During the last weekend of January, many of us put the kettle on, opened a packet of biscuits and made ourselves comfy to spend an hour staring out the window at our back gardens.
If I’m honest – I actually do that quite a lot, though maybe for only 10 minutes at a time! But on this occasion there was a reason, I was doing my Big Garden Birdwatch – as did 139,542 other people across the south east – nearly 600,000 people took part across the country.
I was up nice and early on that Saturday Morning and once I had done a couple of interviews with the local BBC stations, I popped into the garden to top all my feeders up, before waiting for the birds to come!
So I started my hour and the tally of species. My garden is quite small, but I’m lucky to have some woods behind me, so I often have a nice variety of visitors. During my hour I had: nuthatch (1 and my favourite bird), long-tailed tits (4), great tits (3), blue tits (8), magpies (2), jackdaws (2), house sparrows (3), green woodpecker (1 - first time ever!) and robins (2).
I also heard a blackbird, but as I never saw it, it didn’t count, and there was no-where to record my 2 cups of tea and ½ a pack of biscuits!
Now zip forward to the end of March and the results are in, revealing that the cheeky house sparrow has knocked the blue tit off the region’s top spot with an average of 3.4 seen per southeast garden. The starling has clung onto third place, and the blackbird is only just in our top five, having been overtaken by the woodpigeon.
So how did our region compare to the rest of the country?
Well, blackbird numbers were down by 22% across the UK - although we think this could be due to the milder weather this year compared to the previous two years. Meaning blackbirds were finding food in the wider countryside, rather than relying on our garden handouts for survival.
The counts also revealed that starling numbers were at an all time low this winter, the lowest number seen since the survey began more than thirty years ago.
In the first survey in 1979, the average number of starlings seen in UK gardens was 15. This year starling figures were at their lowest ever with an average of three seen per garden.
Though still at number three on our regional results board with an average of 2.7 per garden, starlings were seen in lower numbers and in fewer southeast gardens than last year.
Big Garden Birdwatch is one of the first indicators to show how well UK birds have fared during the previous breeding season and winter. With over 30 years worth of data the results give an early indication of garden bird trends.
The RSPB keeps a watchful eye out for new and emerging trends from Big Garden Birdwatch results, which helped confirm alarming declines in birds like the house sparrow, starling and song thrush.
With so many people taking part in Big Garden Birdwatch, if a pattern emerges, we take it seriously - Over half a million people can’t be wrong and that’s why the survey is so important.
Nuthatch, by John Bridges (rspb-images.com) - because it's my favourite bird - did I say that already?
Ah, Spring! The scent of the blossom, the call of the chiffchaff, the ring of the phone...
As one of the team answering Wildlife Enquiries from the public, the arrival of Spring brings up a whole new world of questions.
A very nice lady asked me if she should continue feeding birds now that the bad weather has gone. While it’s true that feeding garden birds is absolutely vital when conditions are cold, it’s also useful as a supplementary feeding source over the summer. If parent birds don’t have to travel so far to get food, they can spend more time ensuring that their brood thrives.
Just watch how many feeding trips a blue tit will make and you can see that it is spending a huge amount of energy just to keep going. When they have hungry chicks to feed with caterpillars, the adults will find a quick trip to the feeder is much more convenient than roaming around the garden looking for their own food.
Inside a blue tit's nest-box. So many wee chicks to feed!
(Remember not to use whole peanuts in feeders when chicks could be around as they will be too big to swallow).
As garden birds start to build their nests, callers often ask whether there is still time to prune their hedges without disturbing the birds.
It can be very tricky to tell where birds are nesting and I would say that in the majority of cases, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Hedges are a really valuable wildlife habitat, providing not just shelter but also sources of food for birds (insects in summer and berries in winter) and protection from predators.
And finally –
We always get calls asking us to identify birds over the phone.
I was delighted to be able to help a caller who had an unusual-looking sparrow that had been visiting her garden in recent days.
Often this can be a matter of an educated guess, but in this case the bird returned while I was still on the phone.
From her description, I was able to identify a chirpy male Reed Bunting – a lovely visitor!
A reed bunting singing his heart out at the RSPB Bempton Cliffs reserve
I am getting really quite excited about the BUPA 10,000 (that’s how many people will be running 10k on 27 May. A lot).
It’s going to be a great sightseeing tour for the 25 runners who will have grabbed the RSPB fundraising challenge with both hands and run with it.
But it’s not the stunning views of Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace that I’m excited about. (note to self, ask our runners to wave to our patron as they run past).
Nor is it the fact that our runners get to run on a section of the Olympic marathon track, amazing though that is.
It’s not even that by taking part, our runners will be pledging to raise over £5,000 between them (a really significant amount to the RSPB, so thank you!)
What is it that you are looking forward to the most Nic, I hear you ask?
The answer is: I get to dress up in one of our brand new starling costumes and cheer on the 10,000 runners - running for the charities that means the most to them. And of course, I will be proudly looking out for our RSPB runners, wearing their RSPB running vests. I hope to be standing with their family and friends, sharing the moment with people who love and support the RSPB.
If you would like to join me, and 25 runners (or would like to dress up as a starling yourself because, let’s face it, 10k it a long way to run) email email@example.com as we still have a couple of places left.
To find out more, follow the link http://www.rspb.org.uk/supporting/fundraise/individuals/rspb/bupa10k.aspx
This is Lorna, our events manager, who is very sprightly on her feet!
Tomorrow lunchtime the Chancellor George Osborne, will deliver the UK’s Budget for 2012, setting out the Government’s plans for the economy and public finances in the year ahead.
Now, usually I’m only interested in how much more a pint of beer or a litre of diesel is going to cost me – but this year it’s different. This year the budget may prove to be one of the most significant moments the environment has faced in more than three decades.
How, you may ask, is the environment involved with the budget?
Well, last November in his Autumn Statement, Mr. Osborne described the hard-won legal protections for our most precious wildlife sites, as a “ridiculous cost on British business”. I might not be an expert – but that doesn’t sound very encouraging for the environment to me! Fingers crossed he has had a change of heart over the last few months.
Economics Vs Environment?
I don’t think anyone would argue, that in the face of an enormous economic challenge, the Chancellor needs to deliver economic growth and create jobs – but the environment is not a barrier to success.
Instead of environmentally destructive and high carbon developments, shouldn’t the “Greenest Government Ever” be leading the charge in sustainable growth that acknowledges the value of the natural world?
How about the Chancellor looking into the London Gateway port development as an example of how infrastructure projects should be done? Forget a Thames Estuary Airport – which will destroy areas internationally acknowledged as important for wildlife and blow any chance we have of meeting our commitments to help avoid catastrophic climate change.
Whilst I might not be a very good naturalist – I wouldn’t know a priority species if it landed at my feet and squawked at me! I am an enthusiastic one, who deeply loves nature, and likes just knowing that it is all there. So what if I don’t know one wader from another? I do know that I would miss them if they were gone.
Which is one of the reasons why I, and 18,671 others have already ‘Stepped up for Nature’ and e-mailed the Chancellor to urge him to use his Budget statement to put the environment at the heart of the UK’s economic recovery – if you haven’t, it’s not too late, send the e-action now.
(I do know this wader!)
As part of my role I get to meet loads of great farmers around the South East to find out what they are doing for wildlife on their farms, as well as advising them of any further actions they may be able to take.
A few years ago the RSPB thought it was about time that these farmers got some recognition for their wonderful work for wildlife, so we joined forces with The Telegraph, Butterfly Conservation and Plantlife and the Nature of Farming Awards were launched!
Every year, 8 Regional winners (who receive a £250 prize) are judged by a panel of experts who decide on 4 National finalists. It is then open to the public to vote and decide who is their favourite farmer, with the winner being crowned Nature of Farming Award Champion and winning £1000!
So, if you own or manage farmland in South East England and are not only producing food, but also looking after the birds, mammals, plants and insects on your farm – what are you waiting for?
You only have until 30th April to enter the UK’s largest farmland wildlife competition, the Nature of Farming Award, and a chance of winning that £1000! Download an application form here
In 2011, 22,000 people voted for their favourite farm in the competition, raising the profile of the crucial conservation work that many farmers are taking for wildlife. Despite some excellent winners from the South East in recent years, we have yet to see a national champion.......so if you think you are stepping up for nature, why not enter and we could see the crown come to SE England!