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Gulls play the field in UK schools

Last modified: 23 March 2012

Children doing Big Schools' Birdwatch

40.4% of schools taking part in the RSPB’s Big Schools’ Birdwatch reported seeing black headed gulls, 21.7% saw common gulls and 10.3% saw herring gulls.

Herring gull numbers reported in schools have been steadily increasing and this year reached the top 20 at no. 17. 

Open playing fields in schools can provide a rich area of feeding for birds, the short-cropped grass is ideal for birds to find natural food supplies.

Gulls are resourceful birds and forage for food by stamping their feet on the ground to bring invertebrates to the surface. 

As a species suffering serious decline within the UK, it is great that schools are providing a haven for herring gulls. (see note 1)

Almost 90,000 school children and teachers stepped up for nature by counting birds in this annual survey.  Nearly 3000 classes from over 2000 schools were involved across the UK in the last two weeks of January (see note 2).

Over 110,000 birds were counted in this year’s survey alone and since its launch in 2002, more than 70 different species have been recorded in school grounds, ranging from starlings and house sparrows to kestrels.

Top of the league table again in 2012 was the blackbird, which holds onto the top spot for the fourth year running. 85.6% of schools saw an average of 5.4 birds per school.  Blackbirds are also munchers of invertebrates including worms and grubs, which they can find more easily in milder winter conditions.  [See note 3 for full table of results]

This year, the starling just pipped the woodpigeon into second place, with both birds averaging sightings of 3.46 birds per school.

Faye Mackender, RSPB Big Schools’ Birdwatch project manager, said; “The Big Schools’ Birdwatch is a brilliant way of getting young people interested in nature and excited about what they can see through the classroom window.

“It’s all too easy for them to miss those opportunities to get outside and understand the world around them.  Big Schools‘ Birdwatch gives children the chance to step up for nature”.

The benefits of contact with nature are now widely recognised as playing an important role in a child’s education and social development. Independent research has found that such activities can have a positive impact on children’s mental and physical health. [note 3]

The Big Schools’ Birdwatch can be integrated into many curriculum areas. Increasingly schools are making the activity the centrepiece of a whole week devoted to learning about wild birds. Some schools hold Birdwatch breakfasts or after school wildlife clubs, while others transform classrooms into bird hides.

Since its launch, the survey has grown in popularity and the RSPB has also introduced the Little Schools’ Birdwatch, especially designed for 5’s and under and the Really Big Schools’ Birdwatch for 11-14 year olds.

Mrs Allen from Upminster junior school said of her class; “The children all had great fun identifying the birds that came to our school garden and we hope that this may have sparked a lifelong interest”.

For the full UK-wide Big Schools’ Birdwatch results visit:

The RSPB and BirdLife International is lobbying for the creation of a global network of marine protected areas around the sites most important for birds. This network should include UK waters, which provide a home for around 30 species of bird, including the herring gull.  Research is underway to establish why herring gulls are declining.

How you can help

Find out what birds are visiting your school grounds by getting involved in our annual Big Schools' Birdwatch.