Notes on nature

Wildlife

Wildlife
We're about more than just birds (though obviously we like them a lot).

Notes on nature

We love nature... from every little bug on a blade of grass to birds, butterflies, otters and oaks!
  • Give birds a home: put up a nestbox

    Giving nature a home’ can mean lots of things. Sometimes it means growing insect-friendly plants and flowers. Other times it’s about planting a tree or digging a pond. But in this case it is literally about providing somewhere for birds to call ‘home’.

    It’s the time for romance...

    National Nestbox Week runs from 14-21 February, and it’s the perfect time to put up a nestbox in time for the breeding season. If you do it now, it’s possible that your first feathered tenants could move in within weeks!

    Why do birds need our help?

    The populations of some of our most familiar garden birds - such as starlings and house sparrows - are in big trouble. One of the reasons is because our own homes no longer have the nooks and crannies where these birds can build a nest. This is where you step in.

    How to give a family a home

    We’ve got everything you need to know about building your own starling, sparrow or swift nestbox. Follow our step-by-step instructions and you can’t go wrong.

    But don’t worry if you’re not much of a DIY fan – you can buy one ready-made from our shop. Our range also includes boxes to suit robins, wrens, tits, nuthatches, wrens, flycatchers, house martins, swallows and even owls and kestrels!

    You can also buy nestboxes with built-in cameras so you can watch what’s happening inside from the comfort of your sofa... the action will beat any TV soap hands-down.

    Attracting a tenant

    It helps to know which birds are around when you’re choosing a nestbox. To boost your success rate, watch to see who’s visiting your garden or local area.

    But remember that not all birds nest in holes (and so will use nestboxes) - some, such as long-tailed tits, thrushes finches and dunnocks, prefer the shelter of a shrub or bush and build a beautiful creation from moss, grass, lichen and mud.

    When does it all start?

    Birds time their breeding season to closely match when food will be available for their chicks. Unseasonal weather can trigger some to make an early start, but many birds start nesting in March and April. 

    Some species can rear more than one family per year: sparrows, robins and swallows can have up to three broods, but blue tits and starlings normally make only one attempt.

    Young blue tits and great tits might have left the nest in May, while the last young swallows might be learning to fly into September!

    Let us know if you put up a nestbox, and what happens!

  • How Big Garden Birdwatch is helping hedgehog conservation

    Henry Johnson, Hedgehog Officer at People's Trust for Endangered Species, explains how the survey's hedgehog records have made a real difference to his work.

    "No-one can deny that the world of wildlife recording is complex, and we find ourselves in a transitional period as digital platforms and apps come to the fore. A future where information about wildlife is updated in real time, and freely available to all, should be the goal for our sector."

    "That's why it was hugely encouraging to be approached by Daniel Hayhow and his Big Garden Birdwatch team and offered hedgehog records from this monumental survey."

    Hedgehog. Image by Ben Hall (www.rspb-images.com)

    "As we know, hedgehogs are currently declining precipitously in the UK. In November, People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) launched the State of Britain's Hedgehogs 2015, the headline of which was that since 2000, rural hedgehog populations have declined by at least a half and urban populations by up to a third in the same period".

    "The value of Big Garden Birdwatch is that it has dramatically improved our understanding of where hedgehogs are in the UK."

    "In the last two years, around 42,000 more dots have been added to our national distribution map. For an animal that is in rapid decline, the half-life for distribution data is short, so collaborating with the RSPB has greatly improved the accuracy with which we can work."

    "It also massively helps with volunteer engagement, as volunteering for our Hedgehog Street campaign is a more enticing prospect when you know that these spiny creatures are stalking the streets in your neighbourhood after dark. Many people do not realise that they still have hedgehogs as local residents — for now at least."

    Source: Henry Johnson, Hedgehog Officer, People's Trust for Endangered Species

    Did you know?

    • We started asking the public to record other wildlife they see in their gardens as part of Big Garden Birdwatch back in 2014. As a well established survey with a wide geographical reach, this data has proven useful to a number of other specialist conservation organisations, including The Mammal Society and The Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust.
    • We introduce some different species to the survey's 'other wildlife' section every year. This year, we'll be asking people to tell us if they see species including hedgehogs, badgesr, grey and red squirrels, foxes, stoats, slow worms and grass snakes.
  • Wonderful winter

    This weekend, many of us will have woken up to winter’s first snowfall. Though we were graced with just the lightest of dustings here in Bedfordshire (hardly enough for a snowman, let alone enough to crack out the sledge), it was more than enough to fire me up for a bracing morning walk.

    When temperatures plummet, it’s definitely tempting to stay cozied up indoors with multiple cups of teas and a good box set or two (winter is coming, after all). But equally, there’s nothing quite like striking out into a glittering countryside and getting a lungful of lovely fresh air to blow away the cobwebs and set you up for the day. There’s no need to go far: my local park (St Neots’ Priory Park, if you’re passing) was transformed: all frosted leaves underfoot and stark, dramatic trees against an ice-blue sky.

    But possibly the best thing about winter walks (especially if you're organised enough to set an early alarm - and motivated enough to actually get up when it goes off) is you’re likely to have the place to yourself: a silent wonderland with just you, the elements and the wildlife the summer crowds usually scare away.

    And besides, that mug of tea by the fire will taste all the better when you get home.

    • Browse RSPB Images to find more breathtaking photos like this (you can order a print or canvas if any takes your fancy).