December, 2016

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!
  • Big Garden Birdwatch: It’s easy, fun, and important

    We're so excited!

    We're now only a few weeks away from Big Garden Birdwatch, and up and down the country, hundreds of thousands of participants are getting ready for the big event.

    Family taking part in Big Garden Birdwatch. Image by Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)

    Taking part

    If you’ve not done Big Garden Birdwatch before and don’t know what’s involved, relax, it’s a piece of cake. Here’s how it goes:

    1. Pick a time of day that’s ideal for you. You’re more likely to see more birds in the morning, but any time of day is fine.
    2. Make yourself comfy and watch the birds in your garden for one hour.
    3. Record the highest number of each bird species you see at any one time.
    4. Even if you see no birds, tell us – it’s still useful information.
    5. Submit your results online, or fill in a paper form.

    That’s it! You're done!

    When our scientists compare the data from hundreds of thousands of people all across the UK, and compare it to results from the previous Big Garden Birdwatches (going all the way back to 1979), it provides a vital health check of our garden birds.

    Over the years, it has revealed worrying trends, including around a 70% drop in song thrushes in gardens, and a 58% drop in house sparrows. But on the positive side, over the last 20 years, numbers of house sparrows have doubled in Wales. We’ll tell you more about how Big Garden Birdwatch helps our conservation scientists in a future blog post.

    Song thrush. Image by Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)

    It’s not just about birds

    While birds are the focus of the Birdwatch, we’re also asking you to tell us which other wildlife uses your garden. Why? Because we want to know how much certain species depend on gardens, including stag beetles, slow worms, and foxes.

    We’re interested to know how trends for these species might change over time. For example, are gardens becoming more or less useful to moles as our countryside changes?

    Your results will tell us a lot, so make sure to complete this part of your form too.

    Have fun preparing! And if you have any more questions about how it works, check out our page on everything you need to know about Big Garden Birdwatch.

  • Why I'm full of Christmas cheer

    Here's a special guest Christmas post from RSPB Chief Executive, Mike Clarke...


    This year has been a tough one, for many different reasons. But despite that, we've achieved a lot for nature during 2016...

    ...And it’s all thanks to people like you

    Now is a good time to celebrate our successes with you, so I’ve picked a few highlights to share. Why not grab yourself a mince pie or two, a glass of your favourite tipple, make yourself comfortable and find out about just a few of the things we’re celebrating as 2016 comes to an end?

    This year we recorded over 16,000 species on RSPB reserves – a jaw-dropping number of birds, mammals, plants, insects and more. And it’s your support that allows us to give them all a home.

    Bittern. Image by Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)

    Thanks to you we can improve and restore habitats so that all this precious wildlife can thrive. We are pleased to say that this year:

    • The UK's first ever pair of breeding little gulls fledged two young at our Loch of Strathbeg nature reserve
    • Smooth snakes - the UK's rarest snakes - bred at our Aylesbeare reserve for the first time after relocation
    • Bitterns nested for the first time at Otmoor and Maltreath. The Otmoor pair were the first in Oxfordshire for more than 150 years
    • Natterjack toads bred at two new ponds created here at The Lodge in Bedfordshire
    • A corncrake was heard calling on Rathlin Island. It stayed for more than 50 days, showing the work being done here to give nature a home is working
    • For the second year running, record numbers of nightjars and woodlarks bred on our heathland reserves.

    Special habitats safeguarded

    At the RSPB we're all about building bigger and better homes for nature. By 2030 we'd like to double the area of land we manage and see 20% of UK land and 10% of UK and UK Overseas Territories seas protected for nature. It’s a big ask.

    Dunnet Head. Image by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

    But we're thrilled to protect more special places for nature as RSPB nature reserves – and also improving the ones we already have! Our reserves are great homes for nature and brilliant outdoor spaces for you and your family to enjoy.

    • Black Devon Wetlands is the RSPB’s first nature reserve in Clackmannanshire, Scotland and is home to snipe, short-eared owls, teals and black-headed gulls
    • Dunnet Head is an important seabird cliff at the most northerly point of mainland UK
    • We are working together with the Land Trust and Buglife to manage Canvey Wick in Essex, an ex-industrial site, for its endangered invertebrates.
    • And there are exciting times ahead at Sherwood Forest over the next few years as we're managing the legendary home of Robin Hood with other partners to improve the habitat for amazing wildlife, and protecting some of the most ancient trees in Europe.

    As well as adding new sites, we don't stop improving the ones we already manage, like at Mersehead on the Dumfries and Galloway coast.

    We had the opportunity to expand the reserve and your generous support meant we reached our appeal target in record time! The expanded reserve will soon be the perfect home for lots of wildlife including otters, natterjack toads and barnacle geese, who head to the reserve from the Arctic Circle.

    Further afield

    It’s been good news in some UK Overseas Territories this year. The Pitcairn Islands in the South Pacific, Ascension Island, St Helena and Tristan Da Cunha in the South Atlantic are all taking steps to protect their marine life,  supported by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office who have pledged £20 million of new funding to help achieve this.

    Green turtle nesting on Ascension Island. Image by Sam Weber (rspb-images.com)

    The future for tropical species like green turtles, the brilliantly named resplendent angelfish, tuna, sharks and frigatebirds now looks far brighter.

    Thank you

    These are just a few of our achievements in 2016. My colleague Martin Harper has written a blog post on his own personal highlights, which go into many of these projects in more detail, it’s well worth a read.

    As we head into a new year it’s great to know that day after day we’re improving wildlife’s fortunes around the world and making it a better place for the generations to come. There is still so much work to do, which we couldn’t manage without your support. Thank you.

    All that’s left is for me to wish you a very Merry Christmas.

    From Mike Clarke and all at the RSPB

  • Big Garden Birdwatch: so much to look forward to

    “Before this weekend I rarely spent a prolonged period of time watching the birds in our garden. It was a revelation to see who visited and I am now ‘hooked’!”

    We get messages like this from thousands of people every year after Big Garden Birdwatch. Once people have started doing it, they just can’t stop!

    Is this your first Big Garden Birdwatch, or have you done it lots of times before? What are you doing to get prepared? Share your experience in the run up to the big day using #BigGardenBirdwatch on social media. We’d love to hear from you.

    Children filling bird feeder ready for Big Garden Birdwatch. Image by Rahul Thanki (www.rspb-images.com)

    What might you see?

    “I was engrossed by the birds’ acrobatics: a great stress-buster.”

    If there’s one thing you can count on during Big Garden Birdwatch, it’s surprises.

    In 2016, for instance, long-tailed tits entered the top 10 for the first time ever. There were also more sightings of tiny goldcrests and their cousins, firecrests – Britain’s smallest birds.

    It’s possible that January’s mild weather meant that more small birds like this survived the winter to be counted. While natural food sources may have been plentiful, it’s clear from their appearances in gardens that they’re also relying on the food we put out.

    If it’s a mild winter again this year, then it’s possible that robins will have begun their courtship behaviour by Big Garden Birdwatch weekend. Look out for male robins feeding the females, and aggressively defending their territory from other males.

    Robin on homemade fat ball. Image by David Tipling (www.rspb-images.com)

    Last year, Big Garden Birdwatchers reported surprise sightings throughout the weekend on Twitter and Facebook, including: a crow warming its wings on a neighbour’s chimney, redpolls on a bird feeder, a pair of great spotted woodpeckers, and six jackdaws scoffing the last of the Christmas cake left-overs!

    What surprises are in store for you in January 2017?

    Live-blogging the whole birdwatch

    Whatever is happening, we’ll keep you up to date with the latest news and sightings over the whole three days via our live blog. There’ll be celebrity participants, last minute feeding tips, and highlights from social media posts from around the country.

    It’s. Going. To. Be. Awesome.

    More updates, coming soon…