Prioritisation of animal welfare issues in the UK


AWF Research Fund



Research period


Area of study







Investigator(s): Professor Cathy Dwyer (Director), Fiona Rioja-Lang at the Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education

The aim of this Delphi research project was to achieve a prioritised list of the agreed most important welfare issues affecting managed animals in the UK.  As a small charity, AWF wishes to focus its research funds on areas where the welfare need is greatest and where there is a deficit of good science. The results of this research will help guide our future work and be available for other organisations to use.


A modified Delphi method was used to generate expert consensus on the priority welfare issues (PWIs, as determined by their impact on the welfare of the individual animal or the group) of managed animals in the UK. The study involved 144 experts, divided between 10 species groups. Experts were recruited from a range of disciplines, including practising veterinarians, academics, charity sector employees, industry representatives, and policy officials.

Half of the groups generated their own species-specific PWI lists via an online discussion board, and half of the groups were provided with a list. Two rounds of surveys were conducted online using the Online Surveys (formerly BOS) tool, and the final round was an in-person workshop with a subset of experts.

The experts agreed that welfare issues should be ranked considering three categories: i) severity, ii) duration, and iii) prevalence. Considering these categories would account for welfare at both an individual (severity and duration) and population (prevalence) level.

In the first online survey the experts scored each welfare issue using the three categories, on a 6-point Likert scale, where 1 = never/none, and 6 = always/high. In round 2, participants were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the rankings generated from round 1.  At a 2-day workshop 21 experts participated in a series of group discussions to finalise the PWI lists for each species.

Top ranking PWIs for animals (at individual level) include: inappropriate home environment / behavioural needs not being met, consequences from breeding decisions, lack of socialisation / handling, delayed euthanasia, lack of basic care / neglect, lethal wildlife management, and inappropriate nutrition.

Peer reviewed paper, Vet Record, 5 July 2020:  Prioritisation of animal welfare issues in the UK using expert consensus

Further articles and papers:

Watch Cathy Dwyer present this research at the 2019 Discussion Forum