WITH their eyes to the skies they meticulously record the feathered friends visiting their school garden.

It is four years since the children at St Columba's Catholic Primary School in Bradford started participating in the Big Schools Birdwatch run by the RSPB.

Each and every year their findings contribute to the results which the charity utilises to discover the different species visiting our gardens and green spaces and, more importantly, find out those that are thriving and declining.

Linda Marshall, a teaching assistant at the school, explains their involvement with the Big Schools Birdwatch came through wanting to encourage the children to be engaged with nature and for them to continue that interest taking notice of the species which visit and inhabit their own gardens.

"It is to raise awareness with children in terms of the wildlife they have in their own area and it has worked - I get children coming to me telling me what sort of things they have spotted in their gardens," she says.

As well as participating in the Big Schools Birdwatch, the school is extremely keen on conservation and educating children about caring for nature through The Quad.

Since receiving a £10,000 lottery grant nearly five years ago, the school has been busy developing the natural space in the centre of its grounds establishing all manner or flora and fauna and creating a haven for minibeasts and other wildlife.

The school has also participated in the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) Campaign for School gardening scheme, and has recently launched its own school gardening award.

Last year pupils also took part in the project growing seeds from space following British ESA astronaut, Tim Peake's six month Principia mission.

While the school is working hard to educate its pupils on the importance of conservation, new research conducted by RSPB2 has found that one in five children are disconnected from nature making it all the more important for other children to be encouraged to participate in this year's Big Schools Birdwatch.

Taking place during the first half of the spring term, the Big Schools Birdwatch encourages schoolchildren to discover the wildlife within their school grounds.

Last year almost 100,000 pupils and teachers from schools all across the UK participated by counting the birds that visited their school grounds. It is hoped more children will take part this year.

Over the years, more than 70 different species have been recorded in school grounds, ranging from starlings and house sparrows, to red kites and green woodpeckers.

The blackbird remained the most common playground visitor in 2016 while starlings retained second place. For the first time wood pigeons made the top three, moving up from sixth position the year before.

Since its launch in 2002, the Big Schools’ Birdwatch has provided opportunities for children and teachers to learn about how to give nature a home in their school grounds.

Many schools prepare for the event in advance by putting up feeders and nestboxes and making bird cake. Seeing and counting the birds coming to their feeders during the Big Schools Birdwatch is the perfect reward for their efforts.

Linda says during last year's survey they noticed the return of chaffinches within their school grounds, along with regular visitors including blue tits and wagtails.

"We have seen an increase year on year in birds visiting our school," she says.

"By doing all these things it makes a difference so by joining a scheme like this we talk about it around school and children will see what we did last year and we can show that we are making a difference."

Emma Reed, RSPB Education, Families and Youth Manager in Northern England said: “Taking part in Big Schools Birdwatch uses just one lesson or lunchtime so it’s really easy to get involved. We hope the excitement of taking part will then inspire children in West Yorkshire to get out and experience more of the wildlife around them.

“With studies showing that children are becoming increasingly disconnected from nature, a concern that is linked to poorer physical and mental health, we want to provide young people with as many opportunities as possible to have fun exploring the natural world around them.”

The Big Schools' Birdwatch is the school version of the Big Garden Birdwatch – the world's biggest garden wildlife survey aimed at families and individuals. The event will take place over three days on 28, 29 and 30 January 2017 and further information can be found on the RSPB website rspb.org.uk/birdwatch

To register to take part in the 2017 RSPB Big Schools’ Birdwatch, visit rspb.org.uk/schoolswatch. Everything schools need to take part is available to download from the RSPB website.