RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch.

January 27, 2020 by admin

You might have seen that one of the projects running within the Transforming the Trent Valley scheme is the ‘Big Washlands Watch’, which is all about citizen science – engaging people with their local wildlife and teaching them how to identify species and submit biological records. As I am running the Big Washlands Watch project, I thought that I had better ‘walk the talk’ – if I’m going to be asking other people to spend their time watching wildlife and submitting records then I needed to do that myself!

‘Biological recording’ might evoke images of standing in a field with a clipboard in the freezing cold (particularly if, like me, this was your experience of geography fieldwork at school!), but this does not have to be the case at all. One of the easiest citizen science projects you can get involved with is the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch. This has been taking place for 40 years, and can be completed within the warmth of your own home! All you need to do is spend one hour looking at the birds and other wildlife in your garden and submit the results either online or by post. Easy.

So, on a dreary January Sunday, I made myself a coffee (black, with a touch of sugar) and some toast (with butter and raspberry jam) and settled myself in my kitchen to peer out the back doors for an hour.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect to see much, not least because within my row of four houses lives nine cats! In the summer I’d seen sparrows, blue tits, great tits and my absolute favourite, a flock of long tailed tits in my apple tree, but I’d not seen any of them for a while despite putting up bird feeders. The most I was expecting was the two starlings who visit the fat balls each morning.

But, no sightings is just as important a result as lots of different birds, so I sat and watched. I watched the neighbour’s cat come and peer at me through the door. I watched my own cat walk along the fence. I watched a shower of rain. Then finally, I watched my two regular starlings come to have breakfast! You should only count the birds that actually land in your garden, and count the highest number that you see at any one time, so tick, tick. Two starlings were put on my list. Then my hour was up, and I was finished.

I submitted my results online, and I’m all done! My two starlings are now part of a nationwide database of garden bird records, and will be included in the analysis of how numbers have changed over the years. According to the spotters sheet I downloaded, there has been an 80% decrease in sightings since 1979, so I’m pleased that I have a nearby group who visit regularly.

There is also an unexpected bonus to taking part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, which I discovered during my hour of birdwatching. It was an hour in which I allowed myself to do nothing except look out the window at my garden. I didn’t look at my phone. I didn’t feel guilty for not doing something ‘useful’ with my time. I just sat and took in nature for a whole 60 minutes. The Wildlife Trusts have summarised research into the links between nature and wellbeing, and found that even just having a view of nature from a window at home or at work/school can have benefits such as quicker recovery from illness, reduced stress, increased job satisfaction, and for children can be linked to enhanced cognition and concentration. I certainly finished my hour feeling more relaxed than when I started.

In summary, for a first citizen science project, this is a great one to take part in. You can get the whole family involved, and it can be done from the comfort of your own home. I’ll be taking part again next year, but in the meantime I’ve signed up to do some more wildlife recording in my own time, including surveying willow tits with Staffordshire Wildlife Trust. Having a database of the wildlife and plants within an area is really important to track the health of the environment. With a big set of data collected over time you will be able to see if there are changes in populations or species diversity, and having the evidence of what biodiversity is in an area is essential in safeguarding it. For example, turning an area into a protected nature reserve or objecting to a planned building development.

If you’d like to take part in some citizen science in the Transforming the Trent Valley scheme area, there are plenty of opportunities coming up! Look out for our Bioblitz on Saturday 20th June for families to come and test their observation skills, sign up for one of our upcoming training events, or get in touch if you’d like to put on an ID course for a group at work or in a voluntary organisation.

Happy wildlife spotting!


Nicola Lynes, Community Engagement Officer
t: 07837 127165.