Two leading professors specialising in poultry and animal welfare have been awarded the inaugural Sir Patrick Moore Award by the RSPCA.

Prof Marian Dawkins from Oxford University and Emeritus Prof Don Broom from Cambridge University are the first people to be honoured with the new award, in memory of the former astronomer and honorary RSPCA vice-president.

Marian Dawkins heads the Animal Behaviour Research Group at Oxford and much of her early work in the 1970s focused on housing preferences for hens.

“The research demonstrated the importance of choice testing, by giving the hens different options for environments to live in and monitoring the choices,” said RSPCA chief veterinary officer James Yeates.

“The findings enabled Prof Dawkins to say which ones the hens preferred, in turn, providing the basis for setting the standards to deliver good welfare.

“This form of research is now standard practice within welfare research and something that helps inform development of the RSPCA’s welfare standards across many species.”

Don Broom was also instrumental in establishing animal welfare as an area of serious and scientific scholarship.

In particular, he helped the RSPCA secure a large grant from the Tubney Charitable Trust for a research project to help identify suitable open water sources for farmed duck.

The research took account of the previous work of Marian Dawkins looking into the biological and behavioural needs of farmed duck.

The findings then underpinned the 2012 RSPCA Like a Duck to Water campaign – aimed at raising awareness of giving farmed ducks full body access to open water.