Noticing nature is something we’re often too busy to do. Dealing with the hustle and bustle of daily life rarely affords time to stop and listen to birds heralding the dawn of a new day or see bees buzzing round the blooms in our gardens.
However, the people of Britain were recently encouraged to get out into their gardens and record these sightings – all for the sake of nature.
The Big Garden Birdwatch is the world’s biggest wildlife survey run by the RSPB and has made a major contribution to tracking garden bird numbers over the winter.
This year, and for the first time in the survey’s 36-year history, Big Garden Birdwatch participants were asked to tell the RSPB about additional wildlife visitors to their gardens throughout the year, including common frogs, red and grey squirrels, badgers and hedgehogs.
Almost half a million people took part and the RSPB now hopes to use the information to build an overall picture of how important our gardens are for all types of wildlife and tailor its advice so people can help their wild visitors find a home, feed and breed successfully.
The RSPB’s partners, including Amphibian & Reptile Conservation Trust (ARC), People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), and The Mammal Society, will also use the data in their national datasets.
As well as frogs, grey squirrels were among the most popular species with 72 per cent spotting them in their gardens at least once a month. According to the findings, 75 per cent of participants in West Yorkshire regularly see a grey squirrel in their gardens.
Yet, the grey’s native relative, the red squirrel, is more elusive and remains one of the least-seen garden visitors with 98 per cent of participants in West Yorkshire reporting their absence from their gardens. Threatened by a lethal virus carried by the grey, the red squirrel has been lost from many parts of the UK.
Hedgehogs are another specie under threat. Less than half of participants in West Yorkshire saw hedgehogs in their gardens regularly, but populations have seriously declined nationally by around 30 per cent since the millennium.
Marianne Crowley, who is involved with Bradford-based Wildlife Rescue, says the situation is such that hedgehogs are now on the endangered animals list. “I think there are a lot of different reasons – the chemicals we are using on our gardens and people are landscaping their gardens, they used to be overgrown, but it is causing a real serious decline. There is more building on brown belt land which is a favourite habitat of the hedgehog,” explains Marianne.
“I think people need to be a lot more aware this is happening.”
One specie that appears to be flourishing according to the findings is the common frog. Approximately half of people in the UK see a frog in their gardens at least monthly. In West Yorkshire, 44 per cent of participants regularly see a frog in their gardens yet toads are less likely to appear.
Last year, 25 wildlife organisations, including the RSPB, released the groundbreaking State of Nature report revealing 60 per cent of the wildlife species studied have declined over recent decades.
Many garden favourites were among the creatures shown to be in serious trouble including starlings and hedgehogs, as well as some butterflies and ladybirds. All are in danger of further declines unless more is done to provide better habitats.
Daniel Hayhow, RSPB conservation scientist, says: “This massive survey shows how important our gardens are for the amazing variety of wildlife living there.
“The State of Nature report showed that we need more information across many species groups, so widening the Big Garden Birdwatch’s scope to include other animals made perfect sense.
“This is the start of something big and something very, very important. In a few years’ time we’ll be able to compare how the distribution of garden wildlife may have changed. Hopefully, the fact that more people are helping to give nature a home in their gardens and outside spaces will mean we see improvements rather than declines.”
Giving Nature a Home is the RSPB’s latest campaign to tackle the housing crisis faced by the UK’s threatened wildlife. The charity is asking people to provide a place for wildlife in their own gardens and outside spaces – whether it by planting pollen-rich plants to attract bees and butterflies, putting up a nestbox for a house sparrow, or creating a pond that will support a number of different species.
To find out how you can give nature a home where you live, visit www.rspb.org.uk/homes.