Count the wildlife that’s counting on you

RSPB Scotland is hoping people across Aberdeenshire will take part.
RSPB Scotland is hoping people across Aberdeenshire will take part.

More than half a million people across the UK are expected to watch and count their garden birds for this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch.

RSPB Scotland is hoping people across Aberdeenshire will take part and there’s a free family event at RSPB Scotland Loch of Strathbeg nature reserve to encourage people to get involved.

The Fraserburgh and District RSPB Wildlife Explorers club will be leading a Big Garden Birdwatch event on Saturday, January 28, from 11am to 1pm in Loch of Strathbeg’s newly refurbished visitor centre. They will be looking for birds in the garden and on the reserve, helping people identify them along with running some crafts and activities.

Big Garden Birdwatch is the world’s largest garden wildlife survey. Now in its 38th year, it takes place on January 28, 29 and 30, 2017. People are asked to spend just one hour watching and recording the birds in their garden or local public space, then send their results to the RSPB.

In our increasingly urban world, ensuring there is still room for wildlife is key to the survival of many familiar species. RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch provides valuable information about the wildlife using our gardens in winter, enabling the RSPB to monitor trends and declines. It is also a chance to take time to enjoy the nature on our doorsteps.

In response to demand, for the first time this year the Birdwatch will take place over three days, including the Monday, giving workers the opportunity to take a screen break and participate from their office gardens.

Daniel Hayhow, RSPB Conservation Scientist, said: “With over half a million people now regularly taking part, coupled with over 30 years worth of data, Big Garden Birdwatch allows us to monitor trends and helps us understand how birds are faring. With results from so many gardens, we are able to create a ‘snapshot’ of the birds visiting at this time of year across the UK. Even if you see nothing during your Big Garden Birdwatch hour, that’s important information too, so please let us know.”

In 2016, the house sparrow retained its position at the top spot in Aberdeenshire, with chaffinch and starling being the second and third most commonly recorded species. On a UK-level, house sparrow was followed by starling in second spot and blue tit in third and long-tailed tit flew into the top 10 for the first time in eight years. However the song thrush, once a common garden visitor, experienced another drop, revealing a decline of 70 per cent since the Birdwatch began.

This year, if the cold snap persists, we could see some more unusual birds appearing in UK gardens. Look out for Scandinavian visitors such as redwings, fieldfares and waxwings in search of berries. While redwings and fieldfares come to the UK every winter, waxwings come in large numbers only in some years. This winter has already proven itself to be a really good waxwing year for Aberdeenshire with large, colourful flocks being spotted in rowan trees all around the North East.

As well as counting winged garden visitors, the RSPB is once again asking participants to log some of the other wildlife they have seen throughout the year, such as hedgehogs, foxes, stoats and moles. With the survey taking place across the whole of the UK there are some species on the other wildlife list that are not found in Scotland, such as grass snakes and stag beetles, but reports of the other wildlife on this list visiting people’s gardens or public spaces are important.

Daniel added: “Our wildlife is facing a tough time. For example it is estimated that we’ve lost more than half of our hedgehogs in the last 50 years. We’re going to include this part of the survey every year now, enabling us to monitor the distribution of our other wildlife as well as trends in bird numbers.”

David Wembridge, Mammal Surveys Co-ordinator, People’s Trust for Endangered Species, said: “Mammals are a less showy lot than birds, but their presence in gardens is as important a measure of the natural value of these green spaces. Recording wildlife, in surveys like Big Garden Birdwatch, gives us a connection to our wild neighbours, particularly those we might overlook.”

Dr Fiona Mathews, Chair of The Mammal Society, said: “Gardens can offer fantastic habitat for wild mammals, simply leave things a bit untidy and watch what happens. For example, a bramble patch and a pile of fallen leaves can provide a good nesting site for hedgehogs, while bats will feed on night-flying insects attracted to blackberry flowers.”

Dr John Wilkinson from Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC), said: “It’s great to see that the Big Garden Birdwatch is again recording species such as grass snakes and slow-worms, whose habitats are declining in the wider countryside. Slow-worms are a gardener’s friend: you can encourage them into your garden by having a compost heap which is left undisturbed over the summer so they can give birth there - they will repay you by demolishing your slugs!”

Big Garden Birdwatch is part of the RSPB’s Giving Nature a Home campaign, aimed at tackling the housing crisis facing the UK’s wildlife. Gardens provide invaluable resources for many species, especially in urban areas where natural habitats are disappearing. RSPB Scotland is asking people to invite wildlife into their own gardens, balconies and outside spaces – whether by putting up a nest box for birds, creating a pond for frogs and newts or planting a window box for bees. Wherever you live, you can help give nature a home.

To take part in Big Garden Birdwatch 2017, people can download a free Big Garden Birdwatch pack at rspb.org.uk/birdwatch. Results will be published in March 2017.

The parallel event, Big Schools’ Birdwatch takes place during the first half of spring term, 3 January – 17 February 2017. Further information can be found at rspb.org.uk/schoolswatch