into the veterinary curriculum.  In 1986 we established the Colleen Macleod Chair in Animal Welfare at Cambridge University, making Donald Broom the world’s first Professor of Animal Welfare.

The professorship was created with the aim of establishing animal welfare as a recognised academic discipline. Today there are more than 30 professors of animal welfare around the world and many more who work principally in this area.


In 2003 AWF used a legacy to establish Animal Welfare Lectureships at Bristol, Glasgow and Liverpool.  AWF lecturers, David Main, Jennifer Duncan and Dorothy McKeegan, worked together to develop a new framework for animal welfare teaching in the UK.

Each post covered slightly different, but complementary, aspects of welfare: applied welfare assessment and improvement; quality of life assessments; and epidemiology/bio-security.

When funding ended in 2008 the three universities confirmed that the lectureships would continue, in perpetuity, beyond the seed funding provided by the Foundation.


‘What would you do?’ case studies

Until 2012 AWF held an animal welfare symposium for final-year students at Lancaster University each September. AWF conducted case studies at the symposium where students formed groups to look at the animal and human welfare aspects of different cases and used real-life ethical reasoning exercises that the students were likely to meet in practice. The content of these sessions were later developed into the popular ‘What would you do?’ case studies now available online.  Link to case studies page


Welfare talks and debates

In 2012 AWF began working with the Association of Veterinary Students to arrange a series of animal welfare debates at each of the vet schools. Since 2017 these popular talks have also been offered to veterinary nursing students.

These talks and debates are intended to reach a larger audience than the Lancaster Forum and provide a means to enhance welfare-related teaching in the UK veterinary schools.

Norman Hayward Fund

In its early years AWF was left a substantial legacy which it has since used to fund research into the health and welfare of horses, cattle and sheep.  To date we’ve invested millions in research projects which have led to breakthrough diagnostics and treatments in many species, ranging from painful and contagious diseases in cattle, sheep, and horses, and pioneering pain management work for cats.

Discussion Forum

AWF’s annual Discussion Forum provides a platform to debate important welfare-related issues publicly. The first symposium, ‘Priorities in Animal Welfare’ was held on 20 November 1984 in London and was introduced by Dr David Bellamy. The aim was to identify problem areas needing most urgent attention. The symposium has since grown from an invite only affair to a well-regarded event that attracts members of the veterinary profession, industry, charities and government. Link to Discussion Forum section.

This flagship event has raised the profile of many serious animal welfare issues has helped influence policy decisions, leading to changes in the regulations and laws governing the welfare of animals — notably transport of live animals, livestock show welfare, an EU ban on importing wild birds, and collaborative action on ‘designer dogs’ — encouraging breeders to breed for welfare, rather than design.

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  1. Meet our student researchers – Matt Goins

    Thinking of applying for an AWF student research grant? Find out what it’s like to undertake a student research project and get advice from previous researchers in our mini Q&A series. Research topic: Characterising the abandonment and relinquishment of exotic pets in Ireland   Name, degree, university Matt Goins, MVB (5th year), University College Dublin   Research […]
  2. Meet our student researchers – Madeline Heys

    Thinking of applying for an AWF student research grant? Find out what it’s like to undertake a student research project and get advice from previous researchers in our mini Q&A series.   Research topic: Investigating the usage of enrichment feeding for pet dogs and the associated perceived benefits and challenges Name, degree, university Madeline Heys, […]
  3. Meet our student researchers – Katherine Duffy

    Description   Thinking of applying for an AWF student research grant? Find out what it’s like to undertake a student research project and get advice from previous researchers in our mini Q&A series. Research topic: A novel intervention for cat hoarding: 3 year follow up Name, degree, university Katherine Duffy, BVM BVS, University of Nottingham Research […]
  4. Eddie Clutton on the topic of overtreatment

    We’ve been speaking to Eddie Clutton, who is speaking in our Innovation and Overtreatment session at this year’s Discussion Forum. Eddie Clutton is an expert in the field of veterinary anaesthesia and will be debating the motion “Uncontrolled treatment innovations are detrimental to welfare” with Karen Humm. Eddie sees overtreatment as a huge problem, which […]
  5. Project in a pandemic: what an AWF student grant taught me about research

    The Covid-19 pandemic has changed our lives in many ways, both personally and professionally. Normal routines had to be adapted, and pre-pandemic plans changed. For our 2020 student grant recipients, this was especially true. In this blog, Kerry Long talks us through her experience of carrying out her project ‘Identifying maternal and post-natal effects on […]
  6. Meet the speakers – Q&A with Jimmy Turnbull

    As the drive for cheap, efficient and environment-sparing livestock agriculture continues to grow, can intensive farming ever be good for both welfare and sustainability? That is just one of the questions we will be asking ourselves at this year’s Discussion Forum. Recently we spoke to Professor Jimmy Turnbull, vet, aquaculture specialist and Discussion Forum speaker, […]
  7. Funding research for better welfare

    AWF funds five new research projects designed to move the dial on key animal welfare issues.
  8. BVNA ‘This is Us 2020’

    Calling vet nurses! We are thrilled to announce that AWF will be hosting a debate as part of BVNA’s ‘This is Us 2020’, a two-day online event dedicated to celebrating veterinary nursing. AWF has previously held animal welfare debates at BVNA Fringe and we welcome the opportunity to continue having these important discussions, but with […]
  9. Completing research in a pandemic – a student’s experience

    Funding student research is an important part of what we do, giving students an insight into the world of research and the opportunity to make a practical difference to animal welfare. In 2019 we granted funding to Sheryl Bradley, an MSc student of International Animal Welfare, Ethics and Law at the University of Edinburgh, for […]
  10. Meet the speakers – Q&A with Dan Brockman

    At this year’s Discussion Forum we will be debating whether uncontrolled treatment innovations are detrimental to animal welfare. As the range of treatments available to our pets becomes more extensive year on year and often increasingly invasive, we want to ask, can this ever be justified? One of our speakers is Professor Dan Brockman, Director of […]