LINDA Marshall, a teaching assistant at St Columba's Catholic Primary School in Bradford, spends her days nurturing the next generation and encouraging them to respect and appreciate the world around them - in particular the wildlife inhabiting their school grounds.
"If you spark an interest in something now with a child it may be something they will take forward in life and it will teach them to respect the world now," says Linda.
Despite its location on Tong Street, one of the busy corridors into the city, the school has become a haven for birds and insects and that is largely down to The Quad.
Established three years ago, the natural square in the centre of the school has raised beds for growing vegetables as well as fruit trees and a wildlife pond where the youngsters can go pond dipping to learn about its underwater inhabitants.
Linda explains that the school is also hoping to create a kitchen garden to supply the school kitchen and give youngsters an understanding of where food comes from. For a school already conscious of protecting and preserving its environment, participating in the RSPB's Big Schools Birdwatch was a natural thing to do.
"We have a garden/wildlife area and we encourage children to look at their environment, what is in it and get them to understand we need to protect it," explains Linda. "We are encouraging them to grow things they can eat and also things that help the wildlife.
"We are trying to get them to recognise what things we have got, appreciate the wildlife so they will want to protect it in future."
Hedge sparrows, dunnocks, collared doves, wood pigeons, magpies, robins, blackbirds, blue tits and great tits are among the birds the children recorded while participating in the RSPB's survey - the biggest garden wildlife survey in the world - which saw a record-breaking number of pupils and teachers participating nationwide.
For pupils at Fearnville Primary in Sticker Lane, Bradford, it was the second time they had participated in the Big Schools Birdwatch.
As well as encouraging youngsters to take more notice of their natural environment, Karen Spargo, the school's assistant headteacher and foundation stage leader, explains how creating tally charts to record the birds they spotted also helps to develop their mathematical skills.
Nationally, 90,000 pupils and teachers counted the birds in their school grounds for one hour of one day in the first half of Spring Term.
In West Yorkshire the blackbird was the most popular with an average of eight blackbirds spotted per playground.
Starlings clinched second place in West Yorkshire with an average of six sightings.
Overall, average numbers of birds spotted during the survey appear to have substantially increased this year but experts believe this is more likely to have been caused by the colder weather around the period of the survey compared to last winter. Numbers of birds in gardens, parks and school grounds also vary depending on the availability of a range of natural food sources. The dip in the number of finch sightings this year could indicate a plentiful supply of seeds in the wider countryside following a good summer, meaning that species such as finches are less reliant on bird feeders.
Big Schools’ Birdwatch has been running for over a decade and helps to track numbers of birds in school grounds, providing an insight into how species are faring and inspiring children to give nature a home. Participating schools received a certificate and a free wildlife poster once they completed the activity and sent in their results.
Emma Reed, the RSPB’s Education Officer for Northern England, said: “It’s fantastic to see so many children and teachers taking part in Big Schools’ Birdwatch, and seeing the results from this year’s bumper survey gives us further insight into helping our feathered friends thrive.
“The Birdwatch is a fun, interactive and educational activity which not only enthuses children about wildlife, but supports the curriculum and encourages them to help us give nature a home for future generations to enjoy.”
The survey is a part of the RSPB’s Giving Nature a Home campaign, aimed at tackling the housing crisis facing 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’s putting up a nest box for birds, creating a pond to support a variety of different wildlife or building a home for a hedgehog.
* For more about the campaign visit rspb.org.uk/homes